Belfast Telegraph

An innocent victim who could benefit from financial help

By Liam Clarke

Peter Heathwood had his old life ripped apart and a more painful one thrust upon him when his family home was attacked on September 27, 1979.

He later learnt his attackers had mistaken him for a well-known republican who later escaped from the Maze and became famous.

The loyalist shooting in North Belfast brought not only terrible grief to Peter's family but the start of a very different life.

He recalls the day when gunmen arrived at his house very clearly.

"I heard the doorbell ring and then Anne squealing," he said. "Basically it was the 1970s - you knew nobody was messing. One of the men had Anne by the hair."

Amidst the chaotic scenes that followed Peter tried to close a door on the gunmen, but he was shot through it.

"Everything slows down," he said. "I fell onto the ground and I remember Anne putting her hand out to prevent me hitting my head.

"The ambulance was phoned. It took them 20 minutes to get across town."

Peter's assailants fled, leaving him for dead, and ambulance staff later carried him out of the house in a body bag.

Seeing this, his elderly father had a heart attack and dropped dead.

Peter had to deal with this sudden bereavement and also with the knowledge that he had been shot in a case of mistaken identity. There was no rhyme nor reason to it all.

The shooting left him paralysed in his lower body and he is confined to a wheelchair. Being paraplegic and suffering other health problems made it almost impossible to return to the job he was trained for, as a history teacher, or the business he had been building up in insurance.

Instead he devoted himself to his late wife Anne and their three children.

In 1981, he bought two VCRs which he used to record every programme about The Troubles he could. "If my children or grandchildren asked me about the Troubles I didn't want to tell them something biased or half remembered, I wanted to show them properly how bad it was and that it must not be repeated " he said.

A copy of the collection is now indexed, and collated by the Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN) run by the province's two universities.

Much of it can be viewed online and CAIN will also provide individuals with DVDs showing the details of their loved one's death and funeral. Peter's big regret is that he does not have a record of his own father's funeral.

He would also like the TV archive to be available in the Maze Peace and Reconciliation Centre, if it is ever built, or a similar institution.

In his case, a pension would help him deal with cutbacks. His condition used to be helped by deep vein massage which improved the circulation in his paralysed legs. "I used to get it every week up until last year when they cut that," he said.

"The pension would allow me to pay for things like that myself."

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph