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AN UNDERCOVER British army unit accused of shooting a young mother in 1972 is back in the spotlight after a Belfast court ordered a new investigation into her killing.
Jean Smyth-Campbell died in a drive-by shooting in west Belfast aged 24 on the night of June 8, 1972, at the height of the Troubles.
The IRA was initially blamed by police, but evidence later emerged that an undercover British army unit could have carried out the killing.
Today, the Court of Appeal ordered a fresh probe into her death, saying that previous investigations by police had failed to meet human rights obligations.
The landmark judgment is expected to have far-reaching implications for other unresolved cases from the Troubles, which victims’ families have long warned were never properly investigated.
Margaret McQuillan, the sister of Ms Smyth-Campbell, welcomed the ruling.
“I’m over the moon with the decision,” she said. “It’s been 47 years since Jean died, and all we want is to get to the truth.”
The long-running case was revitalised in 2014 when pioneering researcher Ciaran MacAirt found military logs buried inside British archives that appeared to connect soldiers with the killing.
The soldiers were members of a shadowy British army unit called the Military Reaction Force.
The squad, which was created by General Sir Frank Kitson, shot scores of civilians in Belfast in the 1970s before it was disbanded.
The family of Ms Smyth-Campbell immediately called for an independent investigation when the new evidence of MRF involvement came to light.
However, local police insisted that they handled the probe, despite having already missed vital clues.
After years of legal wrangling, appeal court judges have now ruled that the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) lacks the “practical independence” to properly investigate the killing.
Ms McQuillan said she believed the PSNI “have contributed to the cover-up” and “lied” to the family in the past.
Her lawyer, Niall O’Murchu from Kinnear and Co. Solicitors, said police have “thrown the kitchen sink at this case, and treated this family with absolute contempt.”
He said that the Chief Constable, George Hamilton, should “hang his head in shame and apologise to Jean’s family.”
In their ruling, judges noted that 27 out of 55 PSNI staff tasked with investigating unresolved killings from the Troubles used to serve with the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the old police force that is linked to many of the deaths.
The Morning Star approached PSNI for comment but did not receive a reply before going to print.
Assistant Chief Constable George Clarke said: “It is important to say that, first and foremost, we recognise the continuing distress for victims and their families across Northern Ireland, including the family of Jean Smyth. They have suffered as a result of the Troubles and, understandably, they continue to seek answers.
“We will study today’s judgment around these complex legacy issues in detail and we will carefully consider what it means for the future of legacy investigations.
“If we are to build a safe, confident and peaceful society, then we must find a way of dealing with our past and the PSNI is committed to playing our part in that process.
“I believe that the right place for any legacy investigation is with a Historical Investigations Unit as outlined in the Stormont House Agreement. PSNI have given their full support to the Stormont House Agreement; but making progress on this important issue sits in the political space.”
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