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British soldier has ‘no regrets’ about firing rubber bullet that killed child

Francis Rowntree
Francis Rowntree

A British soldier who fired a rubber bullet that killed a Northern Ireland schoolboy more than 40 years ago has told an inquest he has no regrets.

The former sergeant major, whose identity is protected, told Belfast Coroner's Court he had no concerns about his conduct that day, insisting he was simply doing his job.

Giving evidence by videolink from an undisclosed location, the man known only as Soldier B said:

 "I have nothing to be reproachful about."

Eleven-year-old Francis Rowntree died on April 22 1972 - two days after he was struck on the head by a rubber bullet while walking through the Divis Flats complex close to Belfast's Falls Road.

The case is mired in controversy with disputed claims on whether the boy was hit directly or injured by a ricochet, and if the bullet had been doctored to make it potentially cause more harm.

Soldier B, who served with the Royal Anglian Regiment, had 17 years of experience in 1972 and was on his first tour of duty in Northern Ireland, the court was told.

He says he has no memory of the incident involving Francis but raised doubts that he fired the fatal shot.

Asked if he had anything to say to the boy's family, Soldier B added: "There is nothing to say that the round I fired hit their son.

"If it did, for that I am very, very sorry. But there's no proof, to me, that's what happened.

"It was certainly not fired at somebody not rioting. Everybody there was deeply intent on making life deeply uncomfortable."

Fiona Doherty QC, representing the Rowntree family, said the evidence available to the court, including Ministry of Defence (MoD) documents, identified Soldier B as the person who fired the rubber bullet that hit Francis.

During cross-examination by an MoD barrister, Soldier B, who has suffered heart and memory problems for years, said he feels victimised.

"After 44 years I find it almost impossible to remember any incident. I feel as though, for whatever reason, I am being targeted and I don't fully understand why."