News World Inquest into 1971 Belfast incident finds British soldiers killed innocent, unarmed people
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Inquest into 1971 Belfast incident finds British soldiers killed innocent, unarmed people

Joan Connolly, center right, whose mother was shot dead in 1971, reacts with family members after the inquest into the British Army operation in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Photo: AAP
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Ten people killed in Belfast, Northern Ireland during a 1971 British Army operation were unarmed and innocent, and the British soldiers used unjustifiable and disproportionate force, an inquest has found.

The deaths in Ballymurphy, a west Belfast Catholic neighbourhood, in August 1971 sparked an upsurge of violence during Northern Ireland’s “Troubles”.

Calls for veterans to be prosecuted, anger over plans to protect them

The long-awaited report is seen as likely to add fuel to demands for British Army veterans to be prosecuted for actions while serving in Northern Ireland during its decades of sectarian violence.

But it comes shortly after the UK government announced it would introduce legislation to give greater protection to former soldiers who served in Northern Ireland. Officials in Dublin and many in Belfast fiercely oppose the plan.

“All of the deceased were entirely innocent of any wrongdoing on the day in question,” coroner Judge Siobhan Keegan concluded. As her report was read out, relatives of the victims applauded in court.

The families of the Ballymurphy victims react after the inquest in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Photo: AAP

Priest shot in the back while waving white flag

A Catholic priest and a mother of eight who served soldiers tea during the Troubles were among those that died in an event Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney described on Tuesday (local time) as “one of the most tragic days” of Northern Ireland’s three decades of bloodshed.

Father Hugh Mullan, the 38-year-old priest who died, was helping an injured man and waving a white object before he was shot twice in the back, the inquiry said.

“Our brother was killed by the British Army and then they lied about it to cover up their injustice,” Mullan’s brother Patsy told a news conference.

“After 50 years the truth we always knew has finally been told.”

There was not enough evidence to say whether the army were responsible for the death of one the victims, John James McKerr, who was indiscriminately shot going to and from work, the judge said.

Questions also remain unanswered about the identity of the soldiers who shot many of the victims, she added.

No one has been charged or convicted in connection with any of the killings.

The UK government plans to “take the time to review the report and carefully consider the conclusions drawn,” a spokesman said.

-AAP