Laganside Courts in Belfast, Crown and Magistrates courtrooms 060215 CREDIT ALAMY
Northern Ireland

Veterans Found Not Guilty Of Murder As Trial Collapses

The two former paratroopers accused of murder, known as Soldiers A and C, have been formally acquitted.

Laganside Courts in Belfast, Crown and Magistrates courtrooms 060215 CREDIT ALAMY

Two former paratroopers accused of the murder of an Official IRA leader have been formally acquitted after prosecutors offered no further evidence at their trial.

The trial of Soldiers A and C at Belfast Crown Court collapsed after the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) confirmed it would not appeal against a decision by Mr Justice O'Hara to exclude statements given by the ex-soldiers about the shooting of Joe McCann in 1972.

Mr McCann, 24, was shot in the Markets Area of Belfast in April 1972.

The trial opened last Monday and heard a full day of evidence.

It then moved into a separate hearing to determine whether statements and interviews given by the ex-soldiers, who are now in their 70s, would be admissible as evidence.

On Friday, Mr Justice O'Hara ruled that the soldiers' evidence could not be admitted.

With the PPS having conceded the material was the only evidence before the court that could be used to prove the soldiers fired at Mr McCann, its decision not to appeal against the judge's ruling means the case could not proceed.

After the prosecution confirmed it would be presenting no further evidence in the case, judge Mr Justice O’Hara told the defendants: "In the circumstances, Mr A and C, I formally find you not guilty of the charge of murder."

Moments later the two veterans, dressed in suits and ties, walked from the court.

The separate hearing was told that the evidence implicating the defendants, known in court as Soldier A and Soldier C, came from two sources.

The first was statements they made to the Royal Military Police in 1972. The second source was statements and interview answers they gave to a police legacy unit, the Historical Enquiries Team (HET), in 2010.

Laganside Courts, Oxford Street, Belfast, Northern Ireland 011116 CREDIT ALAMY
Laganside Courts in Belfast (Picture: Alamy).

The PPS accepted that the 1972 statements would be inadmissible in isolation.

That was due to a series of deficiencies in how they were taken, including the fact the soldiers were ordered to make them, they were not conducted under caution, there was no access to legal representation and the Army policy was to not ask soldiers to provide an explanation or rationale for their actions.

However, prosecutors argued that the information in the 1972 statements became admissible because they were adopted and accepted by the defendants during their engagement with the HET in March 2010.

In his ruling last Friday, Mr Justice O'Hara agreed with the defence contention that none of the evidence should be admitted to the trial.

He said it was not legitimate to put the 1972 evidence before the court "dressed up and freshened up with a new 2010 cover".

The judge questioned why the re-examination of the case by the HET did not prompt a fresh investigation by the Police Service of Northern Ireland, with the veterans interviewed under caution for the specific offence of murder.

He suggested that course of action might have made a prosecution more sustainable.

The decision to prosecute was taken after Northern Ireland's Attorney General referred the case to the Director of Public Prosecutions in 2014 after receiving the findings of the HET report.

A Ministry of Defence (MOD) spokesperson said: "The MOD has noted the court's decision today, which was welcomed by Defence Secretary Ben Wallace.

"Soldiers A and C have received independent legal representation, funded by MOD throughout these proceedings.

"The Secretary of State for Defence has ensured that legal and welfare support is provided for all those involved in this process, whether serving or veteran."

The family of Joe McCann say they will apply to the Attorney General to open an inquest into his death.

Cover image: Alamy.