Northern Ireland

New inquest ordered in New Lodge Six case welcomed by relatives and campaigners

Campaigners have welcomed a decision to hold new inquest into deaths of 'New Lodge Six'
Campaigners have welcomed a decision to hold new inquest into deaths of 'New Lodge Six'

RELATIVES of six Catholic men shot dead by the British army in north Belfast almost 50 years ago have welcomed as decision to hold a new inquest into their deaths.

Attorney General Brenda King confirmed the move yesterday.

The victims, known as the New Lodge Six, died during two separate shooting incidents overnight between February 3 and 4 1973.

Three of the men were members of the IRA but were not involved in republican activities at the time.

It is suspected by some that the British army's undercover Military Research Force may have been involved in killing two of the IRA men James Sloan and James McCann, both 19.

Another IRA man, Tony Campbell (19), was shot dead a short time later along with three other men, John Loughran (35), Brendan Maguire (32), and 26-year-old Ambrose Hardy.

In 2017 former Attorney General John Larkin was asked to a direct a fresh inquest into the killings.

The following year he said he would not order a new inquest but the Director of Public Prosecutions should direct that the Chief Constable of the PSNI investigate the case.

In February last year the Public Prosecution Service declined that request.

Fresh submissions were later made to Ms King by victims group Relatives for Justice (RFJ).

Willie Loughran, the brother of John Loughran, said the shootings were unprovoked.

"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.

RFJ caseworker Mike Ritchie said relatives of the dead are pleased with the development.

"It will be important now for the lawyers to start seeking further documents on the case and that will provide further information for families," he said.

"The coroner will be able to call the soldiers concerned and for the first time families will be able to see them answer questions."

Mr Rritchie said a focus will also be on "the decision making behind the operation and we believe senior officers will also have to be made accountable for the decisions they took."

The Attorney General has said that while the deaths of Anthony Campbell, Brendan Maguire, John Loughran and Ambrose Hardy will be reviewed by the PSNI's Legacy Investigation Branch (LIB), those of James Sloan and James McCann will not.

It is understood these cases have already been examined during another investigation.

Gary Duffy of KRW Law said: "We are now writing to the attorney general's office asking for immediate prioritisation of his inquest given both the elderly age of the next of kin and the fact that this was one of the earliest atrocities of the conflict."

Sinn Féin MLA Carál Ní Chuilín welcomed the development.

"I pay tribute to the families for the determination and dignity in their long campaign," he said.