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GERRY MORIARTY, Northern Editor
30 Jan 2013
The killing of Official IRA commander Joe McCann, who was shot dead by British paratroopers in the Markets area of central Belfast over 40 years ago, was not justified, according to an inquiry by the North’s Historical Enquiries Team (HET).
McCann was viewed as a leading IRA member by the British army and RUC. Aged 24, he was shot as he was running away from British soldiers in April 1972 after being spotted by RUC Special Branch officers. He was in disguise and unarmed at the time.
‘Should have been arrested’
His wife, Anne, and four children yesterday acknowledged that he was a senior IRA figure but asserted the HET report established that he could and should have been arrested rather than shot. “He should have been arrested at the time,” said Ms McCann, who now lives in Galway.
McCann was something of an icon among republicans in the early days of the Troubles.
He took the Official rather than the Provisional IRA side as the IRA split into two factions in 1969/1970. He was involved in the 1972 attempt on the life of the then unionist Stormont minister John Taylor, now Lord Kilclooney, who survived to lead an active political and business life.
The interim HET report noted how RUC special branch officers recognised him in the Markets area and sought the assistance of British paratroopers who were nearby. When confronted, McCann ran, and evidence at the time from a police officer, soldiers, an anonymous witness and a local shopkeeper “was that they shouted at Joe to stop or they would open fire”.
The HET report continued: “One of the soldiers then fired two warning shots into a wall above his head. He did not stop and all three soldiers fired at him as he ran, hitting him with two or three bullets.”
As he lay dying he said to the soldiers who were searching him words to the effect, “ ‘you’ve got me cold, I’ve no weapon’,” the report added.
The HET found that the original investigation into the killing was “flawed” and overall they ruled: “Even though one of the soldiers said he thought Joe was leading them into an ambush 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 . . . standard operating procedures.”