The Scottish Mail on Sunday
Drinks with two attractive women, a call home – then shot in the back of the head...
TEENAGE brothers John and Joseph McCaig and their friend Dougald McCaughey cut cheerful figures as they sauntered out of Girdwood Barracks just after 2pm on Wednesday, March 10, 1971, and headed towards Belfast’s popular Cornmarket district.
After an increasingly tense tour of duty, an afternoon of leave to visit the city’s lively bars was a welcome distraction for the three Royal Highland Fusiliers.
By early 1971, the initial warm welcome for the British Army was evaporating, with soldiers in uniform targeted by the Provisional IRA.
Despite that, off-duty soldiers were still permitted to go drinking in Belfast and mingle with the locals.
With orders to return to their barracks by 6.30pm, John and Joseph, from Ayr, and Dougald, from Glasgow, began a pub crawl but, as newly unearthed police files reveal, they were heading into a trap.
The files contain a detailed account of the final hours of the three soldiers and, crucially, say that rather than being an opportunistic crime, the cold-blooded murders had been planned well in advance.
The files reveal that eight days before the brutal killings, the Metropolitan Police received intelligence that the IRA was plotting to murder off-duty soldiers.
The soldiers’ grieving relatives hope the new clues in the files will finally lead to the murderers being brought to justice.
The dossiers name two of the alleged plotters as local IRA members Patrick McAdorey, 25, and 20year-old Anthony ‘Dutch’ Doherty.
Both were already wanted for the murders of two Royal Ulster Constabulary officers.
At about 3pm, the three soldiers were spotted in Mooney’s Bar, where they were drinking with five civilians, including a man with a distinctive ‘Van Dyke beard’.
That man is believed to be McAdorey. Also in the bar was a man who
The Mail on Sunday has established was former British soldier Patrick O’Kane, 35.
After leaving the Parachute Regiment in 1964, O’Kane got a job with the Post Office but he had also joined the IRA.
He would later be linked to the Kingsmill massacre of ten Protestant workers in 1976 and the Warrenpoint ambush three years later that left 16 members of the Parachute Regiment and two Queen’s Own Highlanders dead.
Also drinking with the group were two attractive women, who are thought to have lured the soldiers to their deaths with promises of sex.
One was described as blonde, about 24 or 25, ‘very good looking’ and wearing a ‘black sweater with a silver buckle, tight fitting, full bust, black mini skirt and black tights’. The other had ‘short blackish hair revealing one ear’. The new evidence suggests the two women remained with the soldiers all afternoon.
Detectives were later given a name for the blonde woman, gleaned by an intelligence officer in the Royal Engineers.
By 6.30pm, the soldiers should have been back at their barracks. Instead they were in Kelly’s Cellars sinking pints with two men, believed to be McAdorey and O’Kane. Fifteen minutes later, McCaughey telephoned his aunt Mary Lochrie at her home in Glasgow.
Hearing the noise of a busy pub, she warned her nephew to ‘watch himself’.
It was the last time his family would hear from him.
At 7pm, another republican, who police later called ‘Suspect Two’, entered the bar.
Minutes later, the three IRA men and the soldiers, still holding their
pint glasses, left. As night fell, the soldiers were driven, possibly in a blue Vauxhall, four miles through the city’s northern suburbs, to a remote and narrow country lane known locally as White Brae.
One witness described passing the ‘three fellows… speaking in Scottish accents’ and the ‘girls’ heading towards the Glen Inn, a pub at one end of White Brae.
Ominously, a group of six or seven men were seen walking about 30 yards behind.
LAWYERS for the soldiers’ families now think IRA gunmen were lying in wait in a field by the side of White Brae. Twenty-five domino pieces, a small bottle, tablets, handkerchiefs and a spent 9mm cartridge case were found at the ambush site.
Shortly before 7.30pm, the soldiers put down their beer glasses at the side of the road and unbuttoned their trousers, possibly to urinate or perhaps even following the promise of a sexual encounter with the women.
Either way, it appeared to be a cue for the gunmen to strike – and each of the soldiers was shot in the back of the head.
There was widespread outrage at the murders. The men’s commanding officer described the victims as ‘just boys’ and the coroner said the deaths were ‘one of the vilest crimes ever heard of in living memory’. In Belfast, flags were lowered to half-mast and traffic came to a standstill as workers spilled out of factories to join a crowd of 10,000 at the Cenotaph.
Amid the turmoil, a team of Scotland Yard officers tasked with catching the killers quickly identified four key suspects – McAdorey, Doherty, O’Kane and Suspect Two. The files reveal that they were also told about a Belfast woman seen with the soldiers. Her father and a brother were members of the IRA and she had left Northern Ireland for England soon after the killings.
The new documents also suggest the meeting between the IRA gang and the three fusiliers was no accident.
Three days earlier, Dougald had been seen at a brothel in the Ardoyne area with a known associate of the IRA. Police believe there was an IRA plot to kill off-duty soldiers visiting the area.
Two days after the murders, a witness overheard a barman at Mooney’s describing on the phone the movements of three soldiers and assuring the caller that he had not told police anything about the killings.
The odds were heavily stacked against the Scotland Yard detectives on the case. Indeed, they were forced to feed false information to the RUC at one point because there were so many IRA informers inside the force.
DESPITE that, Doherty was arrested in November 1971 and interrogated at the Girdwood Park Detention Centre. He confessed his involvement and named McAdorey, O’Kane and Suspect Two as accomplices.
But Doherty escaped from Crumlin Road prison where he was being held and subsequently avoided extradition from Irish Republic over the murder of the two RUC officers. Last week, The Mail on Sunday tracked down the now 69year-old Doherty to a house in North Dublin where he angrily refused to comment.
McAdorey was killed by security forces in August 1971 after attacking a British Army infantry position with an assault rifle.
O’Kane is understood to have admitted to the murders but showed no remorse. He fled to County Clare in the Irish Republic where he became a labourer.
Like Hyde Park bombing suspect John Downey, O’Kane was given a controversial ‘on-the-run’ immunity letter following the Good Friday Agreement. He died in 2009. Suspect Two is also believed to be dead.
The murders of the three soldiers still resonate.
Tributes, including a small stone memorial on White Brae, have been desecrated at least 27 times since 2010, but the soldiers’ families insist they will never stop their search for justice.