Ministry of Defence uses social media to ask former soldiers for information about 1971 Belfast murder
The Ministry of Defence has defended a social media post appealing for information from British soldiers about a man killed during the Troubles.
Posted on Facebook by the Parachute Regiment, it asks its former members as well as witnesses in Ardoyne, north Belfast, to get in touch regarding the killing of 28-year-old Bernard Watt.
Mr Watt was shot dead by the British Army during disturbances in the area on 6 February 1971. An inquest into his death is due to be held in April after being delayed by efforts to find witnesses.
The post, which has been shared more than 200 times, has not been removed in spite of a series of angry comments from social media users. The MoD was accused of perpetrating a “witch-hunt” against ex-soldiers and it was suggested that Army recruitment could suffer as a result of such a campaign.
“Service records confirm that the Parachute Regiment were deployed in this area of West Belfast during the early part of 1971,” the post reads.
“The MOD requests that any former members of the Regiment with any knowledge of the incident, or anyone who can recall being deployed to Belfast during January-March 1971, gets in touch.”
One commentator expressed his disbelief at the request, writing: “Does the MOD really expect people to come forward with information that could ruin their friend’s life or the memory of the deceased ones?”
Another, who had been in the Regiment in Northern Ireland, added: “I was in 2 Para in the 70’s did a fair few tours in NI. “I am 70 this year and can remember F all as will most of the ones I served with, if the MOD want to know who and where people were look in your f ****** records.
“I was in Whiterock on the patrol that was relieved by young Bell he took over my position and was dead, shot by a sniper before I got back to base, no one arrested or charged are they going to chase that one. Oh I forgot they all got pardons.
“Bell was 17 after his death they raised the age for serving in theatre to 18, makes my blood boil.”
Padraig O’Muirigh, the solicitor who is representing the Watt family insisted it was not about hounding individuals, rather a case of establishing the facts in the matter.
“This inquest was directed by the Attorney General in 2012, almost five years ago, and to date there has been very little success in identifying soldiers involved on that particular day,” he told the BBC.
“This family never had a proper investigation and it’s not about a witch hunt. An inquest is a factfinding mission, it doesn’t make decisions on criminal or civil liabilities so to call it a witch hunt is a gross exaggeration.”