RELATIVE OF JOHN CONWAY RECEIVES COMPENSATION FROM MOD FOR SHOOTING ON 15TH APRIL 1972 IN BALLYMURPHY
The next of kin of a man who was shot with his brother in Ballymurphy on the morning of the 15th April 1972 by an undercover army unit, has received compensation for the shooting incident which occurred over 48 years ago. The MOD paid compensation in 2019 in High Court actions following the discovery of a military log and a medal citation document which confirmed definitively that the shooting in 1972 was carried out by an armed undercover military unit dressed in civilian clothes driving a civilian car.
John Conway and his brother were shot and injured by the secret army unit at 7.30am on the 15th April 1972 while walking along the Ballymurphy Road in Belfast on their way to work. Neither was ever charged with any criminal offence relating to the incident.
The undercover military unit shot one of the brothers several times including shots to both legs leaving him with long term physical health problems. John Conway sustained one gunshot wound but endured the psychological trauma of the incident. That trauma stayed with both victims for the rest of their lives. John Conway died on 31st July 2017.
John Conway, despite being shot, was taken by the army and police to Springfield Road RUC Station where he was subjected to a lengthy interrogation. Neither he nor his brother was charged with any offence in relation to the incident. Both were innocent civilians on their way to work.
In May 1972 the Association of Legal Justice (ALJ) published a report on the shooting incident which included interviews with the Conway brothers and civilian witnesses at the scene at the time of the shooting and in the immediate aftermath. The Report confirmed that the 2 brothers were innocent unarmed civilians who had been shot by the state for no reason by a secret armed military unit.
The ALJ Report was preserved from May 1972 and deposited by Monsignor Raymond Murray in his library archive in Armagh. The report, written by Fr Brian Brady, also gave details of the flawed information provided to the press by the army and police in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. This flawed information included an initial denial of army involvement by the MOD and the RUC. A statement provided to the press in the aftermath of the shooting stated that “An RUC spokesman said there were no troops or police in the area at the time and said he believed the shooting was ‘IRA justice’.”[Irish News Report, 17th April 1972].
The 1972 ALJ Report on the brothers’ shootings concluded that;
“In Northern Ireland at the present time, fundamental human rights are denied to increasing numbers of citizens. The most fundamental human right of all is the right to life and bodily integrity. Another right which is being ever more frequently denied is the right to the truth from those in authority. The intellectual repression by official propaganda, manipulation of information and lies is creating a whole atmosphere of distrust in the community. The right to life and bodily integrity is under constant threat in our community from the security forces – the British Army and RUC.
The cases illustrate first of all the threat to life and bodily integrity from the security forces which hangs over innocent civilians. The treatment of both brothers after being shot was quite inhuman. In the lucky circumstance that neither of these 2 boys was killed, perhaps the greatest injustice done to them were the official lies told about their case. Nothing has been done to restore the balance of justice in this case.”
The ALJ Report also found that;
“An unfortunate development in recent weeks in the troubled situation in Belfast has been the shooting of innocent civilians by gunmen roaming around in cars. It has been assumed that those assassination squads belong to subversive organisations. In the light of this case one can no longer make this assumption. Denials of complicity in shooting incidents by the security forces are now worthless. Unfortunately most who have been gunned down were not as lucky as the Conway brothers who had many witnesses to what really happened and who was really involved. The net result of all of this is that the role and activities of the security forces in and out of uniform is becoming more and more unacceptable.”
On the 20th January 2014 a Panorama programme by the journalist John Ware was broadcast investigating the activities and personalities involved in the Military Reaction Force (MRF) in Northern Ireland. The documentary highlighted the government policy decision to use undercover civilian clothed soldiers in nationalist areas of Northern Ireland from the 1970s. The programme included interviews with members of the MRF who considered their actions while in undercover units in Northern Ireland sanctioned as part of a government and military policy.
In 2014 the Belfast based legacy research center Paper Trail uncovered an extract from a military log which provided details of the shooting of the brothers including the names of the army shooters, the weapons used and the calibre and number of shots discharged by the army shooters. That military log confirms that on the 15th April 1972 eight x 9mm rounds were fired at the brothers by an undercover army patrol. The members of the undercover army unit named as having shot the brothers were Sgt Shields and Lt Julian Ball. The document also set out an alleged army defence of mistaken identity in respect of the victims. John Conway, still alive in 2014 commenced a High Court action against the MOD and the Chief Constable of the PSNI for assault and misconduct in public service.
In 2020 Paper Trail also uncovered copies of a medal citation application for one of the army shooters, Lt Julian Ball, which confirmed that the army personnel involved in the shootings and the MOD continued to rely upon the false premise of mistaken identity in attempting to justify the shooting of the brothers. The army awarded the commendation to Lt Julian Ball despite the flawed factual premise of part of the citation.
The High Court actions settled in 2020 with the MOD paying damages to the widow of John Conway. The compensation payments were made on a no liability basis by the MOD and PSNI but without the usual confidentiality clause in respect of the settlements. The next of kin wanted to ensure that other families who lost loved ones as a result of actions by the MRF were made aware of the circumstances of their cases.
The widow of John Conway said today;
“My husband John died in July 2017 but the shooting in April 1972 haunted and destroyed his mental health for most of his adult life. Part of the problem was the fact that the army was not willing to tell the truth about their involvement in the shooting. I welcome the compensation now paid by the MOD as recognition of the damage caused to John.”
Patricia Coyle, solicitor of Harte Coyle Collins, Solicitors & Advocates, Belfast acting on behalf of the next of kin said today;
“When these gentlemen were shot on the 15th of April 1972 the army initially denied involvement. Only when irrefutable documentary evidence, independently sourced from the army’s own archives, was presented did the case resolve.
The British government was one of the architects of the Human Rights Convention in 1953 which was only enacted into domestic law in Northern Ireland in October 2000 in the form of the Human Rights Act 1998. We are now in a society where the principles of international law on a victim’s right to the truth, in particular where it involves state violations, is fast evolving. We welcome the opportunity to assist next of kin in their pursuit of justice for their loved ones in respect of state violations.”
Harte Coyle Collins, Solicitors & Advocates wish to thank Papertrail for their assistance in this case.
Patricia Coyle – 02890 278227