A decision to order a new inquest into the killings of six men shot dead in one night in Belfast in 1973 has been widely welcomed.
The British Army was behind all the killings, which took place in two separate incidents in the course of a shooting spree in the area. None of the men were armed.
The British Army initially said that soldiers had shot all six men during a gun battle. A one-day inquest in 1975 failed to properly uncover what had happened.
The families of James McCann, James Sloan, Anthony Campbell, Brendan Maguire, John Loughran and Ambrose Hardy, known collectively as the New Lodge Six, have always campaigned together and see the deaths as linked.
Attorney General Brenda King said on Friday she had taken the decision to order an inquest “as it is now clear that there will be no further PSNI investigation” into the deaths.
James McCann and James Sloan were shot on 3 February 1973 by a gunman firing from the back seat of a car as they stood outside Lynch’s bar at the junction of the New Lodge Road and the Antrim Road. It is believed the first two shootings were designed to provoke a response from the IRA.
Instead, Anthony Campbell, Brendan Maguire, John Loughran and Ambrose Hardy were shot shortly after midnight that night by soldiers believed to have fired from the top of the flats overlooking the New Lodge Road.
Anthony Campbell had been celebrating his 19th birthday. Eyewitnesses said he was shot as he ran to help an elderly couple trying to get into their house. He was hit 17 times.
Brendan Maguire, 32 and John Loughran, a 34-year-old father-of-four, were said to have been shot as they tried to drag Anthony Campbell out of the line of fire.
Ambrose Hardy, 24, was a single man who eyewitnesses said was shot in the head after coming out of the bar waving a white cloth.
Speaking on behalf of the families, Mike Ritchie of Relatives for Justice welcomed the new inquest. A date has not yet been set, but Mr Ritchie said it was “an important step in the search for truth about the events in New Lodge 48 years ago”.
Willie Loughran, whose brother was one of the victims, welcomed the decision, describing the attack on the New Lodge community as “unprovoked” and one “that has left a deep trauma and many questions”.
“We hope that a new inquest will answer some of the many questions we have as to the intentions and actions of the British army on that awful night,” he said.
Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill said the ordering of a fresh inquest was a result of the “relentless” efforts of the families who for 48 years have campaigned for access to the truth.
“The British government strategy to delay, deny and hope that the passage of time will make these families stop campaigning will fail,” she said.
Gary Duffy, a lawyer from KRW LAW, said it was massive news for families who have fought tirelessly over decades.
“It’s important to note that today’s result comes against a background of intense litigation.
“Ongoing judicial review challenges by the Campbell and Beatty families will now be reassessed in light of this direction.
“This includes the case examining ongoing failures to have an independent criminal investigation into the murders which is due for hearing later this year.”
He said he would be asking for immediate prioritisation of the inquest given the elderly age of the next of kin and the fact that this was one of the earliest atrocities of the conflict.
“So often we have seen families hopes of access to justice evaporate because of the systemic chronic delays in getting inquests to hearing. We really have to guard against that happening in yet another case.”
ORMEAU ROAD MASSACRE
Meanwhile, the relatives of five Catholic men shot dead by loyalists at Sean Graham bookmakers in 1992, have released a hard-hitting new film which outlines undeniable evidence of collusion in the Sean Graham Bookmakers’ atrocity.
Made in conjunction with Relatives for Justice, the new short film documents the protracted battle for truth and the level of state collusion, which it says is being continued by the PSNI.
The release of the film on Youtube was overshadowed by the arrest of one of the victims in an act of PSNI harassment against the annual commemoration last week.
The families have called on the PSNI to “desist in blocking the truth”. They have also said that the Police Ombudsman’s report on the massacre must be published “without further delay”.
Bosco Kennedy, whose brother James was the youngest victim, recalled the toll his murder took on his mother.
“He was the second of five brothers and my mother never got over it, within two years she had died with a broken heart,” he said.
“My father died six years ago in 2015, both of them died without having any justice.
“All we are asking is for the Ombudsman’s report to be published.”
The video can be watched at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21QwTqgH4u0