The family of a North Belfast man murdered by the British Army 40 years ago are to make an application to the Attorney General to reopen an inquest into his death after an historical inquiry cleared him of any wrongdoing.
After four decades fighting to clear his name, the family of Ardoyne man Barney Watt received the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) report into his 1971 murder last week. The father of one was shot dead near his home in Hooker Street after he had been socialising with a friend in the area.
The army claimed at his inquest that they shot the 28 year old because he was preparing to throw a lit metal object at them which 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.
The HET report last week is the second investigation by the team into his death. The Watt family was deeply unhappy with the first HET report from 2007 after it concluded the soldiers who shot Barney were not known and even if their identities could be uncovered they would not be interviewed. It also concluded there was no evidence Mr Watt was shot unlawfully. However after pressure from the family and their solicitor Padraig Ó Muirigh, a second investigation was carried out which finally acknowledges what the Watt family knew all along, that Mr Watt was not carrying an explosive device.
The report also concludes the soldiers “shot the wrong man” and the findings should allow “for the consideration of an apology at government level” for the family.
Theresa Watt said she is pleased the HET has confirmed her husband’s innocence.
“I knew it all along, it was nothing new to me,” she said.
“I always knew Barney didn’t have a bomb and so did everyone else. If it hadn’t been for my neighbours and everyone around me I wouldn’t have got through it. It took all these years but we finally did it for Barney.”
Solicitor Padriag Ó Muirigh said as well as making an application to the Attorney General to reopen the inquest they are also considering civil proceedings against the PSNI and Ministry of Defence.
“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 the Chief of Staff of the British Army to demand an apology for the Watt family for the actions of the British Army,” he said.
Tom Holland from the Ardoyne Commemoration Project, who worked with the family, said the family needs supported on the next phase of their struggle.
“The Ardoyne Commemoration Project have always supported the Watt family in their search for the truth,” he said.
“This second report from the HET vindicates the position the family adopted in the aftermath of their original findings. Their loved one was shot dead. He was innocent. The people who shot him should apologise to the family.
“The Watt family deserves that. Despite this latest HET report their quest for truth and justice continues and we should all support them in this struggle.”