A British paratrooper wept as he told an inquest that out of control soldiers were prepared to shoot anyone on the streets during the Ballymurphy killings in West Belfast

The former corporal, identified only as M597, told the Belfast inquest into the killings in the city in August 1971, that some soldiers within the British Army’s 1st Battalion of the Parachute Regiment were “psychopaths.” He said they “reveled” in what they had done and congratulated each other afterward.

He was giving evidence on the 58th day of the inquest which is examining the deaths of 10 civilians, including a mother of eight and a Catholic priest, from August 9 to 11.

The three-day series of shootings has become known as the Ballymurphy Massacre, and claims that IRA gunmen were in the area at the time have been disputed at the inquest.

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M597, who could be seen by relatives of the dead as he gave evidence said, “Rogue soldiers were out of control, killing people on the street and knowing that they would be protected. They were saying, anything out there that moves, we consider them to be in the IRA or associated with the IRA, and for that alone, they could be or should be shot.”

He broke down and claimed that there was still a culture within the military of covering up killings. “It is like the KKK. It is like a brotherhood, they are sticking together.”

He was told officers in charge of B Company had “lost control” and that anyone could be shot. The witness, now 70, said, “They were shooting innocent people; that was my interpretation.”

He alleged that the soldiers had no feeling or respect for the dead. “They seemed to think they could do anything and get away with it,” he said.

He commended some good and professional soldiers. Others had troubled backgrounds, or had avoided going to prison by joining the army, he said.  

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He added, “There were also psychopaths in there, there were people who were dangerous to have around.”

M597 also rejected a claim that part of a person’s skull was used as an ashtray by soldiers.

Henry Thornton’s van backfired and a soldier, fearing it was an attack, shot him dead.

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

But M597 urged the families to discount the assertion about the ashtray.

He said, “I truly am sorry for any part that I played in this and I would like you today to leave here not believing what Henry Gow told you last week because it is not true.

“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.”

M597 added, “He is talking garbage for his book.”

The inquest continues.

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