Ballymurphy victims given apology by Boris Johnson

Britain 'apologises unreservedly' for the 1971 shooting of 10 innocent people in Northern Ireland

Family members of the victims gesture as they pose for a picture following a news conference after listening to the findings of the report on the fatal shootings of 10 people in the Ballymurphy area of Belfast in 1971 that involved the British Army, in Ballymurphy, Belfast, Northern Ireland, May 11, 2021. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyn
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Boris Johnson issued an apology for the British military's role in the killing of 10 civilians in Belfast in 1971 after an inquest almost 50 years later established the victims' innocence.

The UK Prime Minister called First Minister of Northern Ireland Arlene Foster to apologise unreservedly on behalf of the British government for the events that took place in Ballymurphy as well as the five decades of delay in investigating. "The prime minister apologised unreservedly on behalf of the UK government for the events that took place in Ballymurphy and the huge anguish that the lengthy pursuit of truth has caused the families of those killed," a Downing Street spokesman said.

Hours earlier, former prime minister Tony Blair called for a truth and reconciliation commission for Northern Ireland to address historical crimes on both sides of The Troubles.

Modelled on South Africa's post-apartheid experience, the commission would be a better approach than endless recriminations in court prosecutions, Mr Blair said, a day after a coroner's inquest heavily criticised British troops over the 10 deaths.

"Obviously I sympathise with the government. We tried to deal with this ourselves when we were in government," he said.

The inquest came on the day that Mr Johnson had hoped to confirm he would press ahead with new legislation to try to draw a line under accusations of wrongful deaths in past conflicts through a statute of limitations for potential suspects.

The Ballymurphy families welcomed a judge's findings that British soldiers unjustifiably shot or used disproportionate force in the deaths of nine of the 10 innocent people in the 1971 incident.

A Catholic priest and a mother of eight who served soldiers tea were among the victims. "All of the deceased were entirely innocent of any wrongdoing on the day in question," Lady Justice Keegan ruled.

The bereaved families only came together after a 1998 event on the 'Forgotten Victims' of the three-decade conflict to bring Northern Ireland out of the United Kingdom.

The meeting was advertised in a newspaper and as it got under way individuals recognised the incident from other participants' tales.

But the campaign to secure a judge-led inquest was long. As recently as 2014, a UK-appointed secretary of state for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers rebuffed the calls for an independent inquiry. Only in 2016 was it authorised, when the then-chief justice ruled that legacy inquests could go ahead.

Alice Harper, the daughter of victim Danny Teggart, said she could still vividly recall the day of August 9, 1971 when the father of 13 was shot 14 times near the British Army base in the Catholic Ballymurphy area of Belfast.

"We just wanted the truth and wanted people to know the truth," she said. "We know our loved ones were innocent and we've lived with that stigma."

Father Hugh Mullan, the 38-year-old priest who died, was helping an injured man and Francis Quinn, 44 was shot trying to retrieve his body.

Also killed in the shootings were John McKerr, 49, Edward Doherty, 43, John Laverty, 20, Joseph Corr, 43, Noel Phillips, 19, Joseph Murray, 41 and Joan Connolly, a 44-year-old mother of eight children.