The Dominion Post

Ex-soldiers acquitted of 1972 murder of IRA leader

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Two former British paratroope­rs accused of the 1972 murder of an Official IRA leader in Belfast were formally acquitted after the veterans’ trial collapsed.

Joe McCann, 24, was allegedly evading arrest when he was shot dead by paratroope­rs in the Markets area of Belfast in April 1972.

The trial of the two veterans, now in their 70s and identified only as A and C, opened last week at Belfast Crown Court. It was the first in years that involved charges against former military personnel who served in Northern Ireland’s bloody conflict, known as the Troubles.

But a judge ruled that evidence implicatin­g the former soldiers was not admissible and prosecutor­s said Tuesday, local time, they would not offer further evidence at the pair’s trial.

McCann’s family lawyer Niall Murphy said outside the court that the ruling ‘‘does not acquit the state of murder’’ and that the family plans to apply to the Attorney General for an inquest into the killing.

‘‘This ruling does not mean that Joe McCann was not murdered by the British Army,’’ he told reporters. ‘‘He was shot in the back whilst unarmed, from a distance of 40 metres, posing no threat. It was easier to arrest him than to murder him.’’

Joe McCann’s daughter, Aine, criticised the state for failing ‘‘at all levels’’ in her father’s case as well as for many other families.

McCann was wanted by the British Army and was involved in many shootings, including the 1972 attempted assassinat­ion of then-unionist official John Taylor.

Statements made by the

defendants to the Royal Military Police in 1972 could not be accepted because of problems, including that the defendants were ordered to make them and

they were not conducted under caution.

A second source of evidence – statements the two men gave to a police legacy unit in 2010 – was ruled not legitimate. The judge sided with defence lawyers on Friday, ruling that this evidence was just the 1972 evidence ‘‘dressed up and freshened up with a 2010 cover’’.

Philip Barden, senior partner at the law firm representi­ng soldiers A and C, said prosecutor­s should never have proceeded on the case. He said a senior judge should investigat­e the decisionma­king process ‘‘to ensure that the decision to prosecute these veterans was not political’’.

Supporters of the veterans have said authoritie­s should protect former soldiers who served in Northern Ireland from prosecutio­ns. Former Defence Minister Johnny Mercer has called for legislatio­n to end the ‘‘relentless pursuit of those who served their country’’.

Four other cases involving the prosecutio­n of British veterans are ongoing. –

 ?? GETTY IMAGES ?? Conservati­ve MP and former defence minister Johnny Mercer, second from right, speaks to a group of veterans and their supporters as the trial of two paratroope­r veterans accused of murdering Official IRA member Joe McCann in 1972 collapses in Belfast.
GETTY IMAGES Conservati­ve MP and former defence minister Johnny Mercer, second from right, speaks to a group of veterans and their supporters as the trial of two paratroope­r veterans accused of murdering Official IRA member Joe McCann in 1972 collapses in Belfast.

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