The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) has taken decisions not to prosecute two individuals reported in relation to two fatalities caused by gunfire during significant disorder in Belfast more than 50 years ago. Prosecutorial advice was sought in relation to a third fatality but no suspect was reported for any decision as to prosecution.
Hugh McCabe (20), Patrick Rooney (9) and Samuel McLarnon (28) died on 15th August 1969 after being shot in three separate incidents in the Ardoyne and Divis areas of the city.
The three deaths were alleged to have involved officers of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and were each referred for independent investigation to the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland (OPONI). This referral was made by the former Historical Enquiries Team within the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).
In respect of the deaths of Hugh McCabe and Patrick Rooney, investigation files each reporting one retired police officer were submitted to the PPS in November 2018. At that time a file was also received requesting prosecutorial advice in relation to the potential for any prosecution relating to the death of Samuel McLarnon.
The files contained new evidence gathered as part of the OPONI investigations, along with evidence and information gathered at the time of the Scarman Tribunal in 1972.
PPS Assistant Director Lynne Carlin said: “A team of experienced prosecutors has completed a careful consideration of all evidence reported in connection with three tragic deaths which happened during the widespread disorder of August 1969.
“In two of these cases, those relating to the deaths of Hugh McCabe and Patrick Rooney, it was concluded that there is no reasonable prospect of conviction for any offence in respect of the two former RUC officers reported.
“In the case of Samuel McLarnon, a review of the available evidence confirmed that the only identifiable suspect is now deceased. In relation to those other officers who were involved in the relevant events, it was concluded that the available evidence provided no prospect of the Test for Prosecution being met for any offence in connection with this death. In these circumstances no identified suspect was reported for a decision as to prosecution in this case.”
Decisions on the files involving the deaths of Hugh McCabe and Patrick Rooney were taken by applying the Test for Prosecution, as set out in the PPS Code for Prosecutors. The Test is met if, in relation to an identifiable individual, the available evidence is sufficient to provide a reasonable prospect of a conviction (the Evidential Test) and if prosecution is in the public interest (the Public Interest Test).
Ms Carlin added: “Having carefully weighed all of the evidence it has been concluded that the Test for Prosecution is not met on evidential grounds in those two cases in which it could be applied.
“These decisions were taken following an independent and impartial application of the Test for Prosecution and with the assistance of advice from Senior Counsel. In none of the cases did the available evidence provide a reasonable prospect of conviction of any identified suspect for a criminal offence.
“I fully acknowledge the deep disappointment felt today by three families who have lived for many decades with the loss of their loved one in very painful circumstances.
“We hosted separate remote meetings with the McCabe and Rooney families this morning at which detailed reasons for the decisions were outlined. These reasons have also been provided to the families in writing and we thank them for taking the time to meet with us.
“The McLarnon family have been provided with our detailed advice in writing and an offer to meet remains open should they have any further questions in future.
“As difficult as today’s outcome is for the families, I have offered the reassurance that the decisions were reached only after a most careful and thorough consideration of all the available evidence in each case.”
A summary of issues examined in each individual case is outlined below.
The death of Hugh McCabe
The PPS received a file from OPONI in relation to a shooting incident at the Whitehall Maisonettes on Divis Street on 15th August 1969, which resulted in the death of 20-year-old Hugh McCabe.
One individual, a former RUC officer, was reported and considered for the primary offence of murder. After careful consideration of a significant volume of available evidence, the prosecution team concluded that there is no reasonable prospect of conviction for any offence in respect of the reported suspect. The available evidence provides a reasonable prospect of it being proven that the fatal shot was fired by an officer from the roof of Hastings Street RUC Station. Two officers were identified as being present on the roof and having discharged their weapons in the relevant time frame. One of these officers is the reported suspect. The other officer is now deceased.
It cannot be conclusively established which of these officers was responsible for firing the fatal shot. However, the available forensic evidence supports the proposition that it is more likely that the fatal shot was fired by the officer who is now deceased.
The death of Patrick Rooney
The PPS received an OPONI file in relation to a shooting incident at a home in St Brendan’s Path on Divis Street on 15th August 1969, which resulted in the death of nine-year-old Patrick Rooney.
One individual, a former RUC officer, was considered for the primary offence of murder. The allegation against the reported suspect is that he was the gunner in one of three Shorland vehicles being operated by the RUC in the area of the Rooney home at the time. Two of the three gunners from the Shorland vehicles are now deceased. The third gunner is the suspect reported on the file submitted by OPONI for consideration.
A significant volume of evidence was carefully considered and the Test for Prosecution was applied. It was decided that there is no reasonable prospect of conviction for any offence in respect of the reported suspect.
The available evidence provided a reasonable prospect of it being proven that the fatal shot was fired from a police Browning machine gun mounted on one of the three Shorland vehicles being operated. However, there is no evidence that would allow the prosecution to establish which of the three gunners fired the fatal shot. In addition, the issue of whether the reported suspect was part of a joint enterprise with any of the other gunners to unlawfully fire the fatal shot was considered. However, there was insufficient evidence to advance any prosecution on this basis. Accordingly, it was concluded that the evidential test for prosecution was not met in respect of the reported suspect.
The death of Samuel McLarnon
This case was distinct from the Rooney and McCabe cases detailed above as no living suspect was identified for a decision as to prosecution. The only identified suspect is now deceased. The PPS only applies the Test for Prosecution to living suspects and therefore no formal prosecution decision issued in this case. Instead the content of the OPONI file that was submitted to PPS in relation to the death of Mr McLarnon was the subject of careful analysis and consideration for the purpose of providing advice to OPONI in relation to the prospects of the Test for Prosecution being met in respect of a number of other individuals. Detailed advice was provided by the PPS to OPONI and the analysis that underpinned the conclusions reached in respect of this case have been shared with the family of Mr McLarnon in writing, as requested by them.
- The deaths of Hugh McCabe, Patrick Rooney and Samuel McLarnon had previously formed part of the considerations of the Scarman Tribunal, which was established to look into incidents in Belfast and Londonderry during the summer of 1969.
- The Police Ombudsman’s Office considered the material provided to it by the PSNI, along with the Tribunal findings and other official documentation before concluding that concluding that an investigation should be commenced into these deaths.
- Three files were sent to the PPS’s Central Casework Section on 7th November 2018 for consideration.
- The PPS takes all decisions in accordance with the Code for Prosecutors which can be read by clicking the link. The Code includes the right of any party to request a review of a decision not to prosecute.
- For media queries, please contact the PPS Communications Unit by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org inside office hours. The out of hours officer can be contacted on 07920 271 804.