Written on: 21. 5. 2021 in the category: Uncategorized

Ballymurphy Butchery Must Never be Forgotten

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All those who cherish the truth, who respect courage and who admire tenacity will welcome the finding of the Ballymurphy Inquest that found that the ten people shot by Paras there during internment week fifty years ago were effectively murdered. The details are here https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/extra/nCC4npKUMq/Entirely-innocent.

I’ve written about this shameful affair many times, as I have about the murderers responsible, the British army’s Parachute Regiment. But it’s too easy to blame them and them alone: their brutality and their taste for murder must have long been known to army command and ultimately to the British government. With one exception that I know of, between 1971 and 1975 no one in authority did much to curb the homicidal instincts of this regiment, which was responsible for about 80% of army killings of innocent civilians.

The Paras specialised in brutality. They liked it. They got away with it. And army command knew about it and did almost nothing to curtail it, despite regular protests from the commanders of other British army battalions, most notably Lt Colonel Jeremy Reilly, Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.

Not content with the 1971 slaughter (see above) and Bloody Sunday in Derry in 1972, the Paras conducted a second Ballymurphy massacre in July 1972, when five people were shot dead in minutes, including another priest. Two of the dead were in the Fianna, the junior wing of the IRA, but this was not why they were shot: they were, like Father Fitzpatrick, killed gallantly trying to help other victims of the para killfest. One of these was 13-year-old Margaret Gargan. Many years later, a former member of the Paras told me that an NCO involved in his training had boasted of shooting her. The killer – by his own account – positively identified Margaret as a young girl in a dress – he even remembered the colour – and then he deliberately shot her. Nearly a decade later, this cold-blooded murderer was actually boasting to trainee paras how he’d got away with killing an innocent girl, even describing in detail and with relish how she went down like a sack when he shot her.

One evening in September 1972, I was on my way to visit a friend on Whiterock Road and was stopped by a para patrol, led by a fat Scottish sergeant. I showed him my RTE accreditation and told him I was making a social visit. He told me I had one minute to leave the area, otherwise he would shoot me. I said I had to tell my friend that we would not be going out that night. “Your fucking minute’s ticking away”, he replied.

Having told my friend that I was leaving immediately, I ran back to my car just as a singing drunk was passing by. Without saying a word, the Paras beat him about the head with their rifle-butts, and then repeatedly kicked him on the ground. I said: “Sergeant, you’ve got to stop that,” pronouncing his rank as “sarnt”, which suggested a certain military authority.

“Fuck. You still here? Your minute’s nearly up. You want to be very fucking careful, or you’ll end up like this poor fucking cunt here.”

Then he walked over to the figure on the ground and kicked him very hard in the groin.

“Sarnt, this isn’t right and you know it. I’m taking that man to hospital.”

“Take him wherever you fucking like, but if I see your face around here again, you cunt, I will personally shoot you fucking dead.”

I got the victim – named John Kelly – into my car. He was cascading blood and I took him down to the Royal Victoria Hospital where about twenty-five stitches were put in his head (though clearly, he should have been admitted). Four hours later, I drove him homeward, along with a teenage hitchhiker I’d picked up on the Falls. On the Whiterock Road was a checkpoint: yes, the same Scottish sergeant.

We three were taken from the car. The two others were given a terrible hammering – John Kelly’s second of the night – while I (presumably in deference to my accent) was put with my fingertips against the wall of City Cemetery while I was punched in the back and my feet were repeatedly kicked apart.

“Is there any fucking reason why I shouldn’t blow your fucking brains out, you cunt?”

“I’ve told my office about you, and they’ve notified 39th Brigade watchkeeper,” I lied (quite inventively, I must admit). “If any harm comes to me, it’ll come to you too.”

That did it. The three of us were released, the other two in a terrible shape. I drove them home, despite being warned not to. We all three of us expected to be riddled as we left.

I later wrote to General Tuzo, GOC Northern Ireland, and I got a reply from his Military Assistant which began “Dear Myers….” and proceeded to declare that there was no foundation to my story. However, if I wanted to pursue the matter further that I should take it up with the RUC.

The people of Ballymurphy had to put up with conduct like that every day during those times. One of the victims was 19-year Liam Holden, who was beaten, tortured and even water-boarded by paras into admitting shooting a soldier, and then served seventeen years in jail for a crime he did not commit.

The following year, 3rd Battalion Parachute Regiment were stationed in Ardoyne on the other side of the city, and now it was their turn to have their own little killing sprees. I wrote a piece about this for The Observer. Much of my more serious allegations were cut, and the headline (which I didn’t write) was, as usual, a contradiction of the main thrust of my story: “Brutality Row Brews as Paras Tame Ardoyne”. Of course, taming was the last thing they were doing, but rather stoking up the fuel for endless war.

By that time, a new GOC had arrived: Frank King, a gentleman, a first-class soldier, a veteran of Arnhem and thus a paratrooper who had the moral authority to take on the Paras. I met him at a cocktail party at army headquarters, Lisburn. He told me he’d read my piece with interest. I replied that it had been severely cut to the point of being censored, and that the Paras were brewing up a hate storm that would not quickly vanish.

Soon afterwards, King called in 3 Para commander, Lt Colonel Lorimer, and interviewed him. At the end of this meeting, Lorimer was immediately suspended from duty and sent directly home from Lisburn without even being allowed to return to his battalion to say farewell. This proves that there was at least one man who was concerned about the rule of law. (I only discovered this part of the story in recent years, which is why this event was not in my account of my time in Belfast, “Watching the Door”.)

But King’s intervention was far too late – and the rot was too deep. Major General Ford, Commander Land Forces and the primary architect of Bloody Sunday in Derry had not been sacked in disgrace after that slaughter but was instead promoted, becoming the Commandant General of Sandhurst. His GOC, Lt General Tuzo, instead of being immediately relieved of command, received further promotions and went with grace and honour to his grave. Captain Mike Jackson, One Paras’ adjutant on that terrible day, and therefore the man with the most hands-on responsibility for the massacre, rose to the very top of the army, collecting a DSO and MC on the way and becoming a national treasure. These men were benefitting from largely political decisions, meaning that much of the fault lay deep inside Westminster.

None of this should be taken as an excuse for the IRA’s murderous campaign of terror and brutality, in the course of which they killed more Catholics than did all the security forces. Nor is it coincidental that the IRA refused to cooperate with the Ballymurphy Inquest. They had too much blood on their hands to be pointing their fingers at anyone: they would rather conceal the truth about the Paras than reveal the reality about the sordid horrors they were up to. Indeed, there was almost a satanic alliance between the IRA and the Paras; how many recruits did the Paras with their recreational killings drum up for the IRA, and how many British soldiers (and others) were killed by those recruits? How many of these themselves died or had their young lives ruined in jail? I’ll return to this at a later date.

In the meantime, we should congratulate the Ballymurphy campaigners for their tenacity, their courage and their integrity. They helped lay bare the face of evil, the existence of which has still not been acknowledged never mind denounced by those in London who have the moral authority to do so. Moreover, there is probably no corporate memory in the British army to make the dreadful revelations of the Ballymurphy inquest a matter of perpetual shame for the Parachute Regiment.

To paraphrase Kipling: speak no more of Arnhem who only Arnhem know.

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