Army general ‘horrified’ over Ballymurphy priest death

Relatives of those killed in the Ballymurphy massacre. Credit: Press Eye

A retired Army general has told the Ballymurphy inquest he was upset and almost horrified a priest had been killed on the night of internment.

General Sir Geoffrey Howlett described how soldiers in the second battalion of the Parachute Regiment were "excited" but "not celebrating" after six people were shot dead.

His patrol, he told the inquest, was shot at around 40 times as it arrived at Henry Taggart base on the evening of 9 August 1971.

He said he was informed the base itself had come under heavy fire.

The retired general was asked by a barrister representing the families if he remembered the mood of the soldiers.

"They were quite excited," he replied. The lawyer continued: "Were they on a high?"

"No I wouldn't say that."

The inquest is examining the deaths of 10 people in Ballymurphy, during three days of gunfire in August 1971.

As Sir Geoffrey Howlett was questioned by a barrister representing Fr Hugh Mullan, he told the inquest he was "upset and almost horrified we had killed a priest who was unlikely to have been involved in any activity against us".

But he said he did not conduct an investigation as he believed that was the job of the Royal Military Police, in what he described was “almost war-like conditions”.

The general was asked to comment on the death of Joan Connolly, a mother of eight who was shot in the face.

“I am certain she was not shot on purpose,” he said.

Sir Geoffrey Howlett accepted "it would have been a bad day's work if everyone his soldiers shot were the wrong people".

And he disagreed he didn't care his soldiers had shot unarmed civilians.

“I cared immensely about what my soldiers did, and I cared immensely when innocent civilians were killed,” he said.