Tears and relief – Catholics killed by British Army ‘entirely innocent’

Tears and relief – Catholics killed by British Army ‘entirely innocent’ Ballymurphy relatives Patsy Mullan (left), brother of Fr Hugh Mullan, and Liam Quinn, brother of Frank Quinn. Picture by Mal McCann

A priest and nine other Catholics shot dead by the British Army in Belfast in 1971 “were entirely innocent of any wrongdoings” and killed “without justification,” a fresh inquest has found.

The coroner described the use of force by the troops as “disproportionate” and there were emotional scenes as families reacted to the vindication of their loved ones, who had previously been described by authorities as terrorists.

Bishop Noel Treanor of Down and Connor reacted immediately to the findings saying “It is a sad indictment on our society and state that these families have had to listen to misinformation and untruth propagated about their loved ones for almost 50 years”.

Ballymurphy parish priest Fr Paddy McCafferty said there was “relief and tears” as he watched with 70 family members in Corpus Christi Church. He said there was “huge relief” and “no ambiguity” at the verdict.

The bishop accompanied the families to the inquest. He said: “it was immensely humbling and moving to sit along-side the relatives of the Ballymurphy victims as they listened to the findings of the inquest.

“These families have sat through and listened to the harrowing and graphic evidence about how their loved ones died as well as how they were treated both before and after their deaths,” he said.

The inquest heard evidence that soldiers had treated the bodies of those who were killed with disrespect.

“These same families can now say with one voice that the truth has been heard. History will forever record the innocence of their loved ones,” Bishop Treanor said.

Referring to Fr Hugh Mullan, who was killed while administering the last rites to the dying of his parish, Bishop Treanor said: “With selfless pastoral devotion, Fr Mullan made the ultimate sacrifice and lost his life anointing his parishioners”.

The bishop recalled how “Bringing consolation to the dying, Fr Mullan prayed, ‘Through this Holy Anointing, may the Lord in His love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit.’ Fr Hugh courageously wanted those who were wounded and dying to know that God accompanied them in their hour of need,” he said.

Dr Treanor also paid tribute to the families. “I have witnessed over many years their respectful dignity and fortitude as they have pursued and campaigned for truth and justice.

“I have also been impressed by their strong sense of solidarity. These families who have been drawn together in sorrow and bereavement are also united in courage and hope. With the publication of the inquest today, they have been vindicated in protecting the innocence of their relatives,” Bishop Treanor said.