- By Julian O’Neill
- BBC News NI crime and justice correspondent
An Army veteran is to 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 prosecution for attempted murder.
The move was announced by the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) after examining evidence submitted following a police investigation.
Due to the timing of the decisions, the cases are not affected by the Legacy Act.
From later in 2024, the Legacy Act will offer amnesties in Troubles cases.
A veteran referred to as Soldier F will face a charge of murdering Patrick McVeigh, 44, at Finaghy Road North in May 1972.
He will also be prosecuted for the attempted murder of four other people in the same incident.
The daughter of Patrick McVeigh, Pat McVeigh, said her father deserved to have “someone held accountable for his murder”.
Along with individuals referred to Soldiers B, C, and D he is also to be charged with the attempted murder of two people in a separate shooting at Slievegallon Drive in west Belfast, also in May 1972.
The individuals referred to as Soldier F and Soldier C are not the same individuals involved in any previous or on-going prosecution relating to events in Northern Ireland in 1972.
All the shootings involved a undercover Army unit called the Military Reaction Force (MRF), which operated in Belfast in the early 1970s.
It was a small, secretive unit and consisted of about 40 soldiers who patrolled west Belfast in unmarked cars.
It operated for about 18 months before it was disbanded in 1973.
In 2013, former members of the unit told a BBC Panorama programme that the unit had been involved in the killing of unarmed civilians.
The then director of Public Prosecutions, Barra McGrory, instructed the Police Service of Northern (PSNI) to investigate the claims.
The police submitted files to PPS in 2020.
Families ‘left in limbo’
Pat McVeigh said her family had been devastated by his death.
“It was a real injustice when my father was killed, he was assassinated, his character was assassinated, we need to redress this and get the balance right,” she said.
“He wasn’t a gunman, never was, we need his name cleared.”
The PPS said in a related case – the killing of 18-year-old Daniel Rooney at St James Road, west Belfast, in September 1972 – there was insufficient evidence to charge two former soldiers.
PPS assistant director Martin Hardy said all victims and families involved were informed of the decisions before they were made public.
He added: “Regardless of the differing outcomes in relation to each incident examined, we in the PPS recognise that this is a painful day for all victims and families involved and that they have waited a long time to reach this stage of the process.
“Where a decision to prosecute has been taken, I would emphasise that criminal proceedings will commence in due course and there should be no reporting, commentary or sharing of information which could in any way prejudice these proceedings.
“We will keep in touch with the relevant victims and families as these cases progress.
“Where a decision not to prosecute has been taken, I can assure victims and families involved that the prosecution team, which included an independent senior barrister, considered the available evidence thoroughly, independently and impartially.”
Det Ch Supt Claire McGuigan, head of the PSNI’s Legacy Investigation Branch, said its thoughts were with the families.
“We recognise that this will undoubtedly be a difficult and emotional time for all of the families involved and we are reflective of the long journey this has been for the families,” she added.
The Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris reacted to the PPS announcement by saying the judicial process was working but such cases were “becoming vanishingly infrequent”.
Sinn Féin MP John Finucane welcomed the PPS decision to prosecute and said it “shines a spotlight” on the government’s controversial legacy act.
DUP MP Gregory Campbell told BBC NI’s Evening Extra that parties were “united” in opposing the legacy law, however, he added “compelling evidence” was needed for prosecutions to proceed.
Veterans commissioner Danny Kinahan said he could not comment further on the case of Soldier F due to active legal proceedings.
But he said, speaking on behalf of veterans who served in Northern Ireland, 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 legacy trials in Northern Ireland, all involving veterans, with no cases being brought against republican or loyalist terrorists,” he said.
“In the eyes of veterans and others, they see this as an imbalance in the current legal system and are discontented with what they see as a wider rewriting of history.”