The brother of a 10-year-old boy who was killed during the Troubles in Belfast in 1975 has said he hopes the truth about the death can finally be heard.
The inquest into the death of Stephen Geddis was told that he was found lying on the ground immediately after a plastic baton round was discharged by a soldier near a barricade in west Belfast.
Stephen died after suffering a head injury on August 29 1975.
The legacy inquest, the second into Stephen’s death, is one of a number ordered by former Northern Ireland attorney general John Larkin.
During the first day of the hearing, statements from Stephen’s three brothers and his mother were read, who all stated that he had been killed by a plastic bullet fired by a soldier.
Kieran Geddis, who was 14 at the time of Stephen’s death, gave evidence and said his brother would never have been involved in rioting or stone throwing.
He said: “We were all left devastated and heartbroken. Our family was destroyed after that event.
“He was a great wee brother. He never got the experience of becoming a teenager, falling in love, getting married, having a family.
“He was such an innocent child. I can’t understand how anybody could have considered him a threat and would have wanted to target him or shoot him.
“Hopefully this inquest will be an opportunity for us to hear the whole truth. This is an opportunity and a platform for us to hear the whole story.”
Frank O’Donoghue, counsel for the coroner, referred to a post-mortem examination which was carried out the day after Stephen’s death.
Mr O’Donoghue said the report stated that an unauthorised barricade had been set up by civilians in Albert Street on the evening of August 29 1975, that there was a crowd of 40 to 50 youths around the barricade, and that stones and missiles had been thrown at soldiers.
He said the report stated that one soldier moved forward and fired a plastic bullet. When the crowd dispersed, a boy was seen lying on the ground.
Stephen was taken to the Royal Children’s Hospital, where, according to the post-mortem report, he told a nurse he had been hit on the head by an object fired from a catapult.
Mr O’Donoghue said: “One matter I should raise at this time is the reliability of the history apparently given by Stephen in hospital that he was apparently hit by a catapult.
“This court is going to receive evidence from at least two pathologists. One matter about which pathologists do appear to be in agreement is that Stephen’s injuries are much more consistent with being struck by a plastic baton round than any object fired from a catapult.
“I am flagging up to the court that it may be that the possibility of Stephen suffering his head injury as the result of a discharge from a catapult can be eliminated and the pathology evidence will weigh firmly in favour of Stephen having suffered his injury as a result of a blow from a plastic baton round.”
Mr O’Donoghue told the hearing that the inquest would call as witnesses three soldiers from B Company of the Second Royal Anglian Regiment, referred to as SGM3, SGM15 and SGM12, who were on patrol that evening as well as a number of civilian witnesses.
He continued: “As the facts of what did occur are significantly in dispute, I will say merely at this time that it appears that a group of young boys gathered in the vicinity of a barricade that had been erected in the Albert Streett/Cullingtree Road area.
“There is an issue as to whether Stephen is part of or separate from that group.
“It would appear that those young boys engaged in some acts of civil disorder, but the extent of those acts appears to be in dispute.
“It would appear that there were two baton rounds discharged. One baton round appears to have been discharged which had the effect of dispersing part of the group. The second baton round appears to have been discharged at a later point in time and again the circumstances of that appear to be very much in dispute.
“What does not appear to be in dispute is that, in the immediate aftermath of the second baton round being discharged, Stephen was found lying on the ground with the injury to his head.”
The inquest is being heard by coroner Paddy McGurgan.