Two former paratroopers have been acquitted of the murder of an IRA leader after prosecutors offered no further evidence at their trial.
The former soldiers were on trial accused of the murder of Joe McCann, 24, in 1972, who was shot while trying to evade arrest by a plainclothes police officer in the Markets Area of Belfast.
The trial, held at Belfast Crown Court, Northern Ireland, collapsed after the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) confirmed it would not be appealing against a decision to exclude from evidence statements given by the ex-soldiers about the shooting of McCann in 1972.
Opening last Monday (April 26), the court heard a full day of evidence followed by a hearing to determine whether old interviews and statements given by the former paratroopers would be admissible as evidence.
The statements, given to the Royal Military Police in 1972 and the Historical Enquiries Team (HET), in 2010, were inadmissible largely due to deficiencies in how they were taken, including the fact the soldiers were ordered to make them, they were not conducted under caution and there was no access to legal representation.
After Mr Justice O’Hara ruled that the soldiers’ evidence could not be admitted, the trial was unable to carry on as the PPS conceded this was the only evidence available to prove that the soldiers fired shots at McCann.
Following the PPS’s decision not to appeal, judge Mr Justice O’Hara told the defendants: “In the circumstances Mr A and C I formally find you not guilty of the charge of murder.”
After the short hearing, lawyers for the soldiers called for an “urgent independent review” of the PPS’s handling of the case, citing a huge amount of stress for the soldiers and their families.
Philip Barden, the senior partner at Devonshires solicitors who represented soldiers A and C said that his firm made clear in 2016 that evidence the PPS was attempting to rely on would not be admissible.
The family of Joe McCann, meanwhile, are set to apply for an inquest into his killing.
Speaking outside the court, solicitor for the family Niall Murphy said: “This ruling does not acquit the State of murder.
“This ruling does not mean that Joe McCann was not murdered by the British Army.
“He was shot in the back whilst unarmed, from a distance of 40 metres, posing no threat. It was easier to arrest him than to murder him.”