Ex-soldiers to challenge murder charge

Image source, McCann family
Image caption,
Joe McCann was shot near his home in the Markets area of Belfast in April 1972

Two ex-soldiers charged with murdering an Official IRA man in Belfast in 45 years ago are to take legal action to have the case thrown out before it reaches trial.

The former paratroopers are facing prosecution for the killing of Joe McCann in April 1972.

Mr McCann was shot near his home in the Markets area of Belfast.

The accused are also seeking anonymity due to fears identification could put their lives at risk.

The defendants, now in their 60s, are known only as Soldier A and Soldier C.

Neither was present at Belfast Magistrates' Court as proceedings started on Wednesday.

'Seeking anonymity'

A police investigation was conducted at the time of the death but led to no prosecutions.

In 2013, the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) concluded that the killing was not justified.

Files were passed to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS).

It reviewed the case and decided in 2016 that the two soldiers should be charged with murder.

A lawyer for the PPS confirmed to Belfast Magistrates' Court that the ex-soldiers were seeking anonymity.

"The Crown at this stage has not finalised its position on such an application," he said.

District Judge Fiona Bagnall agreed to impose a temporary ban on identifying either ex-soldier under the terms of the Human Rights Act and contempt of court legislation.

She stressed that this was merely a "holding position", with the press free to mount a challenge when the case is reviewed again on 20 December.

It also emerged that Soldier A and Soldier C will contest that they have a case to answer over the alleged murder.

According to the prosecution, Soldier A and Soldier C are surviving members of the Army patrol involved in the shooting incident. A third member of the unit has since died.

Joe McCann's widow, Anne, said there were three incontrovertible facts about his death.

"Joe was unarmed, he as running away, and he was shot in the back," she said in a statement.

The family's solicitor, Kevin Winters, insisted the decision to prosecute represented the outworking of independent due process.

He added: "We look forward to this trial taking place as soon as possible."