New Lodge killings: Attorney General seeks fresh investigation

By Vincent Kearney
BBC News NI Home Affairs Correspondent

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image captionJames McCann, 19, James Sloan, 19, Anthony Campbell, 19, Ambrose Hardy, 24, John Loughran, 34 and Brendan Maguire, 32 were all killed on 3 February 1973

NI's Attorney General has called for a fresh police investigation into the deaths of six men believed to have been killed by the Army.

James McCann, James Sloan, Anthony Campbell, Ambrose Hardy, John Loughran, and Brendan Maguire were killed in the New Lodge area of Belfast in 1973.

James McCann, James Sloan and Anthony Campbell, all 19, were members of the IRA. None of the men were armed.

John Larkin said the deaths were not properly investigated at the time.

The Army initially said that soldiers had shot all six men. It was later assumed that loyalist paramilitaries were responsible for two of the deaths.

Their families believe soldiers were responsible for all the killings and say a one-day inquest in 1975 failed to properly examine the deaths.

A campaign group working with relatives of people killed by soldiers asked the Attorney General, John Larkin, to order a new inquest.

In its submission, Relatives for Justice said: "There seems to be a prima facie case that these killings were unlawful".

However, Mr Larkin said a new inquest would not be sufficient and has asked the Director of Public Prosecutions to consider using his power to force the police to investigate the killings.

Mr Larkin's view is revealed in a letter to Relatives for Justice from a solicitor representing the Attorney General.

image captionThe Army deployed a large number or soldiers in the New Lodge area due to IRA presence and support

The letter states: "These deaths ought to have been properly investigated. A case of alleged deliberate killing of multiple persons such as this... would have required a properly-focussed police investigation."

The letter says: "Given that an inquest is not designed as a substitute for a proper criminal justice investigation, the Attorney General does not think that directing an inquest now would contribute materially to identifying and punishing the perpetrator or perpetrators of these killings or be otherwise advisable," it states.

The Public Prosecution Service has confirmed that it is considering a referral from the Attorney General.

The shootings

image captionJames McCann and James Sloan were shot dead outside Lynch's Bar

At the time of the killings, the New Lodge was among the most dangerous places in Northern Ireland.

The IRA had a strong presence and support in the area and, in response, the Army deployed large numbers of soldiers there, many in makeshift bases at the top of high-rise flats.

The men referred to as the New Lodge Six were killed in two separate shooting incidents.

James McCann and James Sloan were shot on 3 February 1973 by a gunman firing from the back seat of a car as they stood outside Lynch's bar at the junction of the New Lodge Road and the Antrim Road.

The other four men were shot shortly after midnight that night by soldiers believed to have fired from the top of the flats overlooking the New Lodge Road.

image captionAttorney General John Larkin said a "properly focused police investigation" was needed into the killings

They were shot outside the Circle Bar, a Catholic ex-servicemen's club, that no longer exists.

Anthony Campbell had been celebrating his 19th birthday. Eyewitnesses said he was shot as he ran to help an elderly couple trying to get into their house. He was hit 17 times.

Brendan Maguire, 32 and John Loughran, a 34-year-old father-of-four, were said to have been shot as they tried to drag Anthony Campbell out of the line of fire.

Ambrose Hardy, 24, a single man, who eyewitnesses said was shot in the head after coming out of the bar waving a white cloth.

'Unlawfully killed'

In a statement at the time, the Army claimed all six were IRA gunmen, but no guns were recovered and there is no evidence that any of them were armed.

The move by the Attorney General has been welcomed by relatives of those killed.

image captionRosaleen Beattie, a sister of Ambrose Hardy, said the men were "unlawfully killed"

Rosaleen Beattie, a sister of Ambrose Hardy, said: "We'd just like to see justice done. They've got away with it so far. We're glad to say that we're getting a wee bit closer, maybe, to the truth and we hope we do get to the truth.

"We know they were innocent and they were unlawfully killed. We want the people who done it to be brought to justice."

Joey Campbell accepts that his brother, Anthony, was a member of the IRA, but says he believes the soldiers who shot him targeted him simply because he was a Catholic living in a strongly republican area.

He said his brother wouldn't have been armed and "had probably only joined the IRA".

image captionA campaign group, Relatives for Justice, asked the attorney general to order a new inquest into the deaths

"And the other members, none of them were on duty. They were all just out on a weekend night out and the Army shot them."

Mike Ritchie, a case worker with Relatives for Justice, said eyewitness evidence from the time and new information suggests a secret undercover Army unit, the Military Reaction Force, may been responsible for killing James McCann and James Sloan.

"We presented information to the Attorney General which showed there was a major gun battle in the city the weekend beforehand and one of the soldiers in the New Lodge on the night of these shootings actually said they were expecting similar activity that weekend," he explains.

"What we believe is that the first two killings were provocation, if you like, by undercover soldiers to kill people and then draw out the IRA, which actually didn't happen until much later on.

"Nobody contests that there was an exchange of fire later that night, but it was only after these innocent civilians were shot dead."

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