The attorney general for Northern Ireland has ordered a new inquest into the deaths of six men allegedly shot by the British army in Belfast in 1973.
Families of the men, known as the New Lodge Six, for the area where they died, have campaigned for an inquest for decades. They hope the coroner will be able to force the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and the Ministry of Defence to submit documentation and compel any surviving soldiers to face cross-examination.
A gunman firing from a car shot James McCann, 19, and James Sloan, 19, as they stood outside a bar at the junction of New Lodge Road and Antrim Road.
Soldiers believed to have been in nearby flats shot the other four men outside a different bar after midnight that night. Anthony Campbell, who had been celebrating his 19th birthday, was hit 17 times. Brendan Maguire, 32, and John Loughran, 34, were said to have been shot as they tried to drag Campbell out of the line of fire. A witness said Ambrose Hardy, 24, was shot in the head after emerging from the bar waving a white cloth.
In a statement at the time, the army claimed all six were IRA gunmen and that there was a gun battle. No guns were recovered and there is no evidence any of the men were armed. Several were not in the IRA. Witnesses said the shootings were unprovoked.
The attorney general, Brenda King, notified the victims’ group Relatives for Justice (RFJ) of her decision on Friday. Her predecessor, John Larkin, called for a fresh police investigation in 2018 but that did not happen.
Jim McCann’s nephew Daniel McCready welcomed news of the inquest. “I am glad this day has finally come,” he said.
Sinn Féin and the Social Democratic and Labour party also welcomed the decision. “I pay tribute to the families for the determination and dignity in their long campaign,” said Carál Ní Chuilín, a Sinn Féin MLA. “The families of the New Lodge Six, like all relatives bereaved by the conflict, are entitled to the truth.”
Unresolved crimes from the Troubles have dogged policing and politics in Northern Ireland since the 1998 Good Friday agreement. There is suspicion that Downing Street wishes to shield as many as 200 former members of the British security forces who have been under official investigation for alleged criminal actions during the Troubles.