Briege Voyle, daughter of Joan Connolly, with sisters Claudia, Irene and Joan.

Ballymurphy families speak of pain

The families of the ten people shot dead during the Ballymurphy Massacre in West Belfast in August 1971 have spoken of their pain after they were informed by the State Pathology Department that tissue samples and an organ were retains of five of the deceased from their original post mortems.

Relatives of Frank Quinn, Joan Connolly, Joseph Corr, John McKerr and Joseph Murphy have been informed by the Coroner's Office that the samples have been retained for the past 50 years.

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In May this year a fresh inquest found that the ten people murdered by the British Army's notorious Parachute Regiment in Ballymurphy were "entirely innocent", and their killings "unjustifiable".

Speaking at a press conference in Belfast, Briege Voyle, who lost her mother Joan Connolly during the massacre, spoke about her "devastation" following the latest revelations from the Coroner's Office.

"When did the State Pathology and/or PSNI become aware that tissue samples were still in existence and why were they not informed earlier of this matter as required in law under the Human Tissue Act 2004?" she asked.

"Ballymurphy families were granted new inquests in 2011, they concluded in May 2021, why was this issue not brought to the attention of Lady Chief Justice, Siobhan Keegan, when she was presiding over the recent Ballymurphy Inquest?

"We are aware that the issue of the retention of human body parts came to light before as a result of an audit co-ordinated by the Association of Chief Police Officers which looked at police services in England, Wales and NI.

"The remit of the audit stemmed from the fact that ‘in 2010 it became apparent that human tissue from homicide and suspicious death cases going back many years may have been retained by police in mortuaries following post mortem examination’s’.

"This audit reported in May 2012 and confirmed that  body parts, including organs had been retained in cases under the control of the PSNI/State Pathology Department.

"All families affected were then informed of this position in a letter from the PSNI in May 2012. So how did the Ballymurphy families slip through the net?

"Surely this should have been highlighted during this audit.

"How many times do we have to bury our loved ones?"

Ms Voyle added: "We are left with more questions than answers, therefore we have requested a face to face meeting with the State Pathology Department and the Coroner’s Office to discuss and answer questions to all our concerns.

"What we want more than anything is to get these tissue samples/organs back and to finally lay our loved ones to rest. But this can not happen until we get all the answers and disclosure from both of these agencies."