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British soldier who shot teenager will not be prosecuted

By Cate McCurry

Published 09/03/2016

Daniel Hegarty with his little sister Kathleen
Daniel Hegarty with his little sister Kathleen

A British soldier who shot and killed a young teenager in Londonderry during Operation Motorman in 1972 will not be prosecuted.

Daniel Hegarty was just 15 when he was shot dead by a member of an Army patrol on duty in the Creggan area of Derry as the operation began.

The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) confirmed yesterday that, following a review of evidence, a decision was taken not to prosecute the soldier over the death.

Operation Motorman was aimed at saturating working-class nationalist areas with troops, in particular the so-called 'no go' areas including Creggan, the Bogside and the Brandywell, which had collectively become known as 'Free Derry'.

Daniel, who was unarmed, had gone with his cousin, Christopher Hearty, aged 16 at the time, to watch the tanks just yards from his Creggan home when Soldier B fired on them in disputed circumstances in the early hours of July 31.

Daniel was killed and his cousin was injured when he was shot in the head by the same soldier, but he survived.

Decisions not to prosecute were previously taken in 1973 and again in 2008 following a review of the case by the PSNI Historical Enquiries Team.

The file was subsequently referred back to the Director of Public Prosecutions by the coroner following the conclusion of an inquest in December 2011.

The second inquest into his death found that Daniel posed no threat, was unarmed and the soldiers present gave no medical assistance to the teenager or to his cousin.

Yesterday the PPS stated that following a review of the evidence, soldier B will not face a criminal court.

Explaining their decision, assistant director of central casework Michael Agnew said the PPS has given "careful consideration to all of the available evidence and information, including the findings of the jury at the inquest".

"We have received further expert evidence, both from the expert who had been instructed by the coroner and also a second independent expert," he said.

"The conclusions of both experts are such that they are not able to state that the ballistics evidence is inconsistent with the account provided by Soldier B of the circumstances in which he fired.

"The standard of proof that the prosecution must reach in a criminal trial is the high one of beyond reasonable doubt. Our assessment remains that there is no reasonable prospect of proving to the criminal standard that Soldier B did not act in self-defence having formed a mistaken but honest belief that he was under imminent attack.

"In these circumstances there is no reasonable prospect of a conviction and the test for prosecution is not met.

"In a criminal trial the court will be required to assess the conduct of Soldier B in the context of the circumstances as he believed, or may have believed, them to be."

It has since emerged that soldier B, who is now in his late 60s, joined the Army the year before Daniel's killing.

PPS representatives met with family members yesterday who said they were "very disappointed" by the decision.

Sinn Fein MLA Raymond McCartney said the PPS must review its decision. "The PPS also need to meet with the Hegarty family to hear their concerns about this decision," he said.

"I will be contacting the PPS urgently to discuss their decision in this case.

"The family of Daniel Hegarty, like the families of all victims of the conflict, are entitled to truth and justice."

It is understood the Hegarty family are exploring the option of bringing a civil action.

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