A FRESH inquest has been ordered into the deaths of six men killed in the New Lodge area in Belfast at the height of the Troubles.
The Northern Ireland Attorney General Brenda King has confirmed a fresh inquest will be undertaken into the “deliberate killings”, which are believed to have been at the hands of the British Army.
James McCann, James Sloan, Anthony Campbell, Ambrose Hardy, John Loughran and Brendan Maguire were all killed on the night of February 3, leading into the early hours of February 4, in 1973.
Campaigners claim the men, referred to as the New Lodge Six, were out having a drink together when they were shot dead by British soldiers to provoke a battle with the IRA.
Their families believe a one-day inquest in 1975 failed to properly examine the deaths and for decades have campaigned for a proper investigation into what happened on that night.
The Relatives for Justice (RFJ) organisation is supporting the families and have made two submissions on their behalf requesting a new inquest - on the basis that there has never been a proper examination of the circumstances surrounding these deaths.
On February 12 Northern Ireland Attorney General Brenda King confirmed, in a letter to the organisation, that she has now ordered a new inquest into the killings.
Noting that the “the former Attorney General declined to direct an inquest” due to being of the opinion that “the deaths should be the subject of a properly focussed criminal justice investigation as they arose from the deliberate killing of multiple persons”, Ms King went on to confirm that no such investigation has since occurred due to some of the individual cases being held up in the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s (PSNI) Legacy Investigation Branch (LIB) queue.
Formed in 2015, the LIB is a branch of the PSNI set up to investigate homicide and security forces related deaths arising from the Troubles between 1969 and 2004.
“I have decided to exercise my power to direct an inquest into these deaths,” Ms King states.
“Although the deaths of Mr Campbell, Mr Maguire, Mr Loughran and Mr Hardy are in the LIB work queue, I am mindful that it may be some time before those investigations are completed and any evidential leads investigated,” she added.
“While it would have been open to me to either refuse or defer making a decision in their cases, I believe it is preferable that all of the killings in the New Lodge area on 3/4 February 1973 be the subject of a fresh inquest.”
She explained: “In the event that the PSNI investigations result in further evidential leads being discovered these should, of course, be pursued by the PSNI and the Coroner should be informed of any significant developments.”
Speaking on behalf of the families, who have always campaigned together and see the deaths as linked, RFJ’s Mike Ritchie welcomed the news as an “important step in the search for truth about the events in New Lodge 48 years ago”.
Willie Loughran, the brother of John, also welcomed the decision.
“We hope that a new inquest will answer some of the many questions we have as to the intentions and actions of the British army on that awful night,” he said.
Social Democratic and Labour Party Deputy Leader Nichola Mallon MLA praised the families for their continued commitment to their campaign for justice.
The North Belfast MLA said that the new inquest is a result of the tireless campaigning of the families of the six men and paid tribute to their resolve.
“I welcome the Attorney General’s decision to order a fresh inquest into the deaths of these six men from the New Lodge,” she said.
“It is a testament to the resolve of their families that the fifty-year campaign for truth has delivered this result.
“The New Lodge is a tight knit community that was devastated by these killings.
“One of the men, Ambrose Hardy, was shot in the head as he waved a white cloth indicating that he was unarmed and posed no threat.
“His family and the families of all those killed that day deserve answers.”