‘No doubt’ IRA and soldiers engaged in gun battle at Ballymurphy – ex-Army chief

The former head of the British Army has insisted there was a gun battle between the IRA and soldiers at Ballymurphy in 1971.

General Sir Mike Jackson, 75, was a captain in the Parachute Regiment on deployment in Belfast at the time.

He described his role in August 1971 as community relations and press liaison.

Sir Mike was giving evidence to an inquest at Belfast Coroner’s Court into the deaths of 10 civilians, including a mother of eight and a Catholic priest, across three days from August 9 to 11 1971.

Ballymurphy victims
Joseph Corr, Danny Taggart, Eddie Doherty, Father Hugh Mullan, Frank Quinn, Joan Connolly, John McKerr, Noel Philips, John Laverty and Joseph Murphy all died at Ballymurphy (Ballymurphy Massacre Committee/PA)

Two men – John Laverty and Joseph Corr – were killed in the early hours of August 11.

Sir Mike told a fresh inquest into their deaths that he was part of an Army movement down Whiterock Road towards Springfield Road in the early hours of August 11, aimed at dismantling barricades.

He recalled a gun battle between the Army and the IRA which he said lasted two to three hours and involved 20 gunmen.

While he did not see the battle, he said he heard the shots, including the “distinctive thumping noise of a Thompson submachine gun”, a weapon then associated with the IRA.

“I have absolutely no doubt that the IRA were firing on soldiers and soldiers were firing on the IRA,” he said.

Claims that IRA gunmen were in the area at the time have been disputed during the inquest hearings.

Family members outside the court in Belfast
Family members outside the court in Belfast (Niall Carson/PA)

A newspaper article published later on August 11 described Mr Laverty and Mr Corr as gunmen.

Their families have insisted they were not gunmen. The inquest heard that guns were not found when their bodies were recovered.

Sir Mike told the inquest he accepted it was likely he was a captain quoted by the newspaper, although he did not recall giving the interview.

Pressed on why the pair had been described as gunmen, Sir Mike said he would have been fed information from soldiers on the ground, by radio or face to face.

“In retrospect, of course I should have said ‘alleged’,” Sir Mike told the inquest.

The shootings at Ballymurphy came following the introduction by the Stormont administration of the controversial policy of internment without trial.

Sir Mike added: “Let me say to the families who so long ago lost their loved ones: for me it’s a tragedy. It’s a tragedy which is hugely regrettable but I would also say that anybody who loses their lives as a result of violent conflict is also a tragedy.

“I too have lost friends, so be it. My sympathies to you and I’m sorry that it is only now after so long that you feel you can come to terms.”

Representatives from families of several of those killed by the Parachute Regiment were in the public gallery at the inquest on Thursday.

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