Trial of British soldiers to go ahead

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Two former British soldiers are to stand trial charged with murdering an Official IRA man in Belfast 46 years ago, a judge has ordered.

The former paratroopers, who remain anonymous, were present when Joe McCann was shot dead by the British Army in Belfast in April 1972.

A judge ruled that they have a case to answer following a preliminary inquiry at the city’s Magistrates Court.

McCann, one of the Official IRA’s most prominent activists, was unarmed and tried to run to safety when he was confronted by British soldiers and shot dead after a chase on foot through the Markets area of south Belfast

A bogus police investigation conducted at the time resulted in no-one being prosecuted. Five years ago, a report by the now-scrapped Historical Enquiries Team concluded the killing was “not justified”.

In 2016, murder charges were brought against the two men, known only as Soldier A and Soldier C to protect their identity. Both defendants were present during last week’s preliminary inquiry hearing, which finally cleared the way for the trial.

The prosecutions have been bitterly opposed by unionists who have expressed outrage because McCann was a legendary figure, often described as the ‘Che Guevara of the IRA’, whose funeral was one of the biggest ever seen in Belfast. Doug Beattie, the Ulster Unionist Party Justice Spokesperson, described him as “a ruthless and dangerous terrorist”.

Outside court the McCann family’s lawyer called for the trial to get underway without delay.

Rosie Kinnear of KRW Law said: “Since April 15, 1972, it has been the family’s firm assertion that Joe was murdered.

“Nearly 46 years later, the decision of the court to return Soldier A and Soldier C for trial in the Crown Court on murder charges has vindicated that belief.”

Ms Kinnear added: “The McCann family welcome this significant decision and are eager for the trial to take place as soon as possible.”

LOUGHINISLAND PETITION

Meanwhile, relatives of six Catholic men killed in the 1994 Loughinisland massacre have delivered a petition to Downing Street demanding truth and justice.

Campaigners were joined by Sinn Fein MPs Chris Hazzard, Paul Maskey and Mickey Brady and South Down representative Emma Rogan.

A delegation later met British Direct Ruler Karen Bradley and representatives of the British Labour Party. Part of last year’s documentary ‘No Stone Unturned’, which examines the case, was also shown in Westminster.

The six victims died when an armed gang burst into the Heights Bar during an Irish World Cup game and opened fire. A 2016 Police Ombudsman’s report found there had been collusion involving the then RUC police.

Speaking after her meeting with Ms Bradley, Emma Rogan said “the DUP and British government must end their blockage of legacy inquest funding and ongoing denial of truth and justice for the Loughinisland families”.

She added: “The British government must move now to release legacy funding, as agreed in the most recent phase of talks, and bring this injustice to an end.”

COLLUSION

Meanwhile, a booklet has been published providing fresh details about the case of Damien Walsh, which also involved collusion, on the 25th anniversary of his death.

The teenager was shot dead by Johnny Adair’s notorious ‘C Company’ as he worked at the Dairy Farm shopping centre near Twinbrook on the outskirts of west Belfast on March 25 1993.

Family and friends gathered on Sunday to remember the 17-year-old and re-dedicated a plaque erected in his memory and for the launch of the booklet by victims group Relatives for Justice.

It reveals the gun used to kill the teenager, and another weapon used in the attack, were part of a large consignment brought into the north by UDA member and British army agent Brian Nelson.

In 2010 a police Historical Enquiries Team report also revealed that an undercover British army unit was watching the building at the time of the killing. Soldiers watched as the killers’ car left the scene but then gave the RUC police the wrong make and number.

Sinn Fein’s Mairtin O Muilleoir said it had been a privilege to attend the commemoration and “witness the grace and dignity” of Damian’s mother Marian. She told us “the British State trained, armed, ordered and protected her son’s UDA killers”, he said.

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