The family of a Derry boy, shot by a British soldier, has said a dark cloud had been lifted after they learned that the soldier will now face prosecution for murder after 47 years.
Daniel Hegarty’s tearful relatives spoke of how their family was never the same after the ‘most lovable’ and treasured 15-year-old’s life was tragically taken in Creggan Estate on July 31, 1972, during ‘Operation Motorman.’
The Public Prosecution Service confirmed yesterday that they had decided to prosecute the former soldier, identified only as Soldier B, for the offence of murder and for wounding a second youth with intent.
Daniel was shot and killed in Creggan Heights during an army patrol. His cousin Christopher Hegarty, who had just turned 17, was shot and wounded but survived and was among those who attended the meeting with the Public Prosecution Service yesterday.
Reacting to the decision yesterday, Daniel Hegarty’s surviving sisters Kathleen Devenney and Margaret Brady said they had feared a decision to prosecute might never come and spoke of their sadness that their parents and their other sister, Philomena, who passed away just 12 weeks ago, had not lived to see it.
In a statement read out on behalf of the family, Margaret’s husband Hugh Brady said: “This has been a long journey. We have lost our parents along the way and recently, our sister Philomena.
“Daniel was a 15-years-old child, full of life, shot twice in the head at close range and left for dead by Soldier B during what was called ‘Operation Motorman’ on July 31, 1972. It has taken 47 years to finally get the State to do the right thing.”
The Hegarty family said they respectfully understood the criminal process must now be allowed to take its own course. They also said they hoped the decisionin their case, would now give hope to other families seeking justice.
“Stick with it,” they urged. “Difficult as it is, engage with your solicitor and follow the legal route in a patient and dignified way in the memory of the loved one you seek justice for. What is the alternative? No system of justice is perfect. We urge anyone fighting for justice to never give up. Even during those dark days.
“We know that further patience and resilience is going to be required moving forward. But we are here now, for Daniel, for our mother and father and our sister Philomena,” the said.
“We wish Soldier B ‘no ill will’. We have not, and do not, seek revenge or retribution. We just want the criminal trial process to begin. We have waited long enough for this day of justice for Daniel.
“We know from the support of others that it is never too late for justice not only being seen to be done, but being seen to be believed.
“We remember Daniel today and his short time on this earth. Daniel Hegarty- this is his day of justice.”
Fighting back tears, Daniel’s sister Margaret added that they were shocked when they heard that the decision had been made to prosecute. “It was never about hatred, it was never about revenge,” she stressed.
“We were just overwhelmed this morning when we heard he was getting prosecuted. It was like a dark cloud was lifted. Our brother was only 15 . . . the family was never the same after it.
“He was the most lovable wee boy you ever met in your life. He had his whole life in front of him. Not only did they take Daniel, but our name will not carry on because there’s not one child, one grandchild, one great grandchild to carry it on.”
In 2011, a second inquest into the teenager’s killing found that Daniel Hegarty posed no risk and that he was shot without warning. The High Court, meanwhile, last year quashed an earlier 2016 decision that the soldier who killed him would not be prosecuted.
Speaking after a private meeting with the family yesterday, the Director of Public Prosecutions for NI, Stephen Herron said: “Following the ruling of the Divisional Court last year I conducted a review of this case. I have given careful consideration to all of the available evidence. This has included material obtained in the course of the initial investigation; by a later investigation carried out by the Historical Enquiries Team; material generated by Inquest proceedings and a number of expert forensic reports, the most recent of which was provided after the court ruling in 2018.
“I have concluded that the evidence which can be presented at court is sufficient to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction and that the evidential test for prosecution is met.”
He said particular consideration was given to Soldier B’s ill health, regarding which an updated medical report was obtained.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood welcomed the decision. He said: “The Hegarty family have had to endure interminable delays. Now they have the opportunity to finally secure justice for Daniel.”
Sinn Féin MLA Raymond McCartney said: “I want to commend the family of Daniel Hegarty for their years of campaigning for the truth of what happened. All relatives bereaved by the conflict are entitled to access to truth and justice,” he added.