An inquest into the deaths of ten people in Belfast in 1971 has heard claims from British soldiers that they only shot at gunmen.

The inquest is taking place at Belfast Coroner's Court into a series of disputed shootings which took place over the course of three days from 9 to 11 August 10971.

Ten people, including a priest, were killed in the shootings, which came amid disturbances across Northern Ireland following the introduction of internment by the British government.

Claims that IRA gunmen were in the area at the time have been disputed during the inquest hearings.

Relatives of the ten victims have rejected any suggestion their loved ones were terrorists.

The inquest has not heard evidence that any of the victims were armed.

Statements given by a number of soldiers who had been stationed in the area on August 9 were heard at the inquest today.

Most of the statements included claims that they had been shot at. Many said they did not fire their weapons unless they saw a gunman.

These soldiers were given ciphers to protect their identities when they made these statements in the early 1970s for the original inquests into the deaths of two of the victims, Frank Quinn and Father Hugh Mullan.

The key to these ciphers has been lost in the intervening years, making it difficult for the Coroner's staff to trace the identities of those who gave these statements.

The statements were described in court as typed versions of the original handwritten documents. Some of them were unsigned and undated.

Counsel to the Coroner Sean Doran proposed submitting the statements into evidence via common law, instead of Rule 17 as is normally the case with statements submitted for witnesses who are deceased or too ill to attend court.

He explained this was because statements submitted under Rule 17 are considered reliable, whereas in the case of the statements read to court that day, the makers of many of them are not known.

He added: "It is for the Coroner to decide the weight given to the statements."

The inquest continues.