The Military Army Blog

A bloody outrage: The decorated Para facing prosecution 44 years after shooting dead an IRA killer

  • Soldier C faces prosecution for shooting the IRA commander Joe McCann
  • The 65-year-old had been cleared of any wrong-doing over killing in 1972
  • Thought case is politically motivated and designed to appease IRA families
  • Meanwhile, suspected IRA terrorists avoid prosecution due to Blair’s deal

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Soldier C is a man who rarely shows emotion. Having served his country for 23 years in both the Parachute Regiment and the Special Forces, he is made of sterner stuff. But here he is, red-eyed. Tearful. For this former paratrooper, who was awarded the British Empire Medal for his heroic actions during a distinguished career, now faces prosecution for the shooting dead of IRA commander Joe McCann more than 40 years ago.

All I ever tried to do was serve loyally and professionally as a soldier, says the retired 65-year-old, who was cleared of any wrong-doing at the time of the killing in 1972.

Only some sort of psychopath would take any pleasure from a man s death. I wish I hadn t been involved, but at the same time nobody will ever convince me that my actions on that day were anything other than the right actions. I did my duty when I was called upon to do so. Soldier C (pictured) faces prosecution for shooting the IRA commander Joe McCann in 1972

But now, all these years later, I ve been brought to this. This is the fact that two months ago he and a fellow ex-soldier were informed that their case, after being reviewed by Northern Ireland s Historic Enquiries Team (HET) and closed in 2010, had been passed to the country s Public Prosecution Service.

It means the men, who served with the 1st Battalion Parachute Regiment at the height of the Troubles, could be ordered to stand trial for the 1972 Belfast killing and face jail if convicted.

When the letter arrived I was standing beside my wife in the kitchen, says Soldier C, who cannot be identified for security reasons. She said: What s going on? I thought all this was behind us. Why is it happening? My poor wife, she s . . . He pauses. Swallows. Gathers himself.

I m sorry, this is very difficult. This is so hard on her. Perhaps you can imagine what she s going through? What we re terrified of is literally a knock on the door and they handcuff me, drag me out of the house and take me into custody. If that were to happen, it would be unholy. He shakes his head.

Progressively, on a daily basis, this weighs upon us more and more. It s much worse for my wife. Given my background with the army, if I was incarcerated I could deal with it. My wife couldn t. It s not the issue of having to go to court and being tried, it s the stigma the stigma to my name, my reputation and the impact on my family. This is so. . . so. . . He searches for the right word. Unfair. Indeed. The case being considered by Northern Ireland s Public Prosecution Service is widely regarded to be politically motivated and designed to appease IRA families. A settling, some might think, of old scores. For the man sitting before me is not the only old soldier facing prosecution for his actions in a troubled Northern Ireland of almost half a century ago.

His lawyer, James Dunn of Devonshires Solicitors, is representing no less than 12 British soldiers, but Soldier C is the first to speak out. By doing so, he knows, he is putting his own safety at risk. But this is a man who, if you cut him open, would have the Parachute Regiment s motto Utrinque Paratus (Ready for Anything) written through him like words through a stick of rock. Joe McCann (pictured) was shot dead in Joy Street in the Markets Area of Belfast

This is wrong, he says. Thirteen months ago, our daughter gave us a grandson [he has one grown-up child] so I am a husband, father and grandfather. My wife supported me loyally throughout my army career. Sometimes, I d be away for ten months at a time but she never complained. Never asked questions.

Now I ve retired this should be her time our time.

We d just booked to go to the States when I was told about this. I d always wanted to go and see the Grand Canyon. A few days ago, she asked me what was going to happen about our holiday.

That s the 64 thousand dollar question. I ve told her if there s a decision to go ahead with the prosecution I don t think my mindset would make me good company because. . . Again, his voice breaks.

Meanwhile, suspected IRA terrorists, such as John Downey, who is believed to be responsible for the 1982 Hyde Park terror blast that killed four soldiers and seven horses which he denies escape prosecution because they were given guarantees of immunity, widely dubbed Get Out Of Jail Free Cards , under a controversial peace deal drawn up by Tony Blair.

I constantly ask myself what kind of world am I living in when suspected terrorists and murderers are literally walking around with Get Out Of Jail Free Cards in their possession, while I and many others like me who have served our country, are living in fear of being arrested and tried for doing what we considered was our duty?

It seems that Sinn Fein, under the control of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness and their stooges, are being allowed to mount a campaign of revenge against those they have despised for decades.

These same men, who were themselves sought by the authorities for acts of terrorism, are now rubbing shoulders with royalty and senior politicians the Prime Minister included while at the same time former and serving members of the armed forces are being persecuted.

This whole scenario I consider is the making of Tony Blair. In his haste to do a deal with Sinn Fein he was prepared to throw people like me to the wolves to satisfy the likes of Adams and McGuinness.

His hands are washed in blood, and how he and his family can live with that every day is beyond my comprehension. This is the price he was prepared to pay to bring peace to Northern Ireland, but Blair s not paying the price.

Others and their families are, while every day he enriches himself on the back of the deals he made while he led our country. I find that quite shocking. Where s the integrity? Where are the morals? All of this is said in a composed, reasoned fashion, but Soldier C s anger is palpable. He should be on the golf course today or in the garden with his wife. But he is here, in his lawyer s office having to defend his honour.

I have asked myself countless times what would have happened had we not taken the action that we did that day, he says.

I keep getting the same answer: Joe McCann would undoubtedly have carried on his war against the authorities, attempting to murder members of the security forces, police and possibly innocent members of the public.

In short, he was a battle-hardened terrorist who had no compunction about killing others.

On that sunny Saturday morning in April 1972, Soldier C was a 22-year-old paratrooper who d served two years in Northern Ireland. It was a very different country then, with daily riots, bombs and killings.

Like a war zone, he says, and his unit worked on immediate standby whereby on a three-day rota they literally had to lie on our beds in our boots ready to go . McCann, known as the Che Guevara of the IRA, was at the top of the British Army s wanted list along with Adams and McGuinness. He was a notorious killer who, as commander of the Official IRA s feared Third Belfast Battalion, was involved in the July 1970 gun battles with British soldiers that saw five civilians killed and 70 injured.

The following year his unit used children to lure Royal Green Jackets into an ambush, killing a young soldier. He also laid siege to a bakery (where he was photographed in a picture that became iconic), and in February 1972 was involved in the attempted assassination of Unionist politician John Taylor. Along with a second gunman, he machine-gunned Taylor s car, hitting him five times in the neck and head. McCann (pictured during a gun battle with the British Army), known as the Che Guevara of the IRA, was at the top of the British Army s wanted list along with Adams and McGuinness

Five days of riots followed McCann s death and five British soldiers were shot in revenge. Three died.

He was well-known to the security forces and feared, says Soldier C. It was accepted he was likely to be armed. Everyone believed he posed a threat and would have no compunction in killing to avoid arrest. Soldier C, in light of the possible prosecution he faces, has been advised by his lawyer not to speak about exactly what happened on that April 15 morning.

It has, though, been widely reported that two RUC Special Branch officers recognised the terrorist in disguise near Belfast city centre and decided to arrest him on suspicion of attempted murder. Soldier C and two colleagues on patrol nearby were ordered to help. As McCann was fleeing, it is claimed the soldiers shouted at him to stop or they would shoot. When he failed to halt, one of the paras fired two warning shots into a wall above his head. He continued to run so all three paras opened fire.

It was something that happened literally within seconds, he says now. There was no plan, no time to even discuss things among ourselves. But I m utterly convinced, and always have been, that the actions we took that day were appropriate and we did the right thing. Today, he says he has no memory of what happened immediately after McCann fell to the ground. I can only assume I was suffering a degree of shock because my recollection of the immediate aftermath is almost non-existent, he says. It s as if there is a big gap there where, for a period of time, my mind wasn t acknowledging what was going on around me. I ve been told our commander arrived, that there was a priest on the scene and our unit medic tried to save Joe s life.

He gave him First Aid to try to keep him alive.

My understanding is Joe died on the way to hospital, but I have no clear recollection of any of that.

He does, however, know he was asked to provide a written statement later that day to a Royal Armyrats © Military Police investigation team. The soldiers were later told they would face no further action and life, as Soldier C says, went on . That August, he married his wife, whom he d met in Belfast. Two years later she gave birth to their daughter. Soldier C s Armyrats © military career flourished and, later, he was seconded to Special Forces where he rose to the rank of Warrant Officer and was awarded the British Empire Medal.

In 1993, he retired from the army with an impeccable record to work in security in some of the most dangerous countries in the world. The events of April 1972 were little more than a distant memory until a letter arrived from the Ministry of Defence in July 2009, advising him that the HET was reviewing the shooting of Joe McCann along with 3,250 unresolved deaths during the Troubles. Soldier C was working in Columbia at the time, responsible for the security of three oil rigs.

My wife opened it, called me and said: I ve got some bad news for you dear. I thought: What is this?

The investigation continued for eight months, culminating in an interview on March 19, 2010 in his lawyer s London offices. A lawyer s note from the interview records that the head of the investigation, a detective chief superintendent, gave an assurance that in my professional opinion this ends here for you . Soldier C was delighted.

I walked out of there elated, says Soldier C. I got on the phone to my wife and said: It s OK, love. There s nothing to worry about. Three years later, Soldier C retired. Having saved up during his time in security and with his army pension, he and his wife began to enjoy holidays in Barbados, gym membership, visits to their daughter and grandson and a house renovation project. On May 18, completely out of the blue, he received a letter from his lawyer asking him to call urgently.

Prosecutors had contacted him to say that, despite the reassurances in 2010 and the case being closed by the HET, it had been reopened yet again and was being reviewed by the Public Prosecution Service.

Soldier C has been told to expect no decision until the end of August.

I ve got four brothers and a sister. We re a close family, he says. They keep asking me the same question: How can it be that these terrorists and murderers are walking around free and nobody is after them but, after everything you did in the army, you re being persecuted? As I said to them: life isn t always fair.

Those guys walking around with those Get Out Of Jail Free cards should be standing beside me having to justify what they did during the Troubles.

I can justify my actions because I believe in what I did. The IRA were merciless. They had no compunction in killing innocent civilians. They didn t care whose lives they affected or who they murdered.

I was in Northern Ireland proudly serving Queen and country, which I continued to do I believe as a consummate professional for 23 years. Now here I am and my poor wife and family waiting to hear whether I ll face prosecution for murder. You tell me what s fair about that?

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