Ulster Unionist Justice Spokesperson Doug Beattie MC MLA, has said that the public will simply not understand the decision to prosecute two former soldiers for the shooting dead of a wanted IRA killer almost 46 years ago.
Doug Beattie MC MLA said:
“The decision by District Judge Fiona Bagnall following a preliminary inquiry hearing to take two former soldiers to trial at Crown court over the death of Joe McCann will simply not be understood by the public. The systematic investigation of military personnel and not the numerous paramilitary killings in Northern Ireland, gives the impression that the justice system is unbalanced in its treatment of legacy cases and is skewed towards the actions of the state, while ignoring the actions of the terrorists.
“At the time of his death Joe McCann was at the top of the RUC Special Branch wanted list. He was a ruthless and dedicated terrorist who had murdered British soldiers and who was responsible for the attempted murder in February 1972 of Ulster Unionist politician John Taylor, the then Northern Ireland Minister for Home Affairs.
“Intelligence reports stated that McCann regularly carried a pistol as a personal protection weapon and that he was likely to use it if cornered. Soldiers on the ground at that time were faced with split second decisions. Being a soldier in Belfast in 1972 was a pressured and dangerous existence.
“It is all too easy to review the events of 1972 from the comfort of an armchair in 2018. The context of the time is crucial. According to ‘Lost Lives’ this was the year in which 496 people died, 258 of whom were civilians.108 regular soldiers and 26 UDR soldiers died, along with 17 RUC officers.
“Of the year’s deaths, 279 were the result of republican activity, 121 due to loyalists, the Army 79 and the RUC 6, yet once again we are focusing on the actions of State forces.
“To pursue former soldiers almost 46 years later, simply will not be understood by many people especially in the unionist community, who have looked on in bewilderment as terrorists have been able to avail of Royal Pardons and On The Run letters and see out their days in comfort, whilst former soldiers are hauled before the courts.”