March 4, 2024

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Unrest: A former soldier is accused of murder during a 1972 shooting

Unrest: A former soldier is accused of murder during a 1972 shooting

  • Written by Julian O'Neill
  • BBC News NI crime and justice correspondent

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Patrick McVeigh, 44, was shot while speaking to men at a checkpoint

An army veteran will be charged with the murder of a man and the attempted murder of six others in Belfast during the Troubles more than 50 years ago.

Three other former soldiers will also face trial on charges of attempted murder.

The Public Prosecution announced the move after examining the evidence presented following the police investigation.

Due to the timing of the decisions, the cases are not affected by inheritance law.

From later in 2024, the Inheritance Act will offer amnesty in Troubles cases.

A veteran referred to as Private F will face charges in the May 1972 murder of Patrick McVeigh, 44, in North Finaghy Road.

He will also be tried for the attempted murder of four other people in the same incident.

Pat McVeigh, Patrick McVeigh's daughter, said her father deserved “to have someone held accountable for his murder.”

In addition to the individuals referred to Troopers B, C and D, he is also charged with the attempted murder of two people in a separate shooting incident on Slievegallon Drive in west Belfast, also in May 1972.

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Pat McVey said her family is looking for the truth, not revenge

The individuals referred to as Soldier F and Soldier C are not the same individuals involved in any previous or ongoing prosecution relating to the events that occurred in Northern Ireland in 1972.

All of the shootings involved a secret army unit called the Military Response Force (MRF), which operated in Belfast in the early 1970s.

It was a small, secretive unit of about 40 soldiers who patrolled west Belfast in unmarked cars.

It operated for approximately 18 months before disbanding in 1973.

In 2013, former members of the unit told the BBC Panorama program that the unit was involved in the killing of unarmed civilians.

The then Director of Public Prosecutions, Barra McGrory, instructed the Police Service North (PSNI) to investigate the allegations.

Police submitted the files to PPS in 2020.

Families 'left in limbo'

Pat McVeigh said her family was devastated by his death.

“It was a real injustice when my father was killed. He was assassinated, his character was assassinated. We need to put this right and get the right balance,” she said.

“He is not armed, he never was, and we need to clear his name.”

In a related case, the murder of 18-year-old Daniel Rooney in St James's Street, west Belfast, in September 1972, prosecutors said there was insufficient evidence to charge two former soldiers.

Image source, Family charity

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The Public Prosecution Office said there was insufficient evidence in the case of Daniel Rooney (left) but charges would continue over the murder of Patrick McVeigh (right)

PPS Assistant Director Martin Hardie said all victims and their families had been informed of the decisions before they were announced.

He added: “Regardless of the different outcomes in relation to each incident examined, we at the Public Prosecution Service recognize that this is a painful day for all the victims and their families and that they have waited a long time to reach this stage of the process.

“When a decision is made to prosecute, I would like to emphasize that criminal proceedings will commence in due course and there must be no report, comment or exchange of information that could prejudice these proceedings in any way.

“We will remain in contact with the victims and their families involved as these cases progress.

“Where the decision not to prosecute has been made, I can assure victims and their families that the prosecution team, which included an independent senior counsel, considered the available evidence comprehensively, independently and impartially.”

Det Ch Supt Claire McGuigan, head of the PSNI's Heritage Investigation Branch, said her thoughts were with the families.

“We recognize that this will undoubtedly be a difficult and emotional time for all the families involved, and we reflect on the long journey the families have come,” she added.

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris responded to the PPS announcement by saying that the judicial process had been successful but that such cases were “becoming rare”.

Sinn Féin MP John Finucane welcomed the PPS's decision to prosecute and said it “shines a spotlight” on the government's controversial inheritance law.

DUP MP Gregory Campbell told BBC NI Evening Extra that the parties were “united” in opposing the old law, but added that “irrefutable evidence” was needed for prosecutions to begin.

Veterans Commissioner Danny Kinahan said he could not comment further on Soldier F's case due to active legal proceedings.

But, speaking on behalf of veterans who served in Northern Ireland, he said the vast majority “did so with dignity and professionalism in order to help prevent civil war”.

“Since my appointment as Veterans Commissioner, there have been three succession trials in Northern Ireland, all involving veterans, without any cases being brought against republican or loyalist terrorists,” he said.

“In the eyes of veterans and others, they see this as a flaw in the current legal system and are upset by what they see as a broader rewriting of history.”

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