Ten people killed in shootings in Ballymurphy in Belfast in 1971 were entirely innocent, a coroner has ruled.
Corner Siobhan Keegan attributed nine of the ten shootings to the British Army - and said the use of lethal force by soldiers was not justified.
A mother of eight and a Catholic priest were among those who died in August 1971 in events which have become known locally as the Ballymurphy Massacre.
It came during a turbulent period following the controversial introduction of internment without trial in Northern Ireland at the start of the Troubles.
Violence erupted on August 9 when soldiers moved into republican strongholds to arrest IRA suspects.
Original inquests into the Ballymurphy deaths in 1972 returned open verdicts and the bereaved families subsequently pursued a long campaign for fresh probes to be held. New inquests began in 2018, with the final oral evidence heard last March.
Eye-witnesses, forensic experts, former Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams and more than 60 former soldiers – including former head of the Army General Sir Mike Jackson – gave evidence at Belfast Coroner’s Court.
The families of those killed contend they were innocent, unarmed civilians shot by soldiers without justification.
The inquests focused on five separate incidents.
The first was the shooting of parish priest Father Hugh Mullan, 38, and Frank Quinn, 19, in the Springfield Park area of Ballymurphy around 9pm on August 9.
In the second incident, that happened around the same time outside an army barracks at the Henry Taggart Hall on Divismore Park, Noel Philips, 19, Joseph Murphy, 41, Joan Connolly, 44, and Daniel Teggart, 44, were fatally wounded by gunfire.
In the third incident, the following day, Eddie Doherty, 31, died after being shot on the Whiterock Road as he came across an encounter between soldiers and protesters who had erected a barricade across the road.
In the fourth incident, on the third day of shooting, Joseph Corr, 43, and John Laverty, 20, were shot in the Whiterock Road area in the early hours of the morning. Mr Corr died 16 days later from his injuries.
In the fifth incident, former soldier John McKerr, 49, was shot later that morning on Westrock Drive close to Corpus Christi Church as he took a break from maintenance work. He died of his injuries on August 20.
In respect of the first incident, the coroner said Fr Hugh Mullan and Frank Quinn were killed by shots fired by soldiers and that the force used was not justified.
She said she was satisfied both entered the field to assist an injured man.
While the coroner said there was evidence of a small number of IRA gunmen in the wider area on the day, she said this did not apply to the waste ground when the men were shot.
She said neither man was armed and they were not in the vicinity of someone with a gun.
Mrs Justice Keegan said there was evidence that the priest had been waving a white item, either a handkerchief or T-shirt.
She said the use of force used by the Army was disproportionate in the circumstances, further noting the soldiers were firing from protected positions from a long distance away and the fact there were many civilians in the field fleeing from violence that was unfolding elsewhere.
She said the state had failed to demonstrate that its use of force had been justified.
The coroner also rejected a suggestion from the Ministry of Defence that the men may have been shot by a UVF sniper from the nearby Springmartin area.
Mrs Justice Keegan said she had been unable to identify which soldiers fired the fatal shots.
The conclusion of her findings were met with applause by family members in court.
n regard to incident two, Mrs Justice Keegan again found that the killings of Noel Philips, Joseph Murphy, Joan Connolly and Daniel Teggart were not justified.
She said the victims were “innocent” and unarmed.
“The Army had a duty to protect lives and minimise harm, and the use of force was clearly disproportionate,” she said.
In regard to Mr Teggart, she rejected an allegation from one military witness that ammunition was found in his pockets.
She said there was no evidence to suggest any of the deceased were linked to the IRA.
The coroner said there were IRA gunmen in the area at the time.
She said there had been a “basic inhumanity” in how long Mrs Connolly had been left to lie injured on the ground. However, she said she could not determine whether the delay in treatment had contributed to her death.
Mrs Justice Keegan also ruled out a theory that Mr Murphy had been shot again by soldiers when he was taken inside the hall.
The coroner said the four deceased had been killed by British soldiers shooting from the Henry Taggart Hall and she said ballistics evidence disproved that they had been shot by the UVF.
She said she could not determine who fired the shots, other than they were members of the Parachute Regiment stationed at the Henry Taggart Hall.
Family members in court applauded her conclusions.
In the third incident, the coroner ruled the use of force in shooting Eddie Doherty was disproportionate.
She also rejected claims that Mr Doherty had been throwing petrol bombs at the time.
“He was an innocent man who posed no threat,” she said.
The soldier who fired the shot that killed him was in a tractor that was attempting to clear the barricade.
The coroner said she accepted that at least two petrol bombs had been thrown at the tractor and that the soldier inside would have held an honest belief that his life was in danger, and was justified in using some force as a consequence.
But she said his actions went beyond that.
“On any reading he acted in contravention of the Yellow Card (Army’s rules of engagement),” she said.
The coroner added: “The use of force was disproportionate to the risk posed to him.”
Family members in court again applauded her conclusions.
On the fourth incident, the coroner said the military had failed to establish an adequate justification for the use of lethal force in killing Joseph Corr and John Laverty.
She concluded they were shot by the British Army and there was no evidence that they could have been shot by anyone else.
The coroner rejected claims the men were gunmen who had been firing at soldiers.
“There is no evidence that guns were found on or near any of these two men,” she said.
The coroner added: “It was wrong to describe these two men as gunmen and that rumour should be dispelled.”
The coroner also raised concerns about “serious failings” in military testimony provided in respect of the shootings.
On the fifth incident, the coroner said John McKerr was an entirely innocent man.
However, she said there was not enough evidence for her to determine where the shot that killed him came from, or whether it was fired by the military or paramilitaries.
“It is impossible to say where shot may have come from,” she said.
“The evidence is not consistent and clear in this case.”
The coroner said it was “shocking” there was no adequate investigation of the killing afterwards.
She added: “I have no hesitation in stating that Mr McKerr was an entirely innocent man.”
The coroner said he was “shot indiscriminately on the street”.
She noted that Mr McKerr was a “proud military man” and claims he was associated with the IRA had caused great pain for his family in the five decades since.
“I can allay that rumour and suspicion once and for all,” she said.
Relatives took part in a church service on Monday ahead of the findings and described their feeling that today would be a hard and anxious day.
Briege Voyle said the pain of losing her mother, Joan Connolly, was made even harder when misinformation was circulated that she had been a gunwoman.
Ms Voyle told the PA news agency that she is praying Ms Connolly’s name will finally be cleared on the official record five decades later.
Father Hugh Mullan was shot after he had crawled to waste ground where a man had been shot to administer the Last Rites.
His brother, Patsy, described him as simply wanting to help people.
“My brother was not involved in anything other than going out to help somebody,” he said.
“He was a priest and anointed a man; as he left him to go and try and get an ambulance he was shot.”
The findings came on a day that an intention by the UK Government to ban future prosecutions of British soldiers who served in Northern Ireland was outlined in the Queen’s Speech.
It has been reported that the move will also apply to former paramilitaries.
Troubles victims and politicians across Ireland voiced anger at the expected move last week when it was reported in the Daily Telegraph and the Times.