Two elderly ex soldiers, aged in their 60s, to face murder trial for shooting IRA man in 1972

Parachute regiment soldiers in Londonderry on Bloody Sunday in 1972. Two elderly former members of the regiment face a murder trial over a separate killing in NI from that year. Photo: Pacemaker Press
Parachute regiment soldiers in Londonderry on Bloody Sunday in 1972. Two elderly former members of the regiment face a murder trial over a separate killing in NI from that year. Photo: Pacemaker Press

Two former soldiers are to be prosecuted for allegedly murdering an Official IRA man in Northern Ireland.

Joe McCann, 24, was shot dead in disputed circumstances in Belfast on April 15 1972.

Official IRA man Joe McCann who was killed in Belfast in 1972. Photo: Pacemaker, Belfast

Official IRA man Joe McCann who was killed in Belfast in 1972. Photo: Pacemaker, Belfast

Soldier A, now 67, and Soldier C, 65, are surviving members of the Parachute Regiment patrol which fired on Mr McCann, prosecutors said.

A Public Prosecution Service (PPS) spokesman said yesterday: “Following a careful consideration of all the available evidence it has been decided to prosecute two men for the offence of murder.”

The case was referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Barra McGrory QC by Northern Ireland’s attorney general John Larkin QC in March 2014 and has been under review since then.

Mr Larkin had received representations from the dead man’s family for a new inquest.

A British Army armoured vehicle makes its way along a barricade while on patrol in the Lower Falls area of west Belfast on April 17 1972. Trouble in the area erupted after the shooting of Joe McCann, an IRA leader, the previous day. (AP Photo/Michel Lipchitz, File)

A British Army armoured vehicle makes its way along a barricade while on patrol in the Lower Falls area of west Belfast on April 17 1972. Trouble in the area erupted after the shooting of Joe McCann, an IRA leader, the previous day. (AP Photo/Michel Lipchitz, File)

The PPS said: “The decision was reached following an objective and impartial application of the test for prosecution that was conducted in accordance with the code for prosecutors and with the benefit of advice from senior counsel.”

They are likely to appear in court next year.

Mr McCann had been one of the Official IRA’s most prominent activists in the early days of the Troubles.

He was shot by an Army patrol in Joy Street in the Markets area of Belfast city centre. A third member of the unit who fired at Mr McCann died in the intervening years, the PPS said.

Joe McCann's widow Ann and daughter Nuala McCann had pressed for a new inquest into his death

Joe McCann's widow Ann and daughter Nuala McCann had pressed for a new inquest into his death

The original Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) investigation was conducted in 1972 and a decision based on the evidence available then was taken not to prosecute any individual.

The Historical Enquiries Team (HET) was established to probe unresolved killings in Northern Ireland and carried out an investigation into Mr McCann’s death in 2012.

The McCann case is thought to be the second military prosecution involving Northern Ireland since the 1990s.

Another former soldier was charged last year with an unrelated Troubles killing. Retired corporal Major Dennis Hutchings, from Cornwall, was accused of an attempted murder in Co Tyrone in 1974.

In 1999 Paratrooper Lee Clegg was cleared of the murder of a Belfast teenager.

Files on the 1972 Bloody Sunday shootings by soldiers in Londonderry are with prosecutors.

Mr McCann’s widow, Aine, welcomed the decision yesterday.

Her solicitor Kevin Winters said: “This is some measure of justice after all these years.”

He added the review of the decision had been a “logical” step.

Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton, head of the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s Legacy and Justice Department, said: “The decision to prosecute two former soldiers in relation to the death of Mr John Joseph McCann in 1972 follows an internal review of the case by the PPS; it is not as a result of a police investigation or re-investigation and, as such, we are unable to comment further on this.”

Reacting to the PPS decision to prosecute, North Antrim MP Ian Paisley said the Defence Secretary Michael Fallon and Prime Minister Theresa May should intervene to prevent a witch-hunt against former soldiers.

The DUP MP said, “The decision to prosecute these soldiers will only reinforce the view that former security force personnel are being persecuted and there is an attempt to re-write the history of terrorism in Northern Ireland.

“Our troops put their lives on the line to defend us and it is important our government stands on their side. I believe that Michael Fallon and Theresa May should intervene to demonstrate they will stand by our troops and not allow such a one-sided pursuit of justice to occur.”

Fermanagh south Tyrone MP and former UDR soldier Tom Elliott said: “This illustrates the frustration of the community across Northern Ireland - that we have elderly soldiers being charged with murder while hundreds of terrorists wander freely around with get-of-jail comfort letters and not a care in the world.”

Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly claimed it “has long been believed that Joe McCann was murdered by the British army”.

He added: “This is now a live case and those charged, like everyone, are entitled to due process. But it does highlight the fact that no one is or can be above the law, regardless of how long ago the incident took place.”