Further military witnesses heard in inquest into 1973 death

Further evidence from military witnesses has been heard in the inquest into the death of a man in Londonderry in 1973 after he was struck by a rubber bullet.

Thomas Friel, 21, died several days after he sustained head injuries in the early hours of May 18 as he walked home from a night out.

Earlier this week a fresh inquest into his death heard former soldiers tell how orders were given to fire baton rounds after they came under attack by youths in the Creggan area.

On the night of May 17-May 18, a group of soldiers from 3 Royal Anglian based at Creggan Camp, also known as Piggery Ridge, had been patrolling the area, giving cover to colleagues mending a fence at a sangar.

On Tuesday, a former soldier, who has been granted anonymity and is referred to in court as TFM10, recalled coming under attack in the area to the inquest sitting in Banbridge Court in Co Down.

He had been a corporal with 3 Royal Anglian in 1973.

In his statement from 1973 which was read to the inquest, TFM10 recalled coming under attack with rocks and stones around an hour into the patrol, and falling back to waste ground.

“While on the waste ground I could hear baton rounds being fired but I myself did not fire any baton rounds and no one from my section any baton rounds,” he said in his 1973 statement.

Banbridge Court House (Paul Faith/PA)
Banbridge Court House (Paul Faith/PA)

“I did not see any injured persons while on patrol that night and I do not recall how I heard that someone had been hit with a baton round but I did hear about it at the base, I also believe that I did hear at some stage that the person had died but I cannot remember when or from whom.”

Michael Chambers, counsel for the coroner, questioned TFM10 around the use of baton rounds.

TFM10 said he had never used a baton gun while serving in Northern Ireland, adding that he had two soldiers trained in their use in his unit.

Asked had he ever seen baton rounds being fired directly at people as opposed to one metre in front of them, TFM10 said: “no”.

He said his baton gunners would not have fired without him telling them to.

A number of statements from other former soldiers were also read to the inquest.

TFM13, a private with 3 Royal Anglian, said in his statement that he does not recall anything from the night of May 17-18 because he had been injured 15 minutes into the patrol.

He said he had been “heavily concussed” and was returned to base.

A fresh inquest was ordered by Northern Ireland’s attorney general in 2014 after evidence emerged indicating that the Ministry of Defence knew of the lethal capacity of the projectiles

The inquest is set to continue on Wednesday.