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SNP's Nicola Sturgeon apologises over Mason's IRA 'freedom fighter' comments

By Jonny Bell

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has apologised over comments made by one of her representatives that the IRA could be regarded as "freedom fighters," a justice campaigner has said.

John Mason sparked outrage when, in a Twitter exchange, he said some would regard the IRA as "freedom fighters" when asked to back a campaign for justice for three Scottish soldiers killed by the terrorist group in Belfast over 40 years ago.

He also hinted that the victims, Fusiliers Dougald McCaughey and brothers John and Joseph McCaig - aged just 17, 18 and 23 when they were shot dead in 1971 - might be somehow to blame for their tragic fates.

Initially he refused to withdraw his comments, calling them "general" and not directly linked to any one case. However, he later backtracked after party leader and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon faced calls to act.

Kris McGurk who runs the campaign for justice for the three Scottish soldiers said he has now received a personal apology from Mrs Sturgeon.

"She requested I rely her words to the McCaughey and McCaig family," he said in a Facebook post.

"I will quickly speak to all involved in the campaign before making any further moves."

The Scottish National Party has been contacted for a response.

Royal Highland Fusiliers John and Joseph McCaig along with Dougald McCaughey were off duty in a bar in Belfast's Cornmarket area when they were enticed into a car with the promise of meeting girls, in 1971.

They were taken to White Brae in Ligoniel, where they were shot by members of the Provisional IRA.

Their bodies were found by children playing the next day. To date no one has stood trial for their deaths.

Mr Mason, MSP for Glasgow Shettleston, became embroiled in the controversy after he was asked by a constituent to back a campaign to bring the republican killers of the soldiers to justice.

Refusing to "take sides" he said: "You say Irish murderers. Others say Irish freedom fighters. I support Scottish soldiers if they do good, but not if they do bad."

Following calls for an apology, Mr Mason said: "I deeply regret the offence and upset that has been caused to the relatives who lost loved ones and I'm extremely sorry that this has happened.

"I condemn and deplore all acts of terrorism."

The soldiers' families are fighting to have the killers - men they claim are known to police and security services - brought to justice.

Over the years a memorial to the soldiers in north Belfast has been repeatedly vandalised.

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