PPS issues decisions in relation to 1971 deaths

Publication date:

The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) has taken decisions not to prosecute in connection with the separate deaths of a 14-year-old girl and a 41-year-old man in Londonderry in 1971.

The two victims were shot in separate incidents. Two former soldiers were reported on two separate investigation files submitted by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).

One former soldier, known as Soldier A, was reported on an investigation file in connection with the death of William McGreanery in the early hours of 15th September 1971.

A second former soldier, known as Soldier B, was reported in connection with the shooting of 14-year-old Annette McGavigan during unrest in Derry on 6th September 1971.

PPS Assistant Director Martin Hardy said: “We have carefully considered all the evidence reported in connection with both cases.

“The standard of proof needed for a criminal prosecution is high. For a conviction, the prosecution must establish beyond a reasonable doubt, through admissible evidence, the commission of a criminal offence by an identified suspect. These two cases were individually considered by two experienced prosecution teams. It has been determined that the available evidence in both cases is insufficient to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction.

“Both cases featured significant evidential difficulties arising from the circumstances in which accounts were taken and recorded, both by the Royal Military Police in 1971, and later by the PSNI’s Historical Enquiries Team.

“In addition, the death of significant witnesses and a failure to conduct effective investigations at the time has undoubtedly hampered more recent investigative efforts and the prosecutorial prospects in these cases.”

In the case of William McGreanery, prosecutors were satisfied that the available evidence was capable of proving that Mr McGreanery was unarmed and presented no threat to any soldier. However, the admissible evidence was insufficient to prove that the reported suspect was the soldier known as Soldier A who was responsible for causing Mr McGreanery’s death.

In the case of Annette McGavigan, who was entirely innocent, prosecutors could not prove that the reported suspect fired the shots that killed the teenager. It also could not be disproved that the shots may have been aimed at a gunman that some witnesses reported seeing, and were therefore fired in lawful self-defence.

Mr Hardy said: “We recognise that these decisions not to prosecute will be deeply disappointing to the victims’ families who lost their loved one in very painful circumstances and are understandably still seeking clarity on what happened.

“We have today written to them to explain the detailed reasons for the decisions and have offered meetings to give any further explanation they may require about the basis of these decisions.

“As difficult as these outcomes will be for the families of those killed, we have offered assurances that we have taken these decisions only after a thorough and impartial consideration of all the available evidence and relevant legal issues and in line with the Code for Prosecutors.”