Attorney General for Northern Ireland Directs Fresh Inquest into the fatal shootings of the New Lodge 6
Harte Coyle Collins, Solicitors & Advocates
12th February 2021
Harte Coyle Collins, Solicitors & Advocates, Belfast welcome the decision by the Attorney General for Northern Ireland, Brenda King, issued today directing fresh inquests into the fatal shootings of six people shot and killed in the New Lodge on the night of the 3rd/4th February 1973 (known as the New Lodge 6).
Nichola Harte solicitor acts on behalf of Daniel McCready the nephew and Next of Kin of James McCann, who was 1 of the 2 first fatalities.
James McCann and James Sloan were shot on the night of 3rd February 1973 as they stood outside Lynch’s Bar at the junction of the New Lodge Road and the Antrim Road. Anthony Campbell, John Loughran, Brendan Maguire and Ambrose Hardy were shot a short time later in the early hours of 4th February 1973 at the junction of the New Lodge Road and Edlingham Street.
There were conflicting accounts about the circumstances of the killings. The British Army’s public account in the immediate aftermath claimed that the six men killed in the New Lodge area that night were all IRA gunmen shot by the British Army in the course of a gun battle.
This version was disputed by eye-witnesses and residents in the New Lodge. The eye-witness evidence (as reported in the morning newspapers the following Monday and Tuesday) indicated that James McCann and James Sloan were shot from a passing car as they stood outside a bar, and that Anthony Campbell, Brendan Maguire, John Loughran and Ambrose Hardy were unarmed and killed either by troops or loyalist gunmen.
The IRA (as reported in the newspapers the following week) publicly claimed three of the deceased as members (Jim McCann, Jim Sloan and Tony Campbell) in the aftermath but stated that none of the three were involved in any offensive action and that they were not in possession of any firearms. It stated that two (Jim McCann and Jim Sloan) were assassinated by shooting from a passing car on the Antrim Road, and one (Tony Campbell) was shot by a British marksman as he was going to visit his girlfriend.
Daniel McCready alleged that the police investigation and inquest at the time of his uncle’s killing were manifestly inadequate even by the standards of the time.
The previous Attorney General for Northern Ireland, John Larkin Q.C. in correspondence to Relatives for Justice on 19th September 2018 had expressly recognised that, “there was no adequate criminal justice investigation at the time and its absence deprived the inquest of much of any effectiveness as it could even then be expected to have had. These deaths ought to have been properly investigated. A case of alleged deliberate killing of multiple persons such as this, whether all six be regarded as one group or two groups, would have required a properly focused police investigation.”
Since the original police investigation and inquest, a substantial body of evidence relating to the events and killings of 3rd/4th February 1973 had come to light. In 2002 a Community Inquiry was held at St Kevin’s Hall, Belfast into the killings. In addition to some contemporaneous materials the Inquiry also had access to 43 eye-witness statements which had been gathered over the course of 2002. The Inquiry concluded that there had been a breach of the Art.2 rights of the deceased and that this breach was on-going.
In 2013 the BBC broadcast a Panorama documentary on the MRF entitled “Britain’s Secret Terror Force”. It stated that the British Army ran a secret undercover unit (the MRF) with members of the unit operating outside the law, firing on and killing unarmed civilians.
Finally, material from the British Army regimental and HQ logs relating to the events and killings of 3rd/4th February 1973 has recently been uncovered in the National Archives in Kew, London and these shed further light on the events of 3rd/4th February 1973.
This substantial amount of evidential material has come to light since the Human Rights Act 1998 came into force.
IN 2017 Belfast based NGO Relatives for Justice lodged an application for a fresh inquest into the 6 killings on behalf of the next of kin. The application presented a number of strands of new evidence. On 19th September 2018 the previous Attorney General John Larkin QC refused an application by Relatives for Justice for a fresh inquest but confirmed his intention to request the Director of Public Prosecutions to consider exercising his power under section 35(5) of the Justice (NI) Act 2002 to require the Chief Constable to investigate the killings.
In July 2019 Nichola Harte solicitor wrote to the AG, DPP and PSNI querying the current status of investigation into the killing of Jim McCann. The Director of Public Prosecutions replied on 14th February 2020 (7 months later) and advised that he would not make a request under s.35(5) of the Justice (NI) Act 2002 on the basis that the matter was sitting within the work queue of the PSNI’s Legacy Investigations Branch.
On 18th March 2020 the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland made a written statement in Parliament proposing that a new body (instead of the Historical Investigations Unit pursuant to the Stormont House Agreement) should be established to carry out reviews of legacy cases. Thus the Secretary of State unilaterally departed from the detailed Stormont House Agreement but provided virtually no information or detail in relation to this body and to date no further information has been provided.
In 2019 both Relatives for Justice and Harte Coyle Collins solicitors wrote to the PSNI legacy branch seeking clarification regarding the police investigation into the deaths.
In 20th March 2020 Relatives for Justice wrote to the Attorney General and again requested a fresh inquest. On 30th June 2020 the Attorney replied and again refused to direct a fresh inquest, noting that the allegation is one of killing by members of HM Forces, and stating that he saw no reason why this cannot be properly investigated by the PSNI and that Article 2 requires that it should be thus investigated.
In September 2020 Nichola Harte solicitor issued pre-action protocol correspondence in contemplation of judicial review proceedings on behalf of the client Mr McCready against the 4 state agencies on the basis that no form of investigation into the killings was currently being progressed. The correspondence alleged that each of the proposed respondents had failed to use their relevant powers to secure an effective investigation which is independent, adequate, conducted with promptness and reasonable expedition, and further conducted with the requisite degree of public scrutiny and participation of the next-of-kin. As a result, almost 50 years after the six men were killed in the New Lodge, there had still been no effective investigation of the killings. The inconsistencies, gaps and contradictions in the Army’s account had never been addressed or put to the relevant personnel.
In directing the fresh inquest into the 6 killings the Attorney General for Northern Ireland, Brenda King, said today;
“I have decided to exercise my power to direct an inquest into the death of Mr McCann as it is now clear that there will be no further PSNI investigation into his death. In reaching this conclusion I have also taken into account the materials furnished by Relatives for Justice together with previous requests, submissions and correspondence from you including your pre action letters of 19 August 2020 and your further letter of 23 September 2020.”
Nephew of Jim McCann, Daniel McCready said today;
“I am grateful for the decision by the Attorney General to direct a fresh inquest into the fatal shooting of my uncle Jim. Jim was killed in February 1973, 47 years ago. I have been campaigning for justice for Jim for a long time. I am glad this day has finally come. I want to know if the MRF were involved in killing Jim. I would like to thank Mike Ritchie and Paul Butler and all at RFJ for their tireless work on my behalf and on behalf of all the relatives of the New Lodge 6. We look forward to our day in court.”
Nichola Harte of Harte Coyle Collins, Solicitors acting on behalf of Mr McCready said today;
“Our client welcomes the direction from the Attorney General for a fresh inquest in relation to his uncle Jim McCann and indeed all of the New Lodge 6 killings. After the work by Mike Ritchie and others at Relatives for Justice, and in the absence of any effective investigation into this incident involving a significant loss of life, we issued pre-action letters in advance of judicial review court proceedings against 4 state agencies. On behalf of our client we recognise that this is the beginning of the evidential process and judicial scrutiny of the 6 killings in February 1973. We will be pursuing disclosure of all materials relating to the involvement of the Military Reaction Force from the army in relation to the incident.”
Harte Coyle Collins, Solicitors & Advocates extend their thanks to Mike Ritchie and all at Relatives for Justice for their invaluable work in this case.