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Two former paratroopers charged with murder of Joe McCann clear first stage in court battle for jury trial

Joe McCann was killed in the Markets area of Belfast in April 1972

TWO former paratroopers charged with murdering an Official IRA man 46 years ago have cleared the first stage in their High Court battle to face trial by jury.

The pair, known only as Soldier A and Soldier C, were granted leave to seek a judicial review of a decision to have their case heard by a judge sitting alone.

Both men are accused of killing Joe McCann in the Markets area of Belfast back in April 1972.

No-one was ever convicted of the shooting. But in 2013 a report by the now-defunct Historical Enquiries Team concluded the killing was not justified.

Files were then passed to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS), who reviewed the case and decided in 2016 to bring murder charges.

The defendants, now aged in their sixties, have been given anonymity amid fears that identification could put their lives at risk.

According to the prosecution, the soldiers are surviving members of the army patrol while a third member has since died.

Legal proceedings were issued by the ex-paratroopers after the Director of Public Prosecutions issued a certificate for a non-jury trial.

Their lawyers claim the decision was based on a wrong interpretation of the 2007 Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act.

Trials by judges sitting alone were meant to deal with potential issues of jury tampering in cases involving paramilitary organisations, they contend.

With leave to apply for judicial review granted, proceedings have been put on hold pending the outcome of a similar challenge by another former soldier facing prosecution.

Dennis Hutchings (77) is charged with offences connected to the death of John Patrick Cunninghman in Co Armagh in 1974.

John Pat Cunningham was shot dead in Benburb

Mr Hutchings, who served in the Life Guards, was charged with attempted murder after the killing was re-examined by police.

It is alleged that he and another soldier both fired their guns, although it is not known who discharged the fatal bullet.

The pensioner, from Cawsand in Cornwall, denies the charges against him.

He is also mounting a legal bid to have his trial heard in front of a jury, rather than a judge sitting alone.

Mr Hutchings' challenge was rejected last December, which prompted him to take his case to the Supreme Court in London.

That hearing is due to take place next March.

Soldier A and Solider C's case have been adjourned until that verdict is delivered.

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