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Inquest into Barney Watts death in 1971 to be reopened

Family’s fight for justice moves on

By Gemma Burns

The family of a North Belfast man murdered by the British Army more than 40 years ago said they hope the truth will finally be exposed after the Attorney-General agreed to reopen the inquest into his death. After more than four decades fighting to clear his name the family of Ardoyne man Barney Watts received notice recently the Attorney General will reopen the inquest into his murder and re-examine the circumstances surrounding his death.

Last April the release of the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) report into his murder concludes the soldiers “shot the wrong man” and the findings should allow “for the consideration of an apology at government level” for the family.

The father-of-one was shot dead near his home in Hooker Street in 1971 after he had been socialising with a friend in the area.

The army claimed at the inquest into his death that they shot the 28 year old because he was about to throw an metal object at them that was alight and later exploded, blowing him six or seven feet into the air.

However the soldiers’ version of events were challenged by witnesses and forensic reports, with one forensic scientist who took swabs from Mr Watt’s body concluding no presence of lead had been found. The pathologist who carried out the postmortem also said there was no evidence Barney had been injured in an explosion.

Barney’s wife Theresa, who was seven months pregnant with her daughter Bernadine at the time of his death, has spent the past 40 years with the knowledge her husband was shot for no valid reason. Theresa Watts said this week that she always knew the truth behind her husband’s murder but is glad another step on the road to a public acknowledgement of his wrongful death is imminent,

“The truth has to come out, I always knew it,” she said

“I have waited long enough, it is over 40 years now and I have been knocked back so many times. I just kept trying.”

The Watts’ family solicitor Padraig Ó Muirigh explained how the family were able to successfully petition the Attorney general to reopen the inquest.

“There are a number of changes to the Coroner’s court in recent years which assisted the Watts family decision to make an application to the Attorney-General to reopen the inquests,” he said.

“The fact that the inquest will have to comply with Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The fact that the British soldiers involved in the killings are now compellable witnesses. The fact that the House of Lords has made it clear that the Coroner dealing with an inquest has a generous discretion in relation to the remit of an inquest and the fact that a jury will now be in a position to reach ‘findings’.

“The decision by the Attorney General is a significant step forward for the families’ quest for truth.

“The Watts family are also considering civil proceedings against the MoD and PSNI in light of these findings. I have also written to the British Secretary of State, Owen Paterson, the British Secretary of State for Defence, Dr Liam Fox, and General Sir Peter Wall, Chief of the General Staff of the British Army to demand an apology for the Watts family for the actions of the British Army.”

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