Britain’s Ministry of Defence has been accused of showing contempt for an inquest investigating the Army killings of 10 people in Belfast.
During a preliminary coroner’s court hearing, a lawyer representing families whose loved ones were killed in three days of shooting in the Ballymurphy area in 1971 heavily criticised the MoD for failing to provide files to the court within set timeframes.
Karen Quinlivan’s remarks came after the hearing in Belfast was informed there are set to be significant delays in the disclosure of both MoD and police documents related to the Ballymurphy Massacre.
The victims, which included a Catholic priest and mother of eight, died in an Army operation that saw soldiers storm republican strongholds in west Belfast to arrest IRA suspects following the introduction of the controversial state policy of internment without trial.
Coroner Jim Kitson was told the reason for the PSNI’s disclosure slippage was down to a serious resourcing issue caused by its cost-cutting decision to axe agency workers.
But the court was offered no explanation as to why the MoD had missed a deadline to hand over personnel files of the soldiers involved in the incident to enable lawyers to establish if they had been involved in other ‘lethal force incidents’ while in service.
Ms Quinlivan, representing the majority of the bereaved families, said she was concerned by the PSNI’s stance, but said at least the service had attempted to explain itself to the court.
The barrister said it was “entirely unacceptable” that the MoD had apparently not even tried to explain why it had missed a four-week deadline for disclosing the files.
Soldiers involved in the incident claimed they had come under attack and had returned fire.
As well as those shot dead in Ballymurphy, another man died of a heart attack following an alleged violent confrontation with soldiers. The new inquest only covers the deaths caused by gunfire.
The court earlier heard that anticipated timescales for the disclosure of police folders related to the case and other military documents had also been knocked back.
Dr McGleenan had explained that the PSNI’s decision to end recruitment of agency staff meant that workers deployed with security checking the documents would be leaving post next month.
The family of the one of the victims, Joseph Murphy, are bidding to have his body exhumed to ascertain if a bullet was left in his body after autopsy.
His relatives contend that the bullet was fired by a soldier through an already open gunshot wound when Mr Murphy was being held in Army custody after sustaining his initial injury.
Mr Kitson said he would make a ruling on whether the exhumation would be permitted at the next hearing on December 18.
The public gallery of the coroner’s court was packed with bereaved relatives for this morning’s hearing.
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