Two ex-Paras deny killing IRA commander Joe McCann murder trial

Two ex-Paras become first veterans to go on trial over Troubles shooting since Good Friday Agreement as they deny killing IRA commander in murder trial without jury that ex-Veterans Minister Johnny Mercer says ‘is unfair’

  • Two paratroopers in their 70s are being tried over the murder of the IRA chief 
  • They can only be referred to as Soldiers A and C after a court ruling
  • The case is being heard before just a judge, with no jury present to deliberate 
  • Father-of-four McCann, 24, died after being shot in Belfast in 1972 

Two former paratroopers accused of murdering IRA commander Joe McCann nearly 50 years ago have denied killing him at the start of their trial this morning. 

Father-of-four McCann, 24, died after being shot in the Markets area of Belfast in 1972.

Two veterans – anonymised in court as Soldiers A and C – who are both in their 70s are on trial for the killing in Belfast Crown Court.

They are the first to go to court since the Good Friday Agreement and their case is expected to last four weeks. 

It is one of a number of legacy cases, referring to incidents which took place before the signing of the Belfast Agreement in 1998, on which Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecution Service has taken decisions.

Former veterans minister Johnny Mercer, who is also attending, 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.

Father-of-four McCann, 24, died after being shot in the Markets area of Belfast in 1972

Supporters of Two former paratroopers at Laganside Court this morning ahead of the trial

The two defendants wore suits and face masks and were seated at the side of the courtroom, in an area usually reserved for the jury.

Opening the case, a prosecution lawyer told the court that Mr McCann was a senior member of the Official IRA who was suspected of involvement in a number of attacks carried out by the republican group.

He said the shooting took place after an RUC Special Branch Officer attempted to arrest him on Joy Street in the Markets area of Belfast. Mr McCann evaded detention and ran away.

The Crown lawyer said at that point soldiers A and C, and another now deceased paratrooper – solider B – opened fire. They had been manning a checkpoint in the area at the time.

The lawyer said shooting 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. 

MP Jonny Mercer is also attending the trial, which is being heard by a judge with no jury

The family of Joe McCann arrive at Laganside Court with Solicitor Niall Murphy this morning

MP Mr Mercer was accompanied in court by Northern Ireland Veterans Commissioner Danny Kinahan.

Mr Mercer said the trial of the two former soldiers is ‘unfair’.

‘I think in any conflict, it is messy, it is unpleasant, it is a horrible process to go through for both sides,’ he added.

‘What I don’t think is – 50 years later – you get a truly accurate picture of what happened.

‘I think it is unfair to try and apply today’s standards of operations and retrospectively apply them to that time and try to get justice.

‘I have huge sympathy on all sides but we need to move on in Northern Ireland.

‘What is happening today, I don’t think is fair and that’s why I am here.

‘The reality is today, as we stand here, there are two individuals in court for something that happened 50 years ago.

‘They served their country, they did their best. War is messy and we need to find a solution for everybody.’

Mr Mercer denied he is ‘interfering’ in the trial, adding he is there to ‘learn about the process’.

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

Demonstrators held banners expressing opposition to historical prosecution of former British soldiers.

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