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Sisters whose mother was killed 50 years ago celebrate clearing of her name

·3-min read

It took decades of campaigning, months of hearings, delays due to the coronavirus pandemic and more than two hours of findings, but 50 years on from the shooting of 10 people in west Belfast, their loved ones say their fight to clear their names has been won.

The longest running inquest in Northern Ireland’s history finally concluded at Belfast Coroner’s Court on Tuesday afternoon with applause.

The British Army were found to have fired the fatal shots which killed nine of the 10, with not enough evidence around the final death to determine the likely gunman.

Bereaved families walked to the court holding pictures of their mothers, fathers and siblings aloft as they had done for 100 sitting days of the inquests.

Ballymurphy inquest
Families of people who were killed at Ballymurphy arrive at Belfast Coroner’s Court on Tuesday (Liam McBurney/PA)

Inside the Nightingale Court at the International Conference Centre there was a nervous tension in the air as the families sat in their Covid-19 compliant bubbles waiting to hear Coroner Mrs Justice Keegan’s findings.

Their mission had been to hear an official dismissal of years of misinformation that the 10 were terrorists.

There was relief and spontaneous applause as Father Hugh Mullan, 38, Frank Quinn, 19, Noel Phillips, 19, Joseph Murphy, 41, Joan Connolly, 44, Daniel Teggart, 44, Eddie Doherty, 31, Joseph Corr, 43, John Laverty, 20, and John McKerr, 49, were all declared “entirely innocent”.

Joyous scenes outside the court followed as families emerged into the sunshine holding placards with the faces of their loved one with the words “innocent” written on each.

Ballymurphy inquest
Ballymurphy families celebrate after a coroner ruled 10 people shot in Belfast in 1971 were innocent (Liam McBurney/PA)

Relatives cheered and embraced as they celebrated the rulings.

The surviving daughters of mother of eight Mrs Connolly proclaimed themselves as “warrior sisters” after decades of campaigning for an official repudiation of misinformation that she had been an IRA gunwoman.

Maura McGee recalled 50 years of feeling forced to conceal the circumstances of her mother’s death, due to the cloud of the unfounded allegation.

She said they often told people her mother had died in a car crash.

“We always knew she was innocent but to have her declared innocent in the eyes of the public and the rest of the world, it’s something that we didn’t expect would ever happen,” she said.

Ballymurphy inquest
Michelle O’Neill (centre) meets members of Joseph Corr family at Corpus Christi Youth Centre in Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)

The celebrations later moved to Corpus Christi Youth Club where deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill joined the families.

The names of all the victims were read out, with a poignant pause to add the word innocent after each one.

John Teggart, whose father Daniel was among those killed, described the experience of the inquest as “awful … reliving the horror of what happened to our loved ones” for 100 days.

“What gave us strength to get through it was the knowledge that every day was another blow to the MoD (Ministry of Defence) and the web of lies from 50 years ago,” he said.

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