Two former British soldiers were acquitted today of the murder of a member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) armed group in 1972, following a trial that reviewed British military intervention in Northern Ireland during the three-decade conflict that left 3,500 deaths.
Veterans of the British Paratrooper Regiment, an elite unit, the two septuagenarians, whose anonymity is protected by a court order, have appeared since last week before a criminal court in Belfast, capital of Northern Ireland, for the murder of Joe McCann in 1972.
The 24-year-old was shot and killed in Belfast at a critical moment in the three decades of violence that pitted Catholic supporters of reunification with Ireland and Protestants who supported the British crown.
During the trial, a prosecutor explained that the soldiers shot Joe McCann in the back as he fled to escape arrest and argued that “the level of force used was not reasonable,” the AFP news agency reported.
On Friday, the judge ruled that the two soldiers’ statements to the police in 1972 were inadmissible because of the way they were made, as the men were ordered to lend them and were not legally assisted.
The magistrate stated that only his statements would be taken into account in the trial.
The prosecution decided not to appeal the ruling, which ended a process that initially lasted four weeks.
After the prosecution confirmed that it would not present any additional evidence in the case, Judge O’Hara told the defendants: “I formally declare you not guilty of the murder charge.”
The two men, in suits and ties, left the room moments later.
In a hearing held last week, the lawyer for one of the soldiers pointed out that McCann was suspected of being involved in murders, said that the military faced the “binary choice” of shooting to stop him or let him escape and considered that they had used reasonable force.
The holding of this trial, at a time of great tension in this British region exacerbated by the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union, infuriated active and former military personnel.
The government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pledged to legislate to prevent more trials of this type after six ex-military men were indicted for crimes related to the Northern Irish conflict, according to a British Parliament document published in February. (Télam)