By Rebecca Black and David Young, PA
The daughter of one of 10 Belfast shooting victims whose names were cleared following fresh inquests has said ‘the fight is won’.
Presiding Coroner Mrs Justice Keegan found that soldiers were responsible for nine of the deaths, while there was not enough evidence over the 10th.
She said all 10 “were entirely innocent of wrongdoing on the day in question”.
The bereaved families campaigned for decades to have the deaths re-examined and to clear misinformation that their loved ones had been terrorists.
A solicitor who represents them said families have instigated civil proceedings against the Ministry of Defence.
“In light of these findings and the strong criticisms, they will be pushing on with that,” he said.
Geraldine Douglas, daughter of Joseph Corr, said following the findings: “The fight is won, big time”.
Her sister Eileen McKeown said the inquest verdicts had gone further than she had hoped.
“I was expecting them just to say they were innocent. But when she turned around and said that my daddy and John Laverty weren’t gunmen, and never should have been branded gunmen, that was really brilliant to hear that,” she said.
“We have fought long and hard for this, for 50 years, to declare my daddy an innocent man.
You were afraid to say what happened to your daddy because he was shot, and because of what was written in the history books
“My mummy died knowing he was innocent but not getting any justice. I have lost four brothers to this, through the stress and the trauma that they had to live through.
“My brother Joe was with my daddy when he was shot. He lived with survivor’s guilt for years because of the fact that he left his daddy.”
Ms McKeown said she had felt unable to speak about her father before because of the claims made against the Ballymurphy victims.
She said: “It’s been a nightmare. No matter where you went, people would be asking you what happened to your daddy. You were afraid to say what happened to your daddy because he was shot, and because of what was written in the history books: that IRA gunmen were shot in Ballymurphy in 1979.
“People just presumed that they were guilty because of what was put out in the media and what the Army said.”
Patrick Doherty said he felt a sense of relief after the coroner ruled the use of force in the shooting of his father Eddie was disproportionate.
“It is a weight off my shoulders, it’s been 50 years of serious hard grief and pain, I just feel serious relief,” he said.
“I wish my mother could have been here to see it. My mother died six years after my father and it is just relief.
“We have always known he was an innocent man, we have always known everyone was innocent and it took 50 years.
“There is a sense of happiness that we have finally cleared our loved ones’ names.
“It has been a long fight. My father was shot in the back and murdered. My father wasn’t in the IRA.”
Maura McGee, one of Joan Connolly’s daughters, said her family is absolutely delighted.
She spoke of the pain of having to conceal the circumstances of her mother’s death for 50 years, due to the cloud of the unfounded allegation she was a gun woman. She said they often told people her mother had died in a car crash.
“We always knew she was innocent but to have her declared innocent in the eyes of the public and the rest of the world, it’s something that we didn’t expect would ever happen,” she said.
Another of Mrs Connolly’s daughter’s Philomena Morrison said: “She was an innocent person and they took her from us and we lost out on having her all of those years.”
Solicitor for the Ballymurphy families Pádraig Ó Muirigh said the findings are “another stain on the British Army and their role in the north of Ireland”.
“But it is also a very memorable day for the families. It has been a very long journey,” he said.
“After 50 years we finally have an evidence-based investigation and I think it’s a tribute to their irrepressible spirit.”
He added: “The families have already instigated civil proceedings against the MoD (Ministry of Defence) and in light of these findings and the strong criticisms, they will be pushing on with that.”