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Campaigners seek justice for soldiers murdered in IRA 'honey trap' in 1971

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From left: Dougald McCaughey and brothers Joseph and John McCaig were killed in 1971

From left: Dougald McCaughey and brothers Joseph and John McCaig were killed in 1971

Flowers left at the murder scene

Flowers left at the murder scene

A tribute mural in Newtownabbey

A tribute mural in Newtownabbey

From left: Dougald McCaughey and brothers Joseph and John McCaig were killed in 1971

Campaigners acting for the families of three young British soldiers murdered in an infamous IRA 'honey trap' are today writing to First Minister Arlene Foster to officially ask for her support for a fresh legacy inquest into the atrocity.

Brothers John and Joseph McCaig, aged just 17 and 18, and their friend Dougald McCaughey (23) were shot dead on a remote road in north Belfast in 1971 after being lured to their deaths by two attractive women they had met in a bar.

The deaths of the Royal Highland Fusiliers - the first off-duty soldiers to be killed by the IRA in the Troubles - sparked a wave of revulsion at the time with mass protests. No one has ever been convicted over the killings.

Three Scottish Soldiers campaign director Kris McGurk told the Belfast Telegraph that his letter to Mrs Foster follows on from a meeting he held with the DUP leader five months ago, at which he says she gave him her backing.

He said: "We met with Arlene Foster on September 4 last year at Stormont and essentially we let her know exactly where we were with things. William Humphrey was there at the meeting, too.

"Arlene Foster gave us her full support and said anything she can do going forward to support the campaign, she will.

"We had just to let her know when we had submitted that request to the Attorney General, so I am writing to Arlene today to let her know that request has been put in and if she can follow up and put her weight behind it."

The request for the legacy inquest that has been made to Northern Ireland's Attorney General John Larkin came after the families gained access to previously unseen police files that they hope could help bring the killers to justice.

The families' legal team has uncovered new evidence which reveals the IRA may have planned the soldiers' murders for days, with up to 10 conspirators involved in the plot.

It also told them the name of one of the women said to be involved in the 'honey trap', whose brother and father were IRA members, and who could be alive and living in England.

It also detailed that one of those suspected of involvement in the murders was a former British paratrooper turned ruthless IRA hitman called Paddy O'Kane, who is now dead.

Only one of the alleged IRA execution team, Anthony 'Dutch' Doherty, has ever been arrested over the killings, but he escaped from prison in 1971.

The Mail On Sunday newspaper last week tracked him down to a terraced house in north Dublin but he angrily refused to answer questions about the murders.

The soldiers' relatives hope a new inquest will produce sufficient evidence to trigger a fresh police inquiry and the eventual extradition of suspects to the UK to face trial.

David McCaughey, Dougald's 52-year-old cousin, said: "This new information finally gives us hope that we will one day have the full truth and see justice for Dougald, John and Joseph.

"We must have an inquest so we can finally have the complete account of what happened and bring the killers who are still alive to the courts. It's been nearly 50 years and it's time we had justice."

The three Royal Highland Fusiliers soldiers had been given the afternoon off and were drinking in Belfast's bars when they were lured to their deaths on March 10, 1971.

They were befriended by a group of Provisional IRA terrorists and two women during a pub crawl which lasted five hours, drinking in the Abercorn, Mooney's and Kelly's Cellars in the city.

The young soldiers were lured away to a remote country road by the women where IRA gunmen were lying in wait. They were killed with gunshots to the back of the head.

The files contain a detailed account of the final hours of the three soldiers and, crucially, say that rather than being an opportunistic crime, the cold-blooded murders had been planned well in advance.

The files reveal that eight days before the brutal killings, the Metropolitan Police received intelligence that the IRA was plotting to murder off-duty soldiers.

The dossiers name two of the alleged plotters as local IRA members Patrick McAdorey (25) and 20-year-old Anthony 'Dutch' Doherty. Both were already wanted for the murders of two RUC officers.

At about 3pm, the three soldiers were spotted in Mooney's Bar where they were drinking with five civilians, including a man with a distinctive 'Van Dyke beard'. That man is believed to be McAdorey.

Also in the bar was former British soldier Patrick O'Kane (35).

After leaving the Parachute Regiment in 1964, O'Kane got a job with the Post Office but he had also joined the IRA.

He would later be linked to the Kingsmill massacre of 10 Protestant workers in 1976 and the Warrenpoint ambush three years later that left 16 members of the Parachute Regiment and two Queen's Own Highlanders dead.

There was widespread outrage at the murders.

The men's commanding officer described the victims as "just boys" and the coroner said the deaths were "one of the vilest crimes ever heard of in living memory".

In Belfast, flags were lowered to half-mast and traffic came to a standstill as workers spilled out of the shipyard and factories to join a crowd of 10,000 at the Cenotaph. Amid the turmoil, a team of Scotland Yard officers tasked with catching the killers quickly identified four key suspects - McAdorey, Doherty, O'Kane and 'Suspect Two'.

The files reveal that they were also told about a Belfast woman seen with the soldiers. Her father and a brother were members of the IRA and she had left Northern Ireland for England soon after the killings.

The new documents also suggest the meeting between the IRA gang and the three fusiliers was no accident.

Doherty was arrested in November 1971 and interrogated at the Girdwood Park Detention Centre.

He confessed his involvement and named McAdorey, O'Kane and Suspect Two as accomplices.

But Doherty escaped from Crumlin Road prison where he was being held and subsequently avoided extradition from the Irish Republic over the murder of the two RUC officers.

McAdorey was killed by security forces in August 1971 after attacking an Army infantry position with an assault rifle.

O'Kane is understood to have admitted to the murders but showed no remorse.

He fled to Co Clare in the Irish Republic where he became a labourer.

Like Hyde Park bombing suspect John Downey, O'Kane was given a controversial 'on-the-run' immunity letter following the Good Friday Agreement.

He died in 2009.

Suspect Two is also believed to be dead.

Kris McGurk added: "We have launched a fresh crowd justice campaign online just to ensure our legal team are funded up to the point we get the inquest granted.

"It went live on Saturday night at 11pm and by yesterday afternoon it had already got over £2,000 in it so the public's really rallying behind this."

Memorials to the three soldiers at White Brae and at Ballysillan in north Belfast have been repeatedly targeted by vandals and thieves.

They have been attacked 27 times since they were installed in 2010 after funding from the Oldpark/Cavehill branch of the Royal British Legion.

  • The Three Scottish Soldiers campaign has relaunched an online drive to raise money on behalf of the families to fund the legal costs for their fight for justice - anyone wishing to support them can donate at crowdjustice.com/case/3soldiers

Belfast Telegraph