Belfast Telegraph

UK Website Of The Year

Troubles widow 'seeking justice'

Published 30/04/2015

Mary Heenan and son Eugene stand outside the Ministry of Defence in London
Mary Heenan and son Eugene stand outside the Ministry of Defence in London
General Frank Kitson who rose to become Commander-in-Chief UK Land Forces from 1982 to 1985

The 88-year-old widow of a man who was killed in a loyalist grenade attack in Northern Ireland more than 40 years ago says she has launched a landmark civil suit against a former British Army officer because she is "looking for justice".

Mary Heenan, supported by her son Eugene, 55, spoke as she kick-started her legal battle with a visit to Whitehall.

She is taking the action against former Army general Sir Frank Kitson over the death of her husband Eugene "Patrick" Heenan in February 1973.

It is the first time a retired senior soldier has been personally sued in connection with the Troubles, according to campaign group Relatives For Justice, which is backing the family.

The 47-year-old Catholic father of five was killed when the minibus in which he was travelling was targeted by loyalist paramilitaries in east Belfast.

Mrs Heenan has named Sir Frank, a senior figure in the running of military operations in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s, as a co-defendant on the grounds that he and others used agents knowing, or should have known, that they would take part in criminal actions.

A writ has been issued in Belfast against the Ministry of Defence (MoD), the PSNI and Sir Frank, who went on to become commander-in-chief of UK land forces from 1982 to 1985.

Mrs Heenan, now a grandmother of eight and a great-grandmother of six, said there had never been a point where she felt she should give up, claiming: "It is adrenaline that is keeping me going.

"We are looking for justice. It was innocent men who were going to work that this was happening to and it was happening everywhere. Please God this will open the doors for other families - that is all I want out of it."

Mr Heenan was a foreman joiner who had been overseeing part of the building of a Catholic school in east Belfast.

When the Army-issue hand grenade was thrown into the packed minibus, which had been deliberately slowed, Mr Heenan took the full force of the blast while trying to shield the other passengers.

His son said: "The opportunities had never arisen for us to do this. It is only from the peace process and that things have moved forward, along with Relatives For Justice, that has opened up doors to us that were never open before.

"We have always been hitting brick doors but now, slowly but surely, we are scratching away at it. I have been at this my whole adult life.

"It has been an uphill struggle all the way. It has been like we have been going uphill and we are closer to the top now than we ever were."

Ex-soldier Albert "Ginger" Baker received a life sentence for killing Mr Heenan and three others.

He was a member of the outlawed Ulster Defence Association (UDA) and was a leading member of the so-called "Romper Room" gang.

He later claimed to have links to British intelligence.

Solicitor Kevin Winters, of KRW Law, said: "These are civil proceedings for damages but their core value is to obtain truth and accountability for our clients as to the role of the British Army and Frank Kitson in the counter-insurgency operation in the north of Ireland during the early part of the conflict and the use of loyalist paramilitary gangs to contain the republican-nationalist threat through terror, manipulation of the rule of law, infiltration and subversion all core to the Kitson military doctrine endorsed by the British Army and the British government at the time."

An MoD spokesman said: "The Ministry of Defence has received formal notification of the civil claim for damages issued by the family of Mr Heenan. It would not be appropriate at this stage to comment further on these proceedings while the legal process is under way."

Your Comments

COMMENT RULES: Comments that are judged to be defamatory, abusive or in bad taste are not acceptable and contributors who consistently fall below certain criteria will be permanently blacklisted. The moderator will not enter into debate with individual contributors and the moderator’s decision is final. It is Belfast Telegraph policy to close comments on court cases, tribunals and active legal investigations. We may also close comments on articles which are being targeted for abuse. Problems with commenting?

Read More

From Belfast Telegraph