A relative of one of the New Lodge Six has said the tactics of a shadowy military unit revealed on last week’s BBC Panorama programme match almost perfectly with what happened when his uncle and five other men were shot.
John Loughran said that although the programme didn’t investigate the Military Reaction Force’s (MRF) role in the New Lodge, instead concentrating on west Belfast, there were disclosures made that seem to fit with what happened in North Belfast in February 1973 when six men were shot over a number of hours.
Former members of the British Army unit told Panorama they were given free reign to target the IRA, but on numerous occasions they opened fire on innocent people in drive-by shootings. They also said they used weapons not associated with the British Army to hide their involvement.
John Loughran says the tactics described by the men have a chilling similarity to the events surrounding the New Lodge Six.
Jim Sloane and James McCann were standing with a group of men outside Lynch’s Bar on February 3, 1971 at the junction of the New Lodge Road and Antrim Road when they were shot from a passing car around 11.45pm. The weapon used to kill the men was a sub-machine gun and the car was seen driving back in the direction of Tiger’s Bay after making a U-Turn. While making their escape a gunman in the same car opened fire on a group of men standing outside a Chinese restaurant, although no one was injured. What followed was a huge British Army operation that saw another four men killed, some by snipers operating with ‘nite sights’ for the first time.
John’s uncle, also John, was killed later that evening after leaving his house to go and help another wounded man.
But John says given that the killings of James Sloane and James McCann fit the description of how the other 10 men detailed in the programme died, MRF involvement should be investigated.
“You have people on there saying quite clearly and candidly that they were involved in the killing of innocent people. Now, if that doesn’t warrant an immediate investigation then nothing else will.”
He says the British Army had planned to attack the New Lodge that day.
“This information only compounds what the community have known for years in terms of what happened, and the intended outcome.
“It puts the whole question of state impunity at centre stage in terms of families who have lost loved ones. The New Lodge case like many of the other ones has MRF involvement and the deliberate use of lethal force and the killing of innocent people. It puts a lot of the stuff centre stage.”
He said while the disclosures were “nothing new” to New Lodge Six campaigners, he hoped the soldiers would now admit to all the actions they were involved in.
“Impunity needs to be addressed and if it helps, the soldiers who were involved in the shootings that night should come forward now with information and meet with the families and tell them what happened.”
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said soldiers were accountable under the law and as an organisation it had cooperated with all inquires into the past.