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Paratroopers to face trial over Belfast killing of IRA chief Joe McCann

Two former soldiers are to be prosecuted for the murder of Offical IRA man John Joseph McCann, the public prosecution service has confirmed.

McCann, one of the Official IRA's most prominent activists, was shot by soldiers in disputed circumstances in 1972.

Three years ago, a report by the now-defunct Historical Enquiries Team (HET) concluded the killing was not justified.

Two former paratroopers cooperated with the HET's investigation and believed the matter to be closed. However, they were later told that files were passed to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) for consideration.

More: Ex-para who may face court over IRA man's death slams justice system

On Friday the PPS announced it was to prosecute two former soldiers.

In a statement, it said: "Following a careful consideration of all the available evidence it has been decided to prosecute two men for the offence of murder.

"The charge relates to the death of Mr John Joseph McCann who was shot by an army patrol in Joy Street, Belfast on Saturday April 15, 1972.

"The two defendants in the case are surviving members of the army patrol which shot Mr McCann. A third member of the patrol who also fired at Mr McCann died in the intervening years. At present these individuals are not being named and are identified as Soldier A and Soldier C.

"The decision to prosecute is the outcome of a review which was undertaken after the case was referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions by the Attorney General for Northern Ireland in March 2014. 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.”

McCann (24) was commander of the Official IRA's third Belfast battalion.

His unit's seizure of Inglis bakery in the Markets area during internment became part of republican folklore.

In February 1972, McCann was involved in the attempted assassination of Ulster Unionist politician John Taylor.

He was regarded by the security forces as a dangerous terrorist.

McCann was shot by soldiers in disputed circumstances in Joy Street in the Markets area, close to his home, on April 15, 1972.

The original RUC investigation in this case was conducted in 1972 and subsequently a decision, based on the evidence then available, was taken not to prosecute any individual.

In March 2014 the Attorney General for Northern Ireland, following a request for a fresh inquest, referred the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions and this resulted in a formal review of the case.

Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton, Head of the PSNI’s Legacy and Justice Department, added: "The decision to prosecute two former soldiers in relation to the death of Mr John Joseph McCann in 1972 follows an internal review of the case by the PPS, it is not as a result of a police investigation or re-investigation and as such, we are unable to comment further on this."

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