Anyone on the streets during the Ballymurphy shootings in west Belfast was considered to be associated with the IRA and liable to be shot, a former British soldier has said.

Some within the Parachute Regiment were rogue and out of control "psychopaths" who had evaded prison by joining up, the ex-serviceman known as M597 alleged.

A new inquest at Belfast Coroner's Court is examining the deaths of ten civilians, including a mother of eight, across three days in August 1971.

Soldiers "revelled" in what had happened and congratulated each other afterwards, the witness added.

He said: "Rogue soldiers were out of control, killing people on the street and knowing that they would be protected."

He broke down in the witness box.

He added: "They were saying, anything out there that moves, we consider them to be in the IRA or associated with the IRA, and for that alone they could be or should be shot."

M597 recalled that the conversation between soldiers in Belfast was happening with three or four bodies lying nearby.

He was told that officers in charge of B Company had "lost control", that the Paras were of the opinion that anyone, regardless of sex or age, on the streets could or should be shot.

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He alleged they had no feeling or respect for the dead.

"It was a joke, literally it could be for anything, not four human beings, it could be four anything."

He added: "They seemed to think they could do anything and get away with it."

He paid tribute to some good and professional soldiers.

Others were from broken homes, and had evaded going to prison if they joined the army, he told the inquest.

"There were also psychopaths in there, there were people who were dangerous to have around."

He could not recall any briefing or debriefing after the killings and claimed young soldiers were left to fight for their lives.

"They were on a high and enjoying it, soldiers do enjoy going to battle as opposed to doing nothing.

"Those soldiers were enjoying it and could not wait to get back out again."

M597 was investigated over a separate shooting of a petrol bomber and congratulated by other servicemen, who told him how lucky he was to have a "notch on my rifle".

"It was sheer bravado."

He said there was a culture of impunity. After he was investigated over the shooting of the petrol bomber nothing happened.

"In fact it was a pat on the back for what I had done."

Rioting had been ongoing since early on 9 August 1971, after the British army moved into republican areas across Northern Ireland to arrest IRA suspects after the introduction by the Stormont administration of the controversial policy of internment without trial.

The incident was part of a three-day series of shootings from 9-11 August which has become known as the Ballymurphy Massacre.

Skull used as an ashtray claim 'is a fantasy'

A claim that part of a person's skull was used as an ashtray by soldiers is a fantasy, a witness told the inquest.

Henry Thornton from south Armagh was shot dead by a paratrooper on Belfast's Springfield Road in August 1971.

The victim's van had backfired and the soldier thought it was an attack, an inquest into Mr Thornton's death found.

The ashtray allegation was contained in a book by a former serviceman, Henry Gow, who was in west Belfast at that time.

Witness M597 urged the families of 10 people shot dead at Ballymurphy to discount that assertion.

"I truly am sorry for any part that I played in this and I would like you today to leave here not believing what Harry Gow told you last week, because it is not true," he  told the Belfast inquest into the Ballymurphy killings.

"It is not true about the person's skull being used as an ashtray... it is fantasy.

"You need to wipe that clear. I would hate for you guys to be going through the rest of your lives thinking that - it was just not true."

The Ballymurphy families sat opposite the witness in two rows at the other side of the courtroom.

M597 said: "He is talking garbage for his book.

He said the claim that a sweepstake was run by Mr Gow's unit to reward soldiers who "got a kill" was "absolute rubbish".

"It is fabricated. I feel, sitting here today, I feel terrible for those people there."