Doctor to assess soldier for inquest

Doctor to assess soldier for inquest

A specialist cardiologist is to be asked to assess whether a British soldier, who fired a rubber bullet that killed a schoolboy in Belfast more than 40 years ago, is fit to give evidence at an inquest.

The new inquest, which was ordered by the Attorney General in 2012, will examine the death of 11-year-old Francis Rowntree.He was hit by the rubber bullet fired by the Royal Anglian Regiment soldier as he played with friends at the Divis Flats complex close to the Falls Road in April 1972.He died four days later from injuries including a fractured skull.Controversy surrounds the shooting, with disputed claims on whether the young boy was struck directly or hit by a ricochet, and if the bullet had been doctored to make it potentially cause more injury.The fresh inquest into the schoolboy's death is still in its preliminary stages and has yet to start formally hearing evidence.The soldier, known only as soldier B, has already provided a GP's report to the Belfast coroner Jim Kitson expressing concerns about the impact a court appearance would have on his health.The preliminary inquest hearing on Friday heard that more medical evidence would be required.The Rowntree's family barrister said they had asked for an independent assessment, but that an application for such a move would be "premature" until the cardiologist's findings were known.Barrister Philip Henry said that as the man was under the care of a consultant cardiologist, the heart specialist would be the best person to deem whether he would be able to testify.Martin Wolfe, QC, representing the Ministry of Defence (MoD) told the coroner he would direct such a request was made of the doctor.An earlier preliminary hearing heard that the soldier could ultimately be referred to criminal prosecutors.Mr Kitson said he would assess whether the case should be handed over to DPP Barra McGrory - a move that would have suspended the inquest.There have been previous inquest cases referred to the DPP, but usually after the proceedings have concluded.Mr Kitson said after reviewing legal submissions on the matter, he had decided not to take action at this stage in proceedings and would keep the issue "under review".


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