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Veterans charged with killing Belfast IRA commander fear reprisals if named in court

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Official IRA activist Joe McCann

Official IRA activist Joe McCann

Official IRA activist Joe McCann

Two parachute regiment veterans charged with killing a Belfast IRA commander during the Troubles fear they will face reprisals from dissident republicans if named in court later this month.

The men, known as Soldier A and Soldier C, both in their 70s, will go on trial in Belfast charged with the murder of Official IRA man Joe McCann in the Markets area in 1972.

They will be the first British servicemen prosecuted for the killing of an IRA member.

At the hearing a judge is set to rule whether the retired parachute regiment soldiers can retain their anonymity throughout the proceedings.

A source close to the men told the Telegraph they believe they will be in danger from dissident republicans if their names are published.

"The court was given strong reasons why continued anonymity is justified in what is an exceptional case for a number of reasons to do with the men's safety," the source said.

"This is the first prosecution of soldiers believed to have killed an IRA terrorist, and because this involved one of their own it may be considered to be justification for retaliation."

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The non jury Diplock trial is set to get underway on April 26 with Justice O'Hara presiding. It is expected to last around four weeks.

A reporting restriction banning publication of the defendants' names has been in place since the two ex-paratroopers were first charged with Mr McCann's murder three years ago.

However, Justice O'Hara said he would made a ruling on their latest application for anonymity before the trial began.

Solicitor Hilary Meredith, who specialises in cases involving veterans said the soldiers should be allowed to keep their anonymity.

"Removing anonymity in this case will serve no purpose at all. It may put the soldier or his family at risk," she said.

"What do the bereaved family gain by this knowledge, so late in the day?"

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Former British soldier Dennis Hutchings, who has been charged over the fatal 1974 shooting of a man in Northern Ireland, taking part in a protest to call for an end to prosecutions of veterans who served during the Troubles in London. (PA/Gareth Fuller)

Former British soldier Dennis Hutchings, who has been charged over the fatal 1974 shooting of a man in Northern Ireland, taking part in a protest to call for an end to prosecutions of veterans who served during the Troubles in London. (PA/Gareth Fuller)

Former British soldier Dennis Hutchings, who has been charged over the fatal 1974 shooting of a man in Northern Ireland, taking part in a protest to call for an end to prosecutions of veterans who served during the Troubles in London. (PA/Gareth Fuller)

Their cause was also backed by fellow veteran Dennis Hutchings (79) who is facing trial in October relating to the death of John Pat Cunningham in Tyrone in June 1974.

Mr Hutchings is the only veteran to be named so far in connection with a Troubles death.

Cunningham, who had learning difficulties, was shot while he was running from a British Army patrol in Benburb.

"There's a danger to being revealed, as in my case," Mr Hutchings said.

"I know from my sources in intelligence that there's a marker out on me, which is very worrying and would be the case for anyone else named.

"This is the first prosecution of soldiers believed to have killed an IRA terrorist and it may lead to retaliation."

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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

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

Mr McCann was shot dead in disputed circumstances in Joy Street, close to his home on April 15, 1972.

An RUC investigation at the time resulted in nobody being prosecuted over the death, however a review of the case carried out by the Historical Enquiries Team in 2013 said an unarmed Mr McCann was shot three times as he tried to flee.

It also found police failed to properly investigate his killing.

In 2014 the Attorney General requested a further inquest into Mr McCann's death following pleas from his family.

The Public Prosecution Service reviewed the case and this led to the fresh charges being brought against the soldiers in 2016.


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