Case collapse a setback for families
The collapse of the trial of two former British soldiers accused of murdering Official IRA leader Joe McCann raises questions about this prosecution and highlights the difficulties faced by bereaved families in legacy cases.
Joe McCann was aged 24 when he was shot dead as he ran away from the police and British army in the Markets area of Belfast in 1972.
It took almost fifty years for this case to be brought to trial, a profoundly unsatisfactory fact in itself. As it transpired, the trial of two ex-paratroopers, now in their 70s, proved shortlived.
Proceedings opened on Monday last week and heard a full day of evidence before the case moved to a separate voir dire hearing to determine whether statements and interviews given by the men would be admissible as evidence.
On Friday, Mr Justice O’Hara ruled that the soldiers’ evidence could not be admitted.
Yesterday, the prosecution confirmed it would be presenting no further evidence, meaning the case could not continue and the men were formally found not guilty.
The court had been told that evidence implicating the soldiers came from two sources, statements given to the military police in 1972 and interview answers given to the Historical Enquiries Team in 2010.
However, the judge yesterday was scathing in his assessment of the evidence, saying it was not legitimate to put the 1972 evidence before the court “dressed up and freshened up with a new 2010 cover”.
He questioned why the HET review did not lead to a fresh investigation by the police, with the soldiers interviewed under caution for the offence of murder, suggesting this approach might have made a prosecution more sustainable.
The PPS has defended its handling of the case but said it would review the judgment to 'carefully consider' if it has the potential to impact on other cases currently before the courts.
There is no doubt that the collapse of this trial is deeply disappointing for the McCann family and will be viewed as a setback in the wider search for justice by those whose relatives have died at the hands of security forces.
As Mr McCann's daughter Aíne said yesterday, the families have been failed at all levels of the state.
The McCanns will now pursue other avenues but the road ahead has undoubtedly got much more difficult.