350 names of potential soldier witnesses identified in inquest into 1971 death

Work is under way to trace 350 potential soldier witnesses to the fatal shooting of a mother of six in Londonderry in 1971, an inquest has heard.

Kathleen Thompson, 47, was shot dead in the back garden of her home during an Army search operation at a neighbour’s house on Rathlin Drive in the Creggan area of Derry on November 6 1971.

A new inquest into her death was adjourned last year to allow for efforts to trace three soldiers thought to have been present in the area at the time of Mrs Thompson’s death.

Kathleen Thompson
Kathleen Thompson

During a preliminary inquiry hearing at Laganside Courts in Belfast on Friday, it emerged that a database of 350 names has been compiled.

Counsel to the Coroner Laura McMahon told the hearing that the tracing work has already started.

“We have a spreadsheet of 350 names which were not previously known to the Coroner’s Service for the purpose of this inquest,” she said.

“We will write to HMRC to confirm addresses for the 350.”

Ms McMahon said 150 of the names have already been checked with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

She said of these, 53 were confirmed as deceased or not traced, with 97 confirmed as alive.

“That leaves 200 names outstanding,” she said.

Kathleen Thompson
Kathleen Thompson

The confirmed names are set to be passed to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) for the purpose of their P files (personnel files) being checked to ascertain whether they were present in Derry at the time of the shooting of Ms Thompson.

Counsel for the MoD indicated that this process could take up to six weeks.

Judge Sandra Crawford expressed disappointment with the timescale given and said she wanted to see a “significant improvement” in progressing the inquest.

The next step of the process will be the issuing of questionnaires to ask individuals whether they are likely to have evidence to give to the inquest.

A date for the next preliminary inquiry hearing was set for March 1.

A previous inquest into Mrs Thompson’s death, held in 1972, returned an open verdict.

A new inquest into the death of the 47-year-old was ordered in September 2013.

It came after the attorney general concluded that the original investigation was not thorough.

Mrs Armstrong was the mother of six siblings.

Two of her sons, David and Erne Thompson, were present in court on Friday for the brief hearing.