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Former soldiers face prosecution over alleged 1972 murder of Official IRA man

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

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

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

The UK Government vowed to support any military personnel affected by the case.

The accused are likely to appear in court next year.

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

He added: "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."

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

He believed in creating a socialist Ireland and supported an "Army of the People" involved in social struggle, his family have said.

The veteran of Catholic civil rights protests 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.

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 prosecution was not due to any police investigation or re-investigation, Police Service of Northern Ireland assistant chief constable Mark Hamilton said.

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

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

A UK Government statement said: "Any member of the military affected by this legal case will rightly be supported throughout and will receive free MoD legal representation."

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

Another former soldier, Dennis Hutchings, who is in his 70s and from Cornwall, was charged with attempted murder last year in connection with the shooting of John-Pat Cunningham, 27, who had learning difficulties, 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.

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