British Army killers of six Catholic men in north Belfast may be dead before the case is allocated for a PSNI investigation, the Court of Appeal in Belfast has heard.
Lawyers for the sister of one victim warned the perpetrators could avoid justice because the shootings are in a queue with more than 1,000 other conflict deaths.
Rosaleen Beatty is challenging Crown Prosecutors for refusing to direct the police to carry out an investigation. Her brother, Ambrose Hardy, was among the men, known as the New Lodge Six, killed in two separate shooting incidents in 1973 in the late hours of 3 February and the early hours of 4 February.
James McCann and James Sloan, both 19, were shot by a gunman firing from the back seat of a car as they stood outside a bar at the junction of the New Lodge Road and Antrim Road.
Mr Hardy, who was 24, was shot in the head when he emerged from the bar waving a white cloth, according to eyewitnesses.
Later that night, British soldiers opened fire from the top of nearby flats, killing 19-year-old Anthony Campbell, 32-year-old Brendan Maguire, and 34-year-old John Loughran.
At the time the British Army stated all the victims were “IRA gunmen”, a claim which is disputed. No weapons were recovered and there is no evidence that any were armed.
In 2018 former Attorney General John Larkin QC accepted that there had been no adequate criminal investigation and referred the case to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to consider using its powers to force action from the PSNI.
But in February 2020, the DPP declined to order such inquiries as the PSNI’s Legacy Investigation Branch (LIB) was supposedly examining the case.
Ms Beatty is appealing a High Court judge’s decision to dismiss her bid to judicially review the DPP. With the LIB’s caseload around 1,122 deaths, her barrister argued some could be decades away from investigation.
Hugh Southey QC told the Court of Appeal: “In cases like this, that date back 50 years, that may mean there’s no realistic prospect of a prosecution.”
Sinn Féin representative Carál Ní Chuilín expressed solidarity with the New Lodge Six families and said they should not have to wait any longer for truth and justice.
“The families of the six men killed by the British Army and loyalist gunmen in the New Lodge have waited almost fifty years for truth and justice,” she said.
“The courage and dignity of the families is in stark contrast to the shameful behaviour of the British system that has for decades resisted, covered-up and sought to thwart the families at every turn to ensure the truth is never told.
“Their courage outshines the shameful actions of Boris Johnson’s Tory government that today seeks to provide amnesty to the British soldiers that carried-out the atrocities in the New Lodge and all those who perpetrated British State murder in Ireland.”