Friday 23 August 2019

Human skull ashtray claim was 'fabricated' - Ballymurphy inquest told

Long fight: The families of the 10 people who were killed in gunfire during three days of shootings in west Belfast in 1971, gather outside Laganside Courts ahead of a fresh inquest this wek. Photo: Cate McCurry/PA Wire
Long fight: The families of the 10 people who were killed in gunfire during three days of shootings in west Belfast in 1971, gather outside Laganside Courts ahead of a fresh inquest this wek. Photo: Cate McCurry/PA Wire

Michael McHugh

A claim that part of a person's skull was used as an ashtray by soldiers is a fantasy, a witness told the Ballymurphy inquest.

Henry Thornton from south Armagh was shot dead by a paratrooper on Belfast's Springfield Road in August 1971.

The victim's van had backfired and the soldier thought it was an attack, an inquest into Mr Thornton's death found.

The ashtray allegation was contained in a book by a former serviceman, Henry Gow, who was in west Belfast at that time.

Witness M597 urged the families of 10 people shot dead at Ballymurphy to discount that assertion.

"I truly am sorry for any part that I played in this and I would like you today to leave here not believing what Harry Gow told you last week, because it is not true," he told the Belfast inquest into the Ballymurphy killings.

"It is not true about the person's skull being used as an ashtray... it is fantasy.

"You need to wipe that clear. I would hate for you guys to be going through the rest of your lives thinking that - it was just not true."

The Ballymurphy families sat opposite the witness in two rows at the other side of the courtroom.

M597 said: "He is talking garbage for his book.

He said the claim that a sweepstake was run by Mr Gow's unit to reward soldiers who "got a kill" was "absolute rubbish".

"It is fabricated. I feel, sitting here today, I feel terrible for those people there."

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