Northern Ireland’s Senior Coroner John Leckey is to consider whether to refer the case of a Derry teenager shot by the British army in Creggan in 1972 to the Public Prosecution Service.
Mr Leckey said he would consider whether the findings of a jury, which completely exhonerated 15 year-old Daniel Hegarty, point to any criminal offence.
After almost four hours of deliberation, a ten-strong jury in the inquest into the shooting dead of the teenager during Operation Motorman on July 31, 1972 found that he “posed no threat to anyone”.
In a unanimous verdict, following a five day hearing at Derry court house, the jury rejected claims that warnings had been given, stating that they believed “no soldier shouted sufficient warnings” before opening fire. Daniel was shot twice in the head while his cousin Christopher (17) was wonded in the head.
“Contrary to the statements from soldiers A (section commander) and B (who opened fire with a general purpose machine gun or GPMG) we do not believe soldier B provided sufficient warnings before opening fire, therefore warnings should have been given,” the jury stated.
They further found that after the shooting “no attempt” was made to approach the injured teenagers, either to search them or render assistance.
The jurors also stated that, given the circumstances surrounding Operation Carcan (the name given to Operation Motorman in Derry) and the climate in Northern Ireland, “the perception that there would be tension and resistance encountered during the operation” would have resulted in heightened tension within the Royal Scots platoon which opened fire on the boys.
The jury also noted that Platoon Commander Major Dickson told the inquest that he was “not aware” of any contingency plan to deal with encountering civilians, including children, “injured or otherwise”. The jury further noted that, the firing of heavy weapons such as a GPMG was to be authorised by the company commander and a full account to be taken of the risk, adding that “this does not appear to have been relayed to the company”.
The announcement by then Secretary of State William Whitelaw on the eve of Operation Motorman that the clearing of ‘no go’ areas was to take place the following day was also stated by the jury to be a “relevant” factor to the circumstances in which the death occurred.
This was the second inquest into Daniel Hegarty’s death.
The initial inquest was held in 1973 and recorded an open verdict. A second inquest was ordered by the Attorney General in 2009 following an examination by the Historical Enquiries Team.
The report found that the RUC investigation at the time was “hopelessly inadequate and dreadful”. In 2007, the British government apologised to the Hegarty family after describing Daniel as a terrorist.
A Ministry of Defence document, assessing the Army’s role in Northern Ireland, also incorrectly claimed the 15-year-old was armed.