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It's outrageous ex-soldier may be prosecuted over shooting of IRA man who tried to kill me, declares peer

By Joanne Fleming

Published 01/08/2016

John Taylor and the former Ulster Unionist politician’s car after he was shot and injured by Joe McCann (inset) in 1972Sometimes
John Taylor and the former Ulster Unionist politician’s car after he was shot and injured by Joe McCann (inset) in 1972Sometimes
John Taylor’s car after he was shot and injured by Joe McCann in 1972
John Taylor’s car after he was shot and injured by Joe McCann in 1972
Joe McCann

A former unionist MP has attacked a justice system which could see a retired soldier prosecuted for shooting dead an IRA commander - a gunman once involved in an attempt on the politician's life.

The ex-solider, known only as Soldier C, has spoken of his distress that the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) is currently reviewing his role in the death of IRA man Joe McCann.

McCann was shot by soldiers in disputed circumstances close to his home in the Markets area of Belfast in April 1972.

The 24-year-old was commander of the Official IRA's third Belfast battalion and regarded by the security forces as a dangerous terrorist.

An RUC investigation at the time ruled the soldiers would face no action, but three years ago a report by the now-defunct Historical Enquiries Team (HET) concluded that the killing was not justified.

The two former paratroopers who cooperated with the HET's investigation believed the matter was closed - until they received letters two months ago saying the case had been passed to the PPS.

Unionists have condemned the move, including John Taylor, now Lord Kilclooney.

In February 1972 The UUP politician survived a hail of bullets after his car was machine-gunned by McCann and an accomplice, hitting him five times in the neck and head.

Asked yesterday if he had sympathy with Soldier C, Lord Kilclooney told the Belfast Telegraph: "Definitely, yes."

"It is outrageous," he said of the potential prosecution. "It shows the UK judicial system at its worst."

Lord Kilclooney added he had concerns not only for Soldier C, but for other former security services personnel.

"This is not an exceptional case," he explained. "There is the threat of further prosecutions that the Government needs to address."

Referring to recent claims of a two-tier justice system for ex-soldiers and ex-paramilitaries, Lord Kilclooney said the system did not serve "the community, the security services or the police".

This week Soldier C, a 65-year-old living in England, said the emotional strain of potential prosecution was taking its toll.

"All I ever tried to do was serve loyally and professionally as a soldier," he added.

"Only some sort of psychopath would take any pleasure from a man's death.

"I wish I hadn't been involved, but at the same time nobody will ever convince me that my actions on that day were anything other than the right actions. I did my duty when I was called upon to do so. But now, all these years later, I've been brought to this.

"What we're terrified of is a knock on the door and they handcuff me, drag me out and take me into custody. If that were to happen, it'd be unholy.

"Progressively, on a daily basis, this weighs upon us more and more. It's much worse for my wife.

"Given my background with the Army, if I was incarcerated then I could deal with it. (But) my wife couldn't.

"It's not the issue of having to go to court and being tried, it's the stigma - the stigma to my name, my reputation and the impact on my family."

His lawyer, James Dunn, of Devonshires Solicitors in London, is representing no fewer than 12 British soldiers, but Soldier C is the first to speak out.

"This is wrong," he told the Daily Mail. "Thirteen months ago, our daughter gave us a grandson, so I'm a husband, father and grandfather.

"My wife supported me loyally throughout my Army career. Sometimes, I'd be away for 10 months at a time, but she never complained or asked questions.

"Now I've retired this should be her time - our time."

Soldier C also alluded to figures such as John Downey, who was controversially cleared of involvement in the 1982 IRA Hyde Park bombings in London after he produced a so-called comfort letter given to him by Tony Blair's government.

"I constantly ask myself, 'What kind of world am I living in when suspected terrorists and murderers are literally walking around with get out of fail free cards in their possession, while I and many others like me who have served our country are living in fear of being arrested and tried for doing what we considered was our duty?'" he said

"It seems that Sinn Fein, under the control of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness and their stooges, are being allowed to mount a campaign of revenge against those they have despised for decades.

"These same men, who were themselves sought by the authorities for acts of terrorism, are now rubbing shoulders with royalty and senior politicians - the Prime Minister included - while at the same time former and serving members of the armed forces are being persecuted."

For legal reasons Soldier C cannot speak in detail about the death of Joe McCann.

It has been widely reported, however, that McCann was unarmed while fleeing arrest from RUC Special Branch when the soldiers opened fire.

"I have asked myself countless times what would have happened had we not taken the action that we did that day," Soldier C continued.

"I keep getting the same answer: Joe McCann would undoubtedly have carried on his war against the authorities, attempting to murder members of the security forces, police and possibly innocent members of the public.

"In short, he was a battle-hardened terrorist who had no compunction about killing others."

Soldier C has been told to expect no decision from the Public Prosecution Service until the end of this month.

The PPS said its review followed a referral by the Attorney General for Northern Ireland, John Larkin.

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