The exoneration of Daniel Hegarty at a new inquest into his killing in 1972 may open the floodgates for fresh enquiries into flawed investigations during the Troubles.
On Friday night a jury in the inquest into the shooting dead of the 15 year-old Creggan boy by a British Army soldier during Operation Motorman on July 31, 1972 found that Daniel “posed no threat to anyone”.
A solicitor, acting on behalf of teenager’s family, said the findings could open the floodgates for a wave of cases which were not properly investigated during the 1970s and 1980s. The PSNI’s Historical Enquiries team found that the RUC investigation at the time was “hopelessly inadequate and dreadful”.
And the inquest into the teenager’s death heard last week that at the time of the killing (between 1970 and 1973) an agreement existed between the British Army and the RUC that the Royal Military Police (RMP) would take the lead in investigating any incidents involving troops. The inquest heard that the neither the RMP or the RUC interviewed the platoon commander in charge of the soldier who shot Daniel Hegarty almost 40 years ago.
Des Doherty, solicitor for the Hegarty family, told the ‘Journal’ that the believes there are many cases in which similar flawed and even “illegal” investigations took place. He referred to another fresh inquest into a historical case which was heard recently - that of UDR soldier Bernard Adamson who was fatally wounded after a colleague accidentally fired a live round instead of blanks during a training exercise in 1972. He said it was very similar to the Hegarty case “in terms of background”.
“The investigation in that case was also flawed because it was dealt with by the Royal Military Police,” he said. “In my view, in the cases I’ve been asked to look at, there is a welter of cases now in existence that I believe should be looked at very, very carefully because there are quite a number of inquests which took place during the 1970s and 1980s that may in fact be unlawful.”
He agreed that the high profile Daniel Hegarty case set a precedent, adding: “It’s a matter now for Government and the Attorney General’s office to look at this.”
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland’s Senior Coroner John Leckey is to consider whether to refer the case of Daniel Hegarty to the Public Prosecution Service.
Mr Leckey said he would consider whether the findings of a jury, which completely exonerated 15 year-old Daniel Hegarty, indicate the commission of any criminal offence.
After almost four hours of deliberation, a ten-strong jury in the i- quest into the shooting dead of the teenager during Operation Motorman on July 31, 1972 found that he “posed no threat to anyone”. The jury further found that no “sufficient warnings” were given prior to the shooting and “no attempt” was made to render assistance to Daniel or his cousin Christopher (17), who was wounded in the head by a round from the same general purpose machine gun.
Speaking the ‘Journal’ after the verdict, Daniel’s sister Margaret Brady said the killing was “unjustified and unjustifiable”.
She added: “We’re very happy with the outcome but we didn’t come here for revenge, we came for truth and justice.”