Soldiers who shot dead an IRA man on the streets of Belfast 40 years ago were unjustified in opening fire, a new report has said.
Joe McCann, 24, a famous member of the Official IRA, was hit several times when challenged near his home in the Markets district. He was running away at the time.
The Historical Enquiries Team (HET) also accused police of failing to properly investigate the “unlawful” killing of the married father-of-four.
The review team’s report said: “The HET considers that Joe’s actions did not amount to the level of specific threat which could have justified the soldiers opening fire in accordance with the Army Rules of Engagement or their standard operating procedures.”
Mr McCann, 24, was shot on April 15, 1972 in Joy Street in the Markets, a mainly nationalist housing area near the city centre. It happened weeks after the Bloody Sunday Army shootings of civil rights protesters in Londonderry and campaigners said the same soldiers were involved.
He was one of the Official IRA’s most prominent activists in the early years of the conflict. The HET said he was described in death notices as a staff officer in the Official IRA and was regarded by members of the security forces as a dangerous terrorist who would be armed and would not hesitate to use his weapon to resist arrest.
Two Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) Special Branch officers recognised a disguised Mr McCann near the city centre and decided to arrest him on suspicion of attempted murder, asking nearby soldiers for help.
Following a confrontation with a police officer, Mr McCann ran off. Evidence from police and soldiers was that they shouted at him to stop or they would open fire. After he failed to halt, three paratroopers opened fire and he was hit by two or three bullets. The HET said Mr McCann was unarmed and there was no evidence he was doing anything other than trying to escape.
“The original investigation into Joe’s death was rendered ineffective as a result of the flawed investigative policy that has been agreed between the military and the chief constable in the early 1970s, whereby the Royal Military Police interviewed soldiers in isolation from the RUC investigative process,” the report said.
“The circumstances of Joe’s death should have been thoroughly investigated, particularly around issues of self-defence on the part of the soldiers. Their evidence was never challenged and it is the view of the HET that it should have been.”