Belfast Telegraph

They were as much a casualty as anybody else, says victim's son

By Noel McAdam

Herbert Heathwood saw his son being carried in a body bag and immediately dropped dead.

The 63-year-old Belfast man suffered a heart attack as he watched his son Peter being taken to hospital after he was mistaken for a well-known republican by a loyalist gang who had left him for dead.

An unconscious Peter had been put into a body bag because the ambulance crew could not get a trolley into the space, and his dad wrongly assumed the worst.

"Daddy arrived at the door and saw me and just dropped dead," said Peter, who works with the Wave Trauma Centre.

It was a Thursday night in 1979 and Peter had been working late.

"I heard the doorbell ring and my wife Anne was squealing 'gunmen'," he said.

"One of the men had her by the hair."

Peter tried to close the door but was shot.

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

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

Peter was left paralysed in his lower body, confined to a wheelchair and spent almost a year in hospital.

When he woke up, he found his father's death had not been officially investigated.

"He and the others should, in a democracy, have had the right to an inquiry - but it was not to be. These are forgotten lives."

In March 2010, he made a formal complaint to the Historical Enquiries Team, which in a letter said: "We are unable to treat your father's death as a murder." They added: "We regret if that causes you further distress."

Peter said: "It was just another example of how society seemed to forget these people. Yet they were as much victims as anybody else."

The Police Ombudsman's Office said it calculated it would take them up to 10 years to get to Mr Heathwood's case.

Peter added: "I got the forum behind me. We met Drew Harris in February 2015 when the Historical Investigations Unit was talked about being set up and there have been some favourable noises."

Mr Heathwood has also produced an archive of television programmes from the Troubles.

They are listed on the CAIN website and contain information on the conflict, and politics from 1968 to present.

"It was the weekend the Pope was in Drogheda so there was not much coverage," Peter said.

"My mother Rita is still alive but she is 87 and I would very much like to see progress."

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