Saturday 24 August 2019

Explainer: Who is Joe McCann... and how two British soldiers now face murder charges

Official IRA's Joe McCann
Official IRA's Joe McCann
John Downing

John Downing

Joe McCann, a 25-year-old bricklayer, is hitting the headlines again today.

Here is everything you need to know about the young man who was killed by British paratroopers in 1972:

Joe McCann, a 25-year-old bricklayer, was killed by British Paratroopers in disputed circumstances on April 15, 1972, in the Markets area of Belfast.

He was the most prominent of the “Official IRA” known to have taken part in a number of killings and gun attacks, including a failed attempt to murder of Unionist politician, John Taylor.

At his inquest British soldiers said they had expected him to be armed.

But he was not carrying any weapon. Prior to his death he had topped the RUC’s most-wanted list was sent by IRA commanders to Dublin for his own safety. An Official IRA ceasefire was called six weeks after his death. Republicans have always disputed claims that his death was a “set-up” because he opposed a ceasefire.

His funeral was one of the biggest ever seen in Belfast with a cortege which stretched for a mile.

In an unlikely tribute Loyalist UVF leader, Gusty Spence wrote to his widow saying: “I salute your husband as an honourable and brave soldier.” 

The letter was related to an incident where McCann is said to have brokered the release of UVF men detained by the OIRA.

Already notorious during his lifetime, in death his legend grew. Up to five people died violently in disturbances in the days following his death.

A poster depicting him armed and in silhouette became one of the Troubles’ iconic image and he was celebrated in a song still widely sung in nationalist circles.


Two former soldiers are to be prosecuted for the murder of Official IRA's John Joseph McCann, the public prosecution service has confirmed. 

McCann, one of the Official IRA's most prominent activists, was shot by soldiers in disputed circumstances in 1972.

Three years ago, a report by the now-defunct Historical Enquiries Team (HET) concluded the killing was not justified.

Two former paratroopers cooperated with the HET's investigation and believed the matter to be closed. However, they were later told that files were passed to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) for consideration.

On Friday the PPS announced it was to prosecute two former soldiers.

In a statment, it said: “Following a careful consideration of all the available evidence it has been decided to prosecute two men for the offence of murder.

“The charge relates to the death of Mr John Joseph McCann who was shot by an army patrol in Joy Street, Belfast on Saturday April 15, 1972.

“The two defendants in the case are surviving members of the army patrol which shot Mr McCann. A third member of the patrol who also fired at Mr McCann died in the intervening years. At present these individuals are not being named and are identified as Soldier A and Soldier C.

“The decision to prosecute is the outcome of a review which was undertaken after the case was referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions by the Attorney General for Northern Ireland in March 2014. The decision was reached following an objective and impartial application of the Test for Prosecution that was conducted in accordance with the Code for Prosecutors and with the benefit of advice from senior counsel.”

McCann (24) was commander of the Official IRA's third Belfast battalion.

His unit's seizure of Inglis bakery in the Markets area during internment became part of republican folklore.

In February 1972, McCann was involved in the attempted assassination of Ulster Unionist politician John Taylor.

He was regarded by the security forces as a dangerous terrorist.

McCann was shot by soldiers in disputed circumstances in Joy Street in the Markets area, close to his home, on April 15, 1972.

The original RUC investigation in this case was conducted in 1972 and subsequently a decision, based on the evidence then available, was taken not to prosecute any individual.

In March 2014 the Attorney General for Northern Ireland, following a request for a fresh inquest, referred the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions and this resulted in a formal review of the case.

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