Mr. McKinnie was a married man with four children. He lived in North Belfast and worked in Mackie’s engineering works. On the evening of 7th September 1972 he was driving in the Shankill Road area of Belfast. His passenger was his brother, Thomas, who had just arrived home from Canada, after an absence of 31 years. They were visiting old haunts and had stopped by the Melville Arms public house, where they had a couple of drinks.
Movements prior to the shooting
Having been advised of crowd trouble close by, they decided to leave the public house and pick up Ritchie’s wife, who was visiting her sister’s shop at the corner of Wimbledon Street and Matchett Street, close by. At approximately 9.30pm he turned into Matchett Street and turned his headlights on. He has earlier turned them off as a security precaution. Members of the First Battalion , the Parachute regiment were in the vicinity. Ritchie drove slowly up the centre of the street, avoiding debris. Thomas describes a blinding flash and a loud bang. Ritchie fell on to his lap, saying; “Tom, I’ve been hit”. Tom got him out on to the road. An ambulance was called. Mr George Cree, a resident of Matchett Street, said that he saw a car come up the street from the direction of Snugville Street. An English voice twice called for it to extinguish its lights. Mr Cree then heard four to five shots. The car lurched to a stop and a passenger got out and said ; “somebody help me , my brother has been shot”. This incident was also witnessed by Evelyn McIntyre , Joseph Thompson , David Beck, Mr A Armstrong and Joyce Cummins. No witness said that they heard firing before the army opened fire. The number of shots fired by the army is put between two and five.
Injuries to Mr McKinnie
He was placed on the road way and was seen to be bleeding profusely from a wound to the right hand side of his chest. He was taken to hospital where he died , shortly afterwards.
The shooting happened a short distance from Tennent Street RUC station. It is not known what steps the police took to cordon off the scene or take forensic samples.
A detective sergeant made a police report concerning death. He simply recorded “Rioting was taking place in the area between Military and UDA. The windscreen of the car was shattered and the subject received wounds to his right shoulder.”
The same sergeant or another, from Tennent Street , attended the mortuary and identified the body to the pathologist , Dr Marshall. He opined that death was due to perforation of the chest and right armpit by fragments of a bullet. “These indicate that fragments of a copper cased, lead cored bullet were responsible for the fatal injuries.” Mr McKinnie’s injuries were photographed. His car was photographed.
The scene was photographed and mapped. A scenes of crime officer gathered evidence re the deceased, which was examined by a forensic scientist. He opined that the lead deposits on Mr McKinnie’s clothing and hands originated from the bullet fragments. He identified the fragments as coming from a 7.62 NATO bullet discharged from a British Army SL rifle. Interestingly, he had been provided with test bullets from a number of rifles but he was unable to say which had fired the round.
As was the practice, the Royal Military Police took witness statements from the soldiers present. Soldier A,B,E and J’s statements were presented to the inquest. It is not known what other witness statements were taken by police, except that they appear to have enquired of the deceased’s employer as to whether he could have come into contact with lead.
A file was sent to the DPP. A decision of no prosecution was made in December 1973.
There may have been some sort of investigation by the HET.
An army officer claimed on television on 8th September that Mr McKinnie’s hands tested positive for traces of lead.
On 20th November 1972 , Stratton Mills, MP asked the Secretary of State for a statement re Mr McKinnie’s death. Whitelaw said that “troops came under armed attack and gunfire was returned. Shortly after this exchange of fire…..Mr McKinnie was admitted to the RVH.”
West Belfast Orange Hall Enquiry
The UDA held an enquiry, to which many of the persons named above gave testimony. They produced a pamphlet entitled “The Shankill Disturbances”. A call for a judicial enquiry went unheeded.
An inquest was held on 24th October 1972. An open verdict was returned.
Soldier A’s statement to the Royal Military Police [“RMP”] said that he saw soldier L fire at a gunman and he saw that man fall. Soldier A then told the RMP that two gunmen opened fire with what may have been Stirling SMGs. He fired at one of these men and saw him fall. Neither fallen man was detailed or identified.
Soldier E made a more dramatic statement. He said that a man appeared ‘wearing a bush hat’. The man fired two rounds from a revolver. These rounds struck a wall above soldier E, then stood up from a crouching position. Soldier E fired two rounds from his SLR rifle. “I saw him leap into the air, spin around and fall on his face. A group of about 5 men were around him and a large crowd were [sic] on the corner of Jersey Street. This crowd moved around the injured man and I last saw him being dragged away, face down, by his legs.”
Soldier J told the RMP that he saw a light blue BMC 1100 car “moving slowly in a westerly direction , along Matchet St [sic] , it had its headlights on full beam. Soldier B , who was standing on the opposite corner, shouted to switch his lights off, to no avail. I also shouted to him along with soldier E who was also at my position. I then saw a muzzle flash to the left of the vehicle. At the same moment I heard the report of the weapon. I fired one aimed shot at the direction from where I had seen the flash. I then saw a man move from the car. He was carrying a rifle pointed in my direction..I then saw another muzzle flash from this weapon. I ran forward into the road and took aim in the standing position and fired two rapid shots at the person. I saw the man fall, I think I hit him in the chest. I returned to my position on the corner and when I looked around again his body had gone.” Soldier J makes no further mention of the car nor its occupants . This car , which , according to soldier J, contained a gunman, was not stopped by him or his colleagues, nor the occupant(s) detained.
Soldier B was the commander of a twelve man mobile patrol. His initial statement , made at 03.00 on 8th September, made no mention of seeing the BMC 1100 , shouting at it or of seeing a gunman or gunmen. He was re-interviewed on 23rd September. He said that he saw a car travelling along Silvio street with its lights on. He approached the car and smashed the lights with his baton. This was not the car containing Mr McKinnie.
Despite soldiers J , A and B, their commander, being, according to J, being together at the time when the blue BMC 1100 drove down matchet Street, only soldier J gives a detailed account.
All statements were taken by corporals in the RMP.
Thomas, Ritchie’s brother made a statement about the events. Neither he nor anyone at the scene mentions the presence of any soldier, after the shot was fired.
A helpful neighbour in Matchett Street agreed to drive the BMC 1100 car to Mr McKinnie’s home. The driver noticed that there was a bullet hole in the windscreen, immediately above the rubber sealing ring and under the wiper blade, directly in front of the driver’s position.
It is clear that there was unrest in that area of the Shankill on that evening, involving Loyalist paramilitaries and the Parachute Regiment. Several witnesses told of abusive and threatening behaviour by soldiers towards local householders.
The army did not stop to search for any weapons or arrest Thomas. They left the scene, despite stating that they fired at a man with a rifle or rifles and a hand gun.
Thomas was never arrested or tested for gunshot residue.
The residue on Ritchie’s hands could be explained by the bullet striking his hand, severing his thumb and disintegrating.
Soldier J, who admits firing at the muzzle flash which was approximately three feet to the left of the BMC 1100 was either a bad shot or a good liar, given that the bullet that killed Mr McKinnie entered the car at the driver’s position, in the opposite direction.
No loyalist weapons were recovered by police or the army. No dead or wounded civilians were detected save for Mr McKinnie and Robert Johnston, a “harmless drunk” who was shot dead by the same regiment at much the same time, a few streets away.
The soldiers on duty that evening were from 1 Para mortar platoon.
The same platoon had been prominent in the events of Bloody Sunday.
To the Widgery Inquiry, the army made the case that they had been fired on first and that they were returning fire at known gunmen. The same case as made at Matchett Street.
On 30th January 1972 13 unarmed civilians were killed by the Parachute Regiment in Londonderry.
Lord Widgery was appointed to enquire into the circumstances and reported in April 1972.
1 Para were the soldiers who opened fire. Present were Support Company, A and C Companies.
The soldiers of Support Company were the only ones to open fire.
Widgery described how mortar platoon were cutting wire when a single high velocity shot was fired at them from somewhere near Rossville flats and struck a drainpipe nearby. [paragraph 35]
Support Company, when it was giving cover to Mortar Platoon , opened fire on nail bombers shortly thereafter.
At paragraph 46 Widgery says that Mortar platoon moved into the courtyard of Rossville flats. There they fired 42 rounds and killed John Duddy.
Widgery, at paragraph 51 records a series of soldiers from Mortar platoon , who gave evidence of being under fire, identifying gunmen and then firing at them.
This , of course , was the same type of evidence that they were to give at the inquest into Mr McKinnie’s death.
Some commentators reason that , having got away with it in front of Widgery, they repeated the performance. The author used to note the presence of Army Legal Branch at trials and often wondered what their role was and what advice they gave to soldiers who were witnesses.
“Bag a Paddy” was a phrase not unfamiliar in connection with the British Army.
Unionist politicians have signally failed to point out the behaviour of the Parachute Regiment on the Shankill. To do so would have lent credence to the families of Bloody Sunday.
As ever , the working class suffer at the hands of the Unionist Big House.
One thought on “The killing of Ritchie McKinnie”