HET Findings

Welcome. First lets look at the full text of the recent press conference held in Clifton House in Belfast on 29th January last.

Press Conference. Clifton House, Belfast. Jan 29th 2013
Paul –welcome & intro
First family member

On April 15 1972 our father, Joe McCann, was shot dead by members of the Parachute Regiment in Joy St, Belfast at approximately 3pm.  Much has been written over the years about the circumstances surrounding his death. Some of what was written was incorrect, some was correct. Today we want to set the record straight.

In the Belfast of the early 1970’s the British Army and RUC made no secret of their intent toward Joe McCann. Death threats were issued on a regular basis through family and friends.

Joe was a member of the Official IRA, an Irish Republican who didn’t have a sectarian bone in his body. He worked within his community with regard to social justice, encouraging people to be active at whatever level they could. He was involved in numerous civil-rights marches, campaigned for better housing and set up co-ops. He drew admiration for his humanity from unexpected sources with Gusty Spence, the U.V.F. leader, paying tribute to him after his murder.  He was a loving husband to our mother, Anne and a caring father to the four of us.
For some time we have engaged with the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) with the support of the Pat Finucane Centre. Today we intend to make public the preliminary findings from the HET into the events that occurred that sunny Saturday afternoon in April in the Markets. We still have a number of outstanding issues to be resolved with the HET as we differ on some aspects of the investigation. But where we do agree, is on the main findings in the report surrounding the legality, or not, of the actual shooting.
Second family member
Two plain clothes members of RUC Special Branch in an unmarked car claim to have spotted Joe crossing Cromac Square that afternoon. They then claim that they drove into May St where they encountered a patrol of the Parachute Regiment, 1 Para, at the junction of May St and Joy St. One of the Special Branch officers admits that he then briefed the ‘Para’ patrol that Joe was in the area. The version of events that unfolded – as contained in the statements of the Branch men and the Para’s who opened fire – are totally contradictory and self –serving,  in terms of times, distances and whether warning shots were fired.
Policeman B, as he is referred to in the HET report, claims to have stopped Joe at the corner of Little May St and Joy St, to have identified himself as a police officer and to have then told Joe to take his hands out of his pockets. He claims that Joe pushed him away, turned and ran down Joy St. At this point all three soldiers, A, B and C opened fire and Joe fell, having been struck by three high velocity bullets. He was unarmed.
It has not been possible to question the Special Branch version of events because, incredibly, the RUC then and the PSNI now, claim not to be aware of the identities of the two Special Branch officers who were following Joe that day. According to the HET and I quote,
‘The lack of access to their identities has been a major inhibitor in being able to provide a full and comprehensive review of all the circumstances of Joe’s death.’  End quote
In the view of the family, a view shared by the PFC, the refusal of the PSNI even today to divulge the identities of these two officers is shameful and has denied us the right to an Article 2 compliant investigation. We do not accept that their names are not known. Special Branch knows who these two men are.
Third family member
As Áine has pointed out, the statements of the soldiers and the two Special Branch men are contradictory and self-serving. Times, distances and adherence to the ‘yellow card’ rules are all at odds. Nor was any attempt made at the time to investigate these contradictions. Nevertheless the HET has come to very clear conclusions regarding the central issue of the legality of the shooting. I want to quote the HET report on this issue.
“The law dictates that once the defence of self-defence is raised, it is incumbent on the prosecution to rebut it.  No attempt was made by investigators to do so despite the fact that there was no doubt that Joe had been unarmed when he was shot and that he had been running away from the police and soldiers”.
“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 the army rules of engagement or their standard operating procedures.  This meant that the important issues that required a thorough investigation and examination related to the lawful use of reasonable force, as defined in Section 3, Criminal Law Act 1967.  No such investigation took place”.  End quote
The shooting of our father was not justified. It was unjustified. David Cameron described the actions of the soldiers of the Parachute Regiment on Bloody Sunday on January 30th 1972 as unjustified and unjustifiable. According to the HET the actions of the soldiers of the Parachute Regiment on April 15th 1972,a mere nine weeks later, were also unjustified.
We have always known this. Now it is the findings of an official report and we welcome that.

Fourth family member
So, the HET found that the soldiers were not justified in opening fire and that Joe posed no threat to them, I quote directly,
‘Joe was not armed and there is no evidence that he was doing anything other than trying to escape when he was shot.’  End quote
In the conclusions the report refers to the army rules of engagement, the yellow card in other words, and their standard operating procedures. This is highly significant.
The HET discovered a document in the archives of the First Battalion, the Parachute Regiment entitled, Standard Operating Procedures for internal security duties in Northern Ireland. This is the first time that the existence of this SOP, has been divulged.
It is significant, not only in Joe’s case, but also in other cases involving members of the First Battalion The Parachute Regiment.

It contains instructions on when soldiers may and may not open fire and I quote,
When not to fire: You may not fire at someone who either;

Does not halt when you challenge him but is not yet causing any danger to anyone’s life or to the place you are guarding.


Runs away when you challenge him or drives away in a car

End quote

Why then, when it became clear that soldiers A, B and C had violated both the ‘yellow card’ and their own  Standard Operating Procedures, was a criminal investigation not carried out as the HET makes clear should have happened?

The HET stated the following,

“The circumstances of the shooting must have been considered contentious at the very least. The full investigation procedure that should have been instigated by the RUC did not materialise and it is the view of the HET that it should have done.”
“The reality is that many important questions remain unanswered despite this review.”

First Family Member

In summation, the findings of the HET report into Joe’s killing have concluded that;


The Para’s acted unlawfully by contravening not only the Army’s ‘Yellow Card’ rules of engagement but their own ‘Standard Operating Procedures’


The Para’s were unjustified in their use of lethal force, as Joe was unarmed and was running away when shot.


The RUC/SB and the RMP/SIB both failed in their duty to properly investigate the killing.

We will now leave the last word to Mrs Josephine Connolly, her contemporaneous eyewitness report was recorded just after the incident.

We would like to thank Clifton House for facilitating this Press Conference and we would especially like to acknowledge all the help and assistance afforded us by Paul O’Connor and all the staff at the Pat Finucane Centre over the last number of years.


Additional Quote from HET report,It must have been quite apparent from the outset that the soldiers had not acted within the Army rules of engagement (the yellow card) or their own Standard Operating Procedures.”

At the original Inquest into Joe’s killing in June 1973, the Coroner, Mr Elliott said, ‘I have no difficulty with this case. There seems to be no dispute or inconsistency about what happened……. nobody is disputing the question that the Army fired and fired with the intention of killing the deceased when he did not stop’ 

Really there was no other conclusion the HET could have come to in this case, it was just so blatant. Anyone with half a brain could see what happened here and despite the various excuses given by the soldiers, the HET dismissed them all and came to the only logical conclusion they could, that Joe was unjustifiably gunned down by members of C company, 1st Battalion, The Parachute Regiment.

Where to from here?….That’s generally the next question that’s asked and at the moment it’s one that we can’t answer. We are taking legal advice and we will await the outcome of that before making any further decisions. Suffice to say that as it stands the Para’s have technically been found guilty of unlawful killing, the HET simply could not use those words as that finding can only be made by a court of law.

The Pat Finucane Centre, who have help us immensely over the last number of years, have stated that this is by far the strongest finding by the HET to date. The findings are unequivocal.

Despite these strong findings against not only the soldiers but the RUC Special Branch (RUC/SB) and Royal Military Police, Special Investigation Branch (RMP/SIB), it is hard to have confidence in the British legal system. The recent events with regard to the PSNI dragging it’s heels with potential criminal proceedings against the Para’s after Bloody Sunday. The Finucane family being brought to Westminster only to be told that the ‘Grey Men’ in Whitehall will not let an inquiry happen. The blatant stalling tactics used recently to frustrate the efforts of the Ballymurphy families to have fresh inquests held into the deaths of their loved ones (again at the hands of the  Para’s.Anybody detecting a pattern here?!!).

It would seem that the ‘New Era’ is new in name only, the same old theme still runs as strongly through the current regime as is it did in the old and politicians are loathe to’ upset the apple cart’ lest their cosy positions be put at risk.

We hope that the discovery of the Standard Operating Procedures for ‘1 Para’ will in some way help to achieve justice for the victims of, not only ‘1 Para’, but of the Parachute Regiment as a whole. God knows there’s enough of them. May they all rest in peace until we see them again.

                                          Beir Bua!

 Some links to coverage of the story.









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