Laganside Courts, Oxford Street, Belfast, Northern Ireland 011116 CREDIT ALAMY
Northern Ireland

Trial Of Former Paratroopers Charged With Murder Of IRA Man On Verge Of Collapse

The prosecution is considering whether to appeal the ruling.  

Laganside Courts, Oxford Street, Belfast, Northern Ireland 011116 CREDIT ALAMY

The trial in Belfast of two Northern Ireland veterans accused of murdering Official IRA member Joe McCann in 1972 is on the verge of collapsing.

The Judge, Mr Justice O'Hara, has ruled that previous interviews given by the former British paratroopers, known only as Soldiers A and C, cannot be used as evidence in the trial.

The prosecution, which has conceded that without that evidence the case against the two men would fail, is considering whether to appeal the ruling.  

It will inform the judge of its decision at a Court hearing next Tuesday.

Speaking outside Laganside Courts afterwards, solicitor for the McCann family Niall Murphy said they had "very strongly held views" about the ruling.

He added: "They are mindful that the matter is live before the court and looking forward to the exhaustion of an appeal.

"To that end, we will reserve comment until next Tuesday.

"They very much look forward to an appeal being launched.

"That's under consideration at present.

"We will know the position more clearly on Tuesday morning.

"There are very strongly held opinions in respect of what has transpired in this case.

"We will make those public at the appropriate time."

Mr McCann, 24, was shot dead as he ran away from the police and Army on Joy Street in Belfast in April 1972.

The court heard that the only evidence implicating the defendants, soldiers A and C, came from two sources.

The first was statements they made to the Royal Military Police in 1972, the second source was statements and answers which they volunteered to the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) of the PSNI in March 2010.

The defence team argued that all of the evidence was inadmissible and should be excluded.

Mr Justice O'Hara said the prosecution had accepted that if the evidence was excluded the charges against Soldiers A and C must fail.

He said the decision was, therefore "fundamental" to the trial proceeding any further.

The judge said the exclusion of the evidence was not in any way due to fault on the part of the Historical Enquiries Team.

He also criticised the historical agreement between the RUC and the Army, which lasted until 1973, which prevented police from questioning soldiers.

"Many judges before me have condemned that practice.

"I join in that condemnation."

Prosecution barrister Louis Mably said they wished to consider whether to appeal the ruling.

The defence raised no objections.

The court was adjourned until 2pm on Tuesday.

Cover image: Laganside Courts in Belfast (Picture: Alamy).