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Ballymurphy Massacre Inquest Family of Irish Catholic express ‘great distress’ that British troops used his skull as an ashtray

THE family of Ballymurphy Massacre victim Henry Thornton have expressed “great distress” after the inquiry into the August 1971 heard evidence that British soldiers had used his skull as an ashtray.

The Irish Catholic was shot dead by soldier Allan McVittie, who is now dead, while driving to work. Mr Thornton’s van backfired, prompting the soldier to target him. 

Former paratrooper Harry Gow told the coroner’s court that a colleague had retrieved part of the skull and used it as an ashtray, reiterating an account he first published in 1995.

Mr Gow revealed last week that Parachute Regiment soldiers had run a sweepstake to reward those who “got a kill,” with the winner winning “the pot” and spending it on a “piss-up.”

The revelations undermine Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley’s claim that killings in the Troubles “at the hands of the military and police were not crimes. 

“They were people acting under orders and under instruction and fulfilling their duties in a dignified and appropriate way,” Ms Bradley told the Commons in March.

But the Thornton’s family lawer Padraig O Muirigh told the Irish News that the horrific accounts were “indicative of the culture that prevailed at the Parachute Regiment.

“A litany of murder and brutality has followed this regiment in their various tours of duty, whether in the Ballymurphy area, Shankill Road, Ardoyne or the Bogside in Derry,” he said.

“The Parachute Regiment have had a bloody and dishonourable record in the north of Ireland which has come under further scrutiny at the Ballymurphy inquest.”

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