Monday 23 April 2018

Family of man shot by British soldiers want body exhumed

David Young

The family of one of 10 people shot dead by British soldiers in west Belfast in 1971 want his body exhumed amid claims he was fired on a second time when in Army custody, a coroner's court has heard.

Relatives of Joseph Murphy, a father of 12, are to officially request the move in a bid to test conflicting medical evidence on whether one or two bullets entered his body.

Mr Murphy, 41, lived for 13 days after being shot in Ballymurphy and during that time he alleged that, when he was hit by the first bullet in the upper thigh, soldiers then brought him into a nearby barracks and shot him again through the same wound.

While Mr Murphy thought a plastic bullet had been fired into the open wound, his family allege a live round may have been used.

Ten people died as result of gunfire injuries, among them a Catholic priest and mother of eight, sustained over three days of shooting in August 1971 - an episode relatives refer to as the Ballymurphy massacre - while another man died of a heart attack following an alleged violent confrontation with soldiers.

As with Bloody Sunday in Londonderry six months later, soldiers from the Parachute Regiment were involved in the fatal shootings in Ballymurphy.

A new inquest into the 10 deaths caused by gunfire was ordered by Northern Ireland's Attorney General John Larkin QC in 2011 and the opening preliminary hearing in Belfast Coroner's Court has taken place.

Solicitor Mark O'Connor, representing Mr Murphy's family, told coroner Jim Kitson the relatives would be asking for exhumation to find out if a bullet was left in the body.

Mr O'Connor explained that despite there being an entry and exit wound, a surgeon at the Royal Victoria Hospital who treated Mr Murphy said he had found a bullet lodged in his body - suggesting two rounds had entered.

But the lawyer said a pathologist who conducted the subsequent post mortem found no evidence of a bullet.

"In this post mortem there is no indication of any bullet being recovered from the body," he said.

Mr O'Connor told the coroner Mr Murphy's leg had been amputated as doctors battled to save his life but a recent review of the shootings by the police's Historical Enquiries Team could give "no indication" whether the bullet had been removed from the limb.

He said Mr Murphy had told his wife Mary that soldiers had shot him again inside Henry Taggart base in Ballymurphy.

"He told her that a rubber bullet was shot into his leg at the point of the previous wound," he said.

The solicitor said the family believed exhumation was the only option to establish what happened.

A formal request to examine Mr Murphy's remains is set to be made at a subsequent preliminary hearing, with Mr Kitson making the decision on whether to grant the move.

After the hearing, Mr Murphy's daughter Janet Donnelly said: "My daddy said he was shot into his open wound, he thought it was a plastic bullet, now the family are saying this hasn't been a plastic bullet, I believe it to be a live round - it's the only explanation."

She added: "There is only one entrance wound but there's an exit wound, so where did the second bullet come from, so that's what I am asking, that's why I am asking for the body to be lifted."

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