Northern Ireland

Soldiers to stand trial over Official IRA man Joe McCann's death

Joe McCann was shot dead in Belfast in April 1972 
Joe McCann was shot dead in Belfast in April 1972 

Two ex-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 cannot be identified, allegedly killed Joe McCann 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 shot in disputed circumstances near his home in the Markets area.

A police investigation conducted at the time resulted in no-one being prosecuted.

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, are known only as Soldier A and Soldier C.

They were granted temporary anonymity at an early stage amid fears that identification could put their lives at risk.

According to the prosecution, Soldier A and Soldier C are surviving members of the army patrol involved in the shooting incident. A third member of the unit has since died.

Both defendants were present during last week's preliminary inquiry hearing, lawyers confirmed.

After examining evidence District Judge Fiona Bagnall decided they should be returned for Crown Court trial.

Arraignment proceedings are expected to take place next month.

Outside court the McCann family's solicitor 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."