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Senior official IRA man Joe McCann's killing ‘unlawful’, soldiers’ trial told


Belfast Crown Court. Pic: Niall Carson/PA

Belfast Crown Court. Pic: Niall Carson/PA

Niall Carson/PA

Belfast Crown Court. Pic: Niall Carson/PA

The killing of an official IRA man, shot by two paratroopers nearly 50 years ago, was "unlawful" and "not justified", a court has heard.

Joe McCann, one of the terror group's most prominent activists, was shot in disputed circumstances near his home in the Markets area in Belfast on April 15, 1972.

The two former soldiers, known only as Soldier A and Soldier C, stand accused of Mr McCann's murder.

The pair, whose identities are subject to reporting restrictions, appeared at the opening day into the murder trial being held in Belfast Crown Court on Monday.

Former veterans minister Johnny Mercer also attended the trial in person, accompanied into court by Northern Ireland Veterans Commissioner Danny Kinahan.

Mr Mercer, a former Army officer, left his ministerial role last week after expressing frustration at a lack of progress on legislation to protect British veterans who served during the Troubles from prosecution.

A small group of protesters, some dressed in military uniform, picketed outside the court in Belfast ahead of the trial.

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Both men replied, "Not guilty" when the murder charge was put to them.

The trial's verdict will be decided by a judge with no jury appointed to hear the case.

Opening the case, the prosecution barrister said Mr McCann was a "senior member" of the Official IRA who was suspected of involvement in a number of attacks carried out by the group.

He explained that the shooting took place after a RUC Special Branch Officer (SBO) attempted to arrest him on Joy Street on the afternoon of April 15, 1972, prompting Mr McCann to evade detention and run away.

The lawyer, acting for the Crown, said soldiers A and C, and a third paratrooper, known as Soldier B and is now deceased, then fired shots.

The court heard the soldiers had been manning a checkpoint in the area at the time and had been approached by the RUC SBO who requested assistance in apprehending to help Mr McCann.

Mr McCann was struck by two bullets, "possibly three" and sustained wounds to the back of his left shoulder, his left wrist and at the top of his left buttock.

The prosecution lawyer said the shooting of Mr McCann in the back as he ran away was "unlawful" and "not justified".

"On any view of the facts the level of force used was unreasonable," he said.

A police investigation conducted at the time of the shooting resulted in no prosecutions.

In 2013 a report by the now-defunct Historical Enquiries Team concluded the killing was

'On any view of the facts the level of force used was unreasonable,' he said.

The matter was then reviewed by the Public Prosecution Service (PPS), which announced murder charges would be brought against the defendants in 2016.

The case continues.

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