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Dirty Secrets Of A Dirty War

The Ballymurphy Massacre, Belfast 1971 – British War Crimes In Ireland

After several recent posts on An Sionnach Fionn detailing British war crimes in Ireland over the four decades of the northern conflict perhaps I should start a new series here? “Dirty Secrets of a Dirty War”?

Here is another one, from a former British Army medical officer who recounts how he opened fire on crowds during disturbances that surrounded the Ballymurphy Massacre of 1971 when British troops murdered eleven unarmed civilians and injured dozens of others in a small district of West Belfast during a three day reign of terror. One of the victims was a well-regarded local parish priest, Father Hugh Mullan, targeted by British snipers as he attended one of the wounded.

From the Belfast Telegraph:

“Nigel Mumford is proud of his time in the Parachute Regiment, but admits that some soldiers did break the law. Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph about his time serving in Northern Ireland, the ex-para paints a brutally honest picture of his time here.

It was a particularly vicious episode of the Troubles and Mr Mumford’s role as a medic saw him dealing with the aftermath of much violence in west Belfast.

In the first eyewitness account of Ballymurphy [ASF: the Ballmurphy Massacre] to be outlined by a para, Mr Mumford said: “I don’t like to speak against other paras, though some did break the law.”

…in the lethal atmosphere which followed the internment swoops and Ballymurphy massacre in August 1971. Then Mr Mumford was stationed in Henry Taggart base. Several people, including Joan Connolly, a 50-year-old woman searching for her children, were shot from the base.

The prelude to the shootings was a round-up of republican suspects in an internment swoop [ASF: detention and imprisonment without trial].

“Not everybody who was arrested was IRA but all were brutally beaten when they were brought into the Taggart Hall.

“Most of them were naked or in their underclothes,” Mr Mumford recalled.

“The lads behaved very brutally and in the morning a massive crowd started throwing stones at us.”

Mumford admits goading locals by shouting: “Up with the IRA — by the neck”.

His punishment of collecting stones lying in the base was cut short when IRA gunfire from nearby houses sprayed the fence beside him. Soldiers had earlier shot people in other parts of the estate.

“A group of about 30 or 40 guys ran for the front gate and the man on sentry duty asked for permission to shoot — he thought they were going to take him out. Then a patrol went out to protect him and they all opened fire and brought in nine people (wounded or dead) but there was a lot more shot than that” he said.

He admits aiming two shots from a Browning “in the direction of the firing” and claims: “I am quite sure I didn’t hit anyone.” In the aftermath he tended the casualties.

“As a medic I looked after about 12 people shot that night,” he added. “On that day there were no ballistics taken. It was like bloody war with no police on the scene, so trying to collect evidence now would be hopeless,” he said.

He claimed the HET [ASF: the PSNI’s Historical Enquiries Team] “is trying to get an ex-soldier to change his statement and implicate the lads from First Para. They are trying to get someone to give evidence that the Army actually committed a crime”.

A HET spokesman appealed for Mr Mumford and other witnesses to come forward. He said the HET did not envisage interviewing Mr Mumford under caution but as a witness.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams was a senior republican in Ballymurphy but denies being an IRA member. He said yesterday: “None of the 11 dead in Ballymurphy had any connection to any armed group. They were all innocent civilians. Their deaths were part of a planned policy by the British government to pacify the community using the British Parachute Regiment.”

The Ballymurphy Massacre website contains a full account of the British Army atrocity:

9th August 1971

On the 9th of August 1971, at roughly 8:30pm, in the Springfield Park area of West Belfast, a local man was trying to lift children to safety when he was shot and wounded by the British Army’s Parachute Regiment. Local people tried to help the wounded man but were pinned back by the Parachute Regiment’s gunfire. Local parish priest, Father Hugh Mullan, telephoned the Henry Taggart army post to tell them he was going into the field to help the injured man.

Father Mullan entered the field, waving a white baby grow. He anointed the injured man, named locally as Bobby Clarke. Having identified that Bobby had received a flesh wound and was not fatally wounded Father Mullan attempted to leave the field. At this point Father Mullan was fatally shot in the back.

On witnessing such events another young man of 19 years, Frank Quinn, came out of his place of safety to help Father Mullan. Frank was shot in the back of the head as he tried to reach Father Mullan. The bodies of Father Hugh Mullan and Frank Quinn lay where they were shot until local people could safely reach them. Their bodies remained in neighbouring homes until they could be safely removed the next morning.

Tension was rising in the community as local youths fought back against the army’s horrendous campaign. Families were fleeing their homes in Springfield Park as they came under attack from [British] Loyalist mobs approaching from the direction of Springmartin. Parents frantically searched for their children. Local men were still being removed from their homes, beaten and interned [imprisoned without trial] without reason. All this and at the same time the people of Ballymurphy were trying to live a normal life.

Local people had started gathering at the bottom of Springfield Park, an area known locally as the Manse. Some of those gathering included Joseph Murphy who was returning from the wake of a local boy who drowned in a swimming accident. Joan Connolly and her neighbour Anna Breen stopped as they searched for their daughters. Daniel Teggart also stopped as he returned from his brother’s house which was close to Springfield Park. Daniel had gone to his brother’s house to check on his brother’s safety as his house had been attacked as local youth targeted the Henry Taggart Army base located nearby. Noel Phillips, a young man of 19 years, having just finished work walked to Springfield Park to check on the local situation.

Without warning the British Army opened fire from the direct of the Henry Taggart Army Base. The shooting was aimed directly at the gathering. In the panic people dispersed in all directions. Many people took refuge in a field directly opposite the army base. The British Army continued to fire and intensified their attack on this field.

Noel Phillips was shot in the back side. An injury that was later described in his autopsy as a flesh wound. As he lay crying for help, Joan Connolly, a mother of 8 went to his aid. Eye witnesses heard Joan call out to Noel saying “It’s alright son, I’m coming to you”.

In her attempt to aid Noel, Joan was shot in the face. When the gunfire stopped Noel Phillips, Joan Connolly, Joseph Murphy and many others lay wounded. Daniel Teggart, a father of 14, lay dead having been shot 14 times.

A short time later a British Army vehicle left the Henry Taggart Army Base and entered the field. A solider exited the vehicle, and to the dismay of the local eye witnesses, executed the already wounded Noel Phillips by shooting him once behind each ear with a hand gun.

Soldiers then began lifting the wounded and dead and throwing them into the back of the vehicle. Joseph Murphy, who had been shot once in the leg, was also lifted along with the other victims and taken to the Henry Taggart Army Base. Those lifted, including Joseph Murphy, were severely beaten. Soldiers brutally punched and kicked the victims. Soldiers jumped off bunks on top of victims and aggravated the victims’ existing wounds by forcing objects in to them. Mr Murphy was shot at close range with a rubber bullet into the wound he first received in the field. Mr Murphy died three weeks later from his injuries.

Joan Connolly, who had not been lifted by the soldiers when they first entered the field, lay wounded where she had been shot. Eye witnesses claimed Joan cried out for help for many hours. Joan was eventually removed from the field around 2:30am on 10th August. Autopsy reports state that Joan, having been repeatedly shot, bled to death.

10th August 1971

Eddie Doherty, a father of two from the St James’ area of West Belfast, had visited his elderly parents in the Turf Lodge area, on the evening of Tuesday 10th August to check on their safety during the ongoing unrest. He was making his way home along the Whiterock road, as he approached the West Rock area he noticed a barricade which had been erected by local people in an attempt to restrict access to the British Army.

A local man named Billy Whelan, known to Eddie, stopped him and the pair passed commented on the ongoing trouble. At the same time a British Army digger [armoured digger] and Saracen [armoured personnel carrier] moved in to dismantle the barricade. From the digger, a soldier from the Parachute Regiment opened fire. Eddie was fatally shot in the back. Local people carried him to neighbouring homes in an attempt to provide medical attention but Eddie died a short time later from a single gunshot wound.

11th August 1971

At roughly 4am on 11th August John Laverty, a local man of 20 years, was shot and killed by soldiers from the British Army’s Parachute Regiment. Joseph Corr, a local father of 6, was also shot and wounded by the same regiment. Mr Corr died of his injuries 16 days later. The Parachute Regiment’s account stated that both men were firing at the army and were killed as the army responded. Neither men were armed and ballistic and forensic evidence tested at the time disproved the Army’s testimony.

Pat McCarthy, a local community worker who came to work in Ballymurphy from England, was shot in the hand on the same day as he was attempting to leave the local community centre to distribute milk and bread to neighbouring families. A few hours later and nursing his wounded hand, Pat decided to continue with the deliveries. He was stopped by soldiers from the British Army’s Parachute Regiment who harassed and beat him.

Eye witnesses’ watched in horror as the soldiers carried out a mock execution on Pat by placing a gun in his mouth and pulling the trigger, only for the gun to be unloaded. Pat suffered a massive heart attack and the same soldiers stopped local people from trying to help Pat. As a result Pat died from the ordeal.

John McKerr, a father of 8 and a carpenter from the Andersonstown Road area, was carrying out repair work in Corpus Christi Chapel on the 11th August. John took a short break to allow the funeral of a local boy, who drowned in a swimming accident, to take place. As he waited outside the chapel for the funeral mass to end, John was shot once in the head by a British soldier from the Army’s Parachute Regiment.

Despite the harassment of the British Army, local people went to his aid and remained at his side until an ambulance arrived. One local woman, named locally as Maureen Heath, argued with the soldiers as they refused to allow John to be taken in the ambulance. John was eventually taken to hospital but died of his injuries 9 days later having never regained consciousness.”

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