Coroner appeals for witnesses to 1972 Springhill shooting

·3-min read
The hearing took place at Laganside courthouse in Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA) (PA Archive)
The hearing took place at Laganside courthouse in Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA) (PA Archive)

A coroner has made a public appeal for witnesses to a shooting incident involving the Army in Belfast 50 years ago, in which five civilians were killed, to come forward.

Judge Neil Rafferty said he planned to begin the inquest on February 20 next year into the deaths at Springhill, in Ballymurphy, on July 9, 1972.

The civilians were John Dougal, 16, Patrick Butler, 39, Father Noel Fitzpatrick, 40, David McCafferty, 15, and Margaret Gargan, 13.

Former attorney general John Larkin directed new inquests into their deaths in 2014.

Opening the first preliminary hearing in the case, Judge Rafferty welcomed their families to court.

He said: “It is my intention to commence the hearing of this inquest on February 20, or as soon thereafter as possible.

“That is the timescale we will be working towards.”

If there are any witnesses who can give any evidence on the matters that we will be examining, I appeal to them to come forward now

Judge Neil Rafferty

Counsel for the coroner, Ronan Daly QC, said a public appeal from the coroner on the 50th anniversary of the shootings had had a positive response.

He said: “I understand there has been a response to the appeal and a number of witnesses have come forward.

“Your legacy inquest unit has identified, at the moment, approximately 122 potential civilian witnesses, 39 of whom are deceased. That will leave in the region of 83 to be considered.”

Judge Rafferty said: “The reason why I issued the witness appeal on the 50th anniversary is quite simply there is always a certain amount of publicity generating in this country around the times of anniversaries.

“I wanted to use the 50th anniversary to put out an appeal, to anyone who may even be hesitant about coming forward.

“I reiterate that appeal.

“If there are any witnesses who can give any evidence on the matters that we will be examining, I appeal to them to come forward now, to make themselves known to my staff and to give a witness statement.”

Mr Daly continued: “In relation to military, the legacy inquest unit has identified 46 potential military witnesses, 11 of whom are deceased, leaving in the region of 35 potential witnesses.

“Questionnaires were issued to the traced soldiers and responses are still coming in. The assistance of the MoD has been sought in respect of those not yet traced.”

The hearing also heard that the legacy inquest unit had conducted searches of archives in libraries and approached media outlets for relevant material.

Mr Daly said: “You will see searches have been conducted at the Linenhall Library in Belfast and the National Library of Ireland in Dublin and further visits are scheduled within the next number of weeks to complete the searches of the archives and a volume of material will be provided.

“The BBC has been approached in relation to materials. It has advised that it does not hold any potentially relevant material.

“ITV has advised that it does hold some potentially relevant material. A direction from you might he helpful in that regard.”

Judge Rafferty said: “For the avoidance of doubt I direct that ITV identify such material and their attitude to making that material available to us.

“If it touches upon journalistic sources they are to make that known.”

The next preliminary hearing will take place on October 26.