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Unofficial inquiry will examine north Belfast's 'Bloody Sunday'

(Barry McCaffrey, Irish News)

An international team of lawyers is to hold an unofficial inquiry into the controversial circumstances of the deaths of six unarmed north Belfast men 30 years ago.

James Sloan, James McCann, Tony Campbell, Brendan Maguire, John Loughran and Ambrose Hardy were shot dead within 90 minutes on the night of February 3 and 4 1973. The IRA later admitted that Sloan, McCann and Campbell were members of the organisation, but insisted they were not on active service at the time they were killed.

The killing started when unidentified gunmen opened fire on Lynch's Bar at the junction of the New Lodge Road and the Antrim Road with a machine gun. Jim Sloan and Jim McCann died. The car with the gunmen continued down the Antrim Road and opened fire on a Chinese restaurant, injuring more people.

To this day it is disputed if the two men were murdered by loyalists or an undercover unit of the British army.

What is not in dispute is that the four other unarmed men were shot dead by British soldiers within the next hour.

None of the men were armed and the Ministry of Defence paid compensation to their families.

Tony Campbell (19) was returning from Newington disco, after celebrating his birthday with friends, when he was shot at the junction of Edlingham Street and the New Lodge Road. As Brendan Maguire went to help, he was shot at the same spot.

Hearing that two men had been shot, father-of-three John Loughran ran from his home, dressed only in a pair of trousers and vest. The man, who a judge would later call a 'Good Samaritan', was shot dead trying to rescue the injured and dying.

Ambrose Hardy (26) was in a local bar when the first shootings took place. Fearing that his mother would be concerned for his safety and try to reach him, he left the club, holding a white cloth above his head, only to be shot dead himself.

The army claimed to have shot dead six gunmen and injured one other and in a statement at the time, said 200 shots had been fired at security forces between 11.45pm and 3am.

Forensic tests showed that five of the six people killed had not been in contact with any weaponry.

The sixth body had tiny traces of lead particles on it which families believe came from the bullet which killed him.

All six families later received compensation from the Ministry of Defence, a fact which they say was ultimate proof that those shot dead had been totally innocent.

Although it is nearly 30 years since the six were killed the families say there has never been any proper investigation into why the men were killed. But a team of international lawyers is now to investigate the killings.

The community inquiry, to be held on November 22 and 23, will be led by Guildford Four lawyer Gareth Pierce, Leeds University law professor Colin Harvey and American lawyer Ed Lynch. Don Mullan, author of Eyewitness: Bloody Sunday will chair the panel.

A British army spokesman said: "We are aware of a local community inquiry into the death of six men in north Belfast in February 1973," an army spokesman said.

"We have been approached by solicitors and are in discussions with them."

Inquiry organiser Paul O'Neill said: "The purpose of the inquiry is to push for the truth as to why six men were killed without warning or provocation.

"The inquiry will hear eyewitness accounts that have been collected in the last six months of the night when the six men were shot dead."

THE VICTIMS

Jim Sloan had only been married for five weeks when he was shot dead. The 19 year-old never knew that his wife was pregnant.

He was shot outside Lynch's Bar on the Antrim Road with his best friend and fellow IRA member Jim McCann. As Jim Sloan's mother tended to her son's best friend in an ambulance, she was unaware that her own son lay dead in the same ambulance.

Tony Campbell was 19 on the day he died. The IRA man had been celebrating with friends at a local disco when he was killed on his way home along Edlingham Street.

Brendan Maguire was shot dead as he went to try and help the dying Tony Campbell. The two young men died side by side.

John Loughran had only returned from working in Irvinestown the day before he was killed. The 34-year-old had three children and another on the way.

"We were all in the house that night," his widow, Ann, recalls.

"Everything happened so quickly. Someone shouted that there had been a shooting in the street and John went out in his vest and trousers to help – he didn't even have time to put laces in his shoes.

"There were so many dead and wounded being carried into the house that there was no room in the parlour and they had to start using the living room.

"The last I ever heard was John shouting for the ambulance to make a detour in case they were shot as well.

"He went out to try and help someone else and was shot dead himself."

His brother, Willie Loughran, said a neighbour, Joe Hardy, told him that his brother had been shot and taken away in an ambulance.

"I asked him if John was dead and he said 'I think so'. When we got to the RVH, where the bodies were taken, I saw Joe Hardy and had to tell him that his own brother, Ambrose, had been shot."

Ambrose Hardy was 26 when he was killed.

"He was in the old Circle Club when the shooting started but knew that my mother would come looking for him," his sister, Rosaleen, explained.

"That's why he borrowed a white sheet and left the bar waving it to show that he was unarmed.

"They shot him dead anyway."

Willie Loughran says that the events of February 3 1973 were the New Lodge's 'Bloody Sunday'.

"Thirty years on we are still trying to discover why our loved ones were killed.

"We know how they were killed, but we have never been told why they were murdered.

"This inquiry is the first opportunity we have ever had of establishing why six unarmed men were shot dead.

"Straight after the murders the British army claimed that all those killed were IRA men.

"Three of the people killed were members of the IRA, but that is not why they were shot.

"They were killed because they were Catholics living in the New Lodge.

"A judge later described my brother as a 'Good Samaritan' but said that it had been his own choice to go out and try to help the dying. "That hurt.

"The way that all of the families have been treated and the fact that no-one has ever apologised for the murders has also hurt for 30 long years.

"We are very grateful to the people who have organised this inquiry and we hope that at last we will get answers as to why our loved ones were murdered."

THE INQUIRY

The New Lodge Six Community Inquiry will be held at St Kevin's Parish Hall, North Queen Street, Belfast, on Friday and Saturday, November 22 and 23.

For further information, or to give a statement, contact Paul O'Neill or Irene Sherry at the Ashton Centre, 028 9074 2255 or 07980 006585, or Colleen Kerr-Chastek, New Lodge Six Committee at 07754 549147.

Donations to aid the running of the campaign can be sent care of the Ashton Centre, 5 Churchill Street, Belfast, cheques payable to New Lodge Six Committee.

November 8, 2002
________________

This article appeared first in the November 7, 2002 edition of the Irish News.


This article appears thanks to the Irish News. Subscribe to the Irish News



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