**from 2002

`New Lodge Six' killings to get independent inquiry

Sunday, November 03, 2002
By Kieron Wood

February 1973 was one of the bloodiest months of the Troubles in the North. In the first four days of the month, 14 people died and many more were injured in shootings across Belfast.

On Saturday February 3, the UDA had paraded from many parts of the city to Laddas Drive RUC station to demand the release of two of its men. This was the first time loyalists had been threatened with internment, and the first time the UDA, the Orange Volunteers, Vanguard and the Red Hand group had presented a united front at a public protest.

Later that night, in an incident still shrouded in controversy, six Catholics were shot dead in the New Lodge area of the city. The shooting began around 11pm when gunmen opened fire on IRA members James McCann (19) and James Sloan (18) who were standing outside Lynch's bar at the junction of the New Lodge and Antrim Roads.

As local people gathered on the street, they came under a hail of gunfire from several positions.

British soldiers -- using their new nightsights -- were firing from Duncairn Gardens down Edlingham Street and from the top of the Templar and Alamein flats.

Within minutes, four more men were dead. Among the victims was IRA member Tony Campbell, who had been out celebrating his 19th birthday with friends.

Two of the dead -- John Loughran (35) and Brendan Maguire (32) -- were killed coming to the aid of Campbell. Ambrose Hardy (26), the last to be killed, was shot dead as he emerged from the doorway of the old Circle Club, waving a white cloth above his head.

In the immediate aftermath of the shootings, the British army issued a press statement claiming that the deaths were the result of a battle with the IRA, and six gunmen had been killed. Republicans acknowledged that three of those killed were IRA members, but insisted that they were unarmed at the time. In a statement, the IRA said: "We are adamant that none of those killed or wounded were in possession of firearms at any stage. The people of the New Lodge Road can bear witness to the veracity of our claim."

Irish Times reporter Hugh McKeown reported that on the day after the shooting, the army informed the press that tests had proved that the six were armed.

But six months later, the Daily Mirror newspaper published a correction of this claim. It said: "In our report published in early February on the deaths by shooting of six men in the New Lodge area of Belfast, we included a statement that tests had been carried out to determine if the dead men had been carrying guns, and that all had proved positive. This statement came from an army source, the reliability of which at the time we had no reason to doubt. We are now informed that no tests had in fact been carried out when our report was published."

McKeown reported that of the tests later carried out on the bodies five proved negative, while the sixth body had traces of lead particles which could have come from the bullet which killed him.

SDLP MP Gerry Fitt called for an inquiry at the time, as he said there were so many contradictions in the evidence. Now, almost 30 years after the shootings, an independent inquiry is to try and discover the truth behind the shooting of the so-called New Lodge Six.

The inquiry, which will sit in St Kevin's Hall on November 22 and 23, will be headed by Don Mullan, author of Bloody Sunday: An Eyewitness Account. Other panellists include Gareth Peirce, the English human rights solicitor, Professor Colin Harvey, head of the human rights centre at Leeds University law school, and American lawyer Ed Lynch.

A spokesman for solicitors Madden and Finucane, who are organising the inquiry, said: "Three of the men killed were volunteers (but that) is not relevant, as none of the men was on active service.

"If these men had been on active service, or there had been a question about their innocence, then that aspect would have been focused on in the forthcoming inquiry. In this case though, all six men were proved innocent in forensics and their families awarded compensation from the government."

The panellists will consider evidence presented by two counsel over the two days.

The evidence will consist of eyewitness testimony -- with jurists allowed to question the witnesses -- as well as available documentation about the incident. The jurists will express a preliminary view at the end of the inquiry and will issue a final report within a month.

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