Two former British soldiers acquitted of murdering IRA leader Joe McCann after trial collapses due to inadmissible evidence

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Two former British Army paratroopers accused of murdering an Official IRA commander have been acquitted, after prosecutors failed to provide further evidence against them and the trial collapsed.

Joe McCann, 24, was unarmed when he was shot dead by paratroopers as he tried to evade arrest by a plainclothes police officer in Belfast in 1972.

The accused, identified only as Soldiers A and C, have admitted firing at McCann, but claim they acted within the law. The veterans, now in their 70s, made statements to the Royal Military Police in 1972 and were interviewed by the Historical Enquiries Team – a police legacy branch – in 2010.

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At Belfast Crown Court on Tuesday, presiding judge Justice John O’Hara ruled that the statements – which formed key evidence for the prosecution – were inadmissible at the trial. Prosecutors accepted the judge’s findings that the statements were not given under caution and the soldiers did not have access to legal representation.

The court heard that McCann was allegedly behind the deaths of 15 British soldiers in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. His family have said they will ask the attorney general to open an inquest into his death.

Outside the court their lawyer, Niall Murphy said: “This ruling does not mean that Joe McCann was not murdered by the British Army.”

Four other cases involving the prosecution of former British soldiers in Northern Ireland are currently at the pre-trial stage.

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