Ex-soldiers charged with murder set to mount legal bid

Mr McCann was shot by an Army patrol in Joy Street in the Markets area of Belfast city centre. Credit: Pacemaker

Two ex-soldiers charged with murdering an Official IRA man in Belfast 45 years ago are to mount a legal bid to have the case thrown out before it reaches trial.

The former paratroopers will also be seeking anonymity amid fears that identification could put their lives at risk, a court heard on Wednesday.

The defendants, known only as Soldier A and Soldier C, are facing prosecution for the killing of Joe McCann in April 1972.

McCann, one of the Official IRA's most prominent activists, was shot in disputed circumstances near his home in the Markets area of Belfast.

A police investigation conducted at the time resulted in no-one being prosecuted.

But in 2013 a report by the now-defunct Historical Enquiries Team concluded the killing was not justified.

Files were then passed to the Public Prosecution Service, which reviewed the case and decided last year that the two soldiers should be charged with murder.

Neither defendant, now in their 60s, were present as proceedings got underway at Belfast Magistrates' Court. A PPS lawyer confirmed that the defence is seeking anonymity.

"The Crown at this stage has not finalised its position on such an application," he said.

District Judge Fiona Bagnall agreed to impose a temporary ban on identifying either ex-soldier under the terms of the Human Rights Act and contempt of court legislation.

She stressed that it was merely a "holding position", with the press free to mount a challenge when the case is reviewed again on 20 December.

It also emerged that the defendants will be contesting that they have a case to answer over the alleged murder.

Mrs Bagnall told legal representatives: "This will be a contested committal (for trial), you need to clarify what witnesses you require."

According to the prosecution, Soldier A and Soldier C are surviving members of the Army patrol involved in the shooting incident.

A third member of the unit has since died.

In a statement Joe McCann's widow, Anne, said: "There are three incontrovertible facts about this incident; Joe was unarmed, he as running away, and he was shot in the back."

The family's solicitor, Kevin Winters, insisted that the decision to prosecute represented the outworking of independent due process.

He added: "We look forward to this trial taking place as soon as possible."