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A disheartening day for justice

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 09/03/2016

Operation Motorman: Daniel Hegarty (15) was shot twice in the head by a soldier near his home in Creggan
Operation Motorman: Daniel Hegarty (15) was shot twice in the head by a soldier near his home in Creggan

Three stories in this newspaper today demonstrate graphically the difficulties of dealing with the past. Two of the reports concern families who are now feeling that they will never get justice for what happened to their relatives. The other points out the problems of getting adequate mechanisms in place to offer hope to families like these.

The relatives of a 15-year-old Londonderry boy shot dead by a soldier in 1972 are angry that no one is to be prosecuted over the killing, even though an inquest in 2011 found that Daniel Hegarty posed no risk when he was gunned down.

Equally angry are the relatives of the four soldiers killed and 31 injured in the IRA bomb attack on the Royal Household Cavalry in London's Hyde Park in 1982. They have been refused legal aid to fund a private prosecution against the chief suspect, Donegal man John Downey. A criminal case against him collapsed when it was discovered he had been wrongly given a letter saying he was not wanted by police.

In the Derry case, a family has waited for 44 years for some semblance of justice and believed after the inquest in 2011 that a prosecution against the soldier involved was a real possibility. Now that has run into the sand and it seems no one will ever be made amenable for a death that the inquest, in effect, said should not have occurred.

In the Hyde Park case a similar feeling of despair is felt by the relatives of the dead and those injured in a callous terrorist bombing. They have seen other people get huge amounts of legal aid to fund their court cases, but are denied any such help themselves.

So will those still suffering from the legacy of the Troubles - 3,700 bereaved families and 40,000 people who suffered injuries - ever get justice, or even the truth about what happened to them or their loved ones?

Victims Commissioner Judith Thompson is remarkably upbeat that an agreement on the way forward can be found. Quite rightly she says the Government cannot keep hiding so-called national security issues to stop the publication of some evidence in controversial inquests. We desperately need an agreed definition of what national security really means. But neither can others refuse to co-operate with truth or investigative bodies if these are set up to probe historical deaths. That will be the acid test if the legacy of the past can ever be resolved.

Belfast Telegraph

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