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Trial of two ex-paratroopers accused of 1972 murder of IRA man is delayed

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Official IRA activist Joe McCann

Official IRA activist Joe McCann

A plaque in the Markets area of Belfast where he was shot dead in 1972

A plaque in the Markets area of Belfast where he was shot dead in 1972

Official IRA activist Joe McCann

The trial of two former paratroopers charged with the 1972 murder of Joe McCann will now be held next year.

A trial date into the killing of the Official IRA man had been set for this November, but has been put back.

The case was listed for mention at Belfast Crown Court on Friday, where a new date of January 2021 was set, due largely to a court backlog caused by the Covid crisis.

Soldiers A and C, who are now both in their 70s, have been charged with murdering Mr McCann in April 1972.

Mr McCann - who at the time was an Official IRA activist - was shot in disputed circumstances near his home in the Markets area of Belfast.

Relatives of the deceased attended the hearing remotely, where they heard that the trial will now not proceed in November.

Mr Justice O'Hara spoke of "issues to be dealt with" ahead of the trial, including an application regarding anonymity and the fact the two defendants have not yet been arraigned.

Liam McCollum QC, the barrister representing Soldiers A and C, told Mr Justice O'Hara the defence were "unable personally to meet those dates as things currently stand".

The defence barrister raised "other problems". Saying both men were in their 70s, that Soldier A had health issues and that Soldier C's wife was asthmatic, Mr McCollum said: "The sooner the trial is, the more difficult it may be to accommodate them safely in the current environment."

Mr Justice O'Hara noted the initial trial date of November was set before the current medical situation, which he said has had an impact on court proceedings. He said that as a result of this, he was "forced" to put the hearing back - but "for the shortest time possible".

When Mr Justice O'Hara asked the Crown's position on the trial date, Sam Magee QC said that while they were mindful of the difficulties facing the court due to the backlog of cases, "in an ideal world" the Crown could proceed in November.

Mr Magee also suggested that the arraignment of the former soldiers could be done via video-link.

Mr Justice O'Hara then vacated the November date, set a new date for trial as January 11, 2021 and said that while he acknowledged the delay is "disappointing for everyone", it was "minimal".

The judge said the intervening period could be used to deal with issues such as the application regarding the anonymity order.

He said: "When there is a ruling on that, then the arraignment can take place and the trial can proceed in January."

Belfast Telegraph