Former head of the British Army, General Sir Mike Jackson, has told the Ballymurphy inquest into the deaths of 10 people in west Belfast that the Army “does not do conspiracies”.
The deaths occurred during three days of gunfire in August 1971, following the introduction of internment – imprisoning people without charge – during the Northern Ireland Troubles.
Sir Mike Jackson was a captain of the One Para regiment at the time.
Giving evidence, he said there was a gun battle in the Ballymurphy area on 11 August involving the Parachute Regiment and the IRA.
The General gave his account of soldiers moving down the Whiterock Road to remove barricades and hearing a Thompson sub-machine gun being fired, which he described as the “weapon of the enemy”.
Two men were shot dead that morning – Jospeh Corr and John Laverty.
The inquest has heard that no weapons were ever found on their persons.
Sir Mike Jackson, who also acted as a press officer in 1971, told the inquest he was probably the captain quoted in the Belfast Telegraph newspaper that evening saying two gunmen had been shot.
He further told the inquest that he now accepts he should have used the word “alleged”.
The General was asked by counsel for the coroner about their families’ views that the two men were entirely innocent.
He replied: “Let me say, if I may, to the families who so long ago lost their loved ones - for me, it is a tragedy which is hugely regrettable.
“But I would also say anyone who loses their lives as a result of violent conflict is also a tragedy. I too have lost friends. So be it.
“My sympathies to you and I am sorry that, after so long, it is only now you feel you can come to terms.”
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Questioned by Michael Mansfield QC about why the soldiers who opened fire were not interviewed by Royal Military Police after the killings, the General denied it was a desire to cover up the truth.
“It is a preposterous accusation to make,” Sir Mike Jackson said.
“It would require a large number of people. It simply doesn’t add up.”
The General then added: “Maybe there was a breakdown in procedure. The system was overwhelmed by the mayhem of that week.
“I do know we don’t do conspiracies.”
That remark drew laughter from the public gallery.
The inquest continues.