Victims campaigner maimed in case of mistaken identity was a winner last year after charity delivered Troubles pensions
Victims campaigner Peter Heathwood picked up our 2021 Special Recognition award at the Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards, sponsored this year by Ulster Bank.
The Belfast man’s valiant efforts to help Troubles victims during a challenging 13-year campaign resulted last June in the government awarding a pension to people injured by the violence here.
Pensions are now finally starting to filter through, giving thousands who were physically and mentally scared by the Troubles financial security in their retirement years.
Peter was part of the Wave Injured Group who tirelessly campaigned to secure the pensions, finally taking their battle to Westminster in 2018.
Many who would have benefited sadly passed away before last year’s victory.
For Peter our award meant the world to the group who he immediately dedicated it to, saying: “I couldn’t praise that group of people enough, how courageous they are and how strong mentally.
“They are an amazing group of people who didn’t let what happened to them destroy them and they have some horrific stories to tell.
“I see it as an honour for the group around me. One of the things we didn’t want during the campaign was to become celebrity victims. We are not glory hunters but this award is recognition for how hard everyone has fought.”
The group’s pursuit of a pension for victims has served as an inspiration for campaigners against injustice everywhere.
Now Peter reveals that the friends who bonded over their joint endeavour to help each other are looking to continue with their campaigning work.
He explains: “We in the group are from all different backgrounds and have been hurt by all different terrorist groups but we worked together to achieve this on a humanitarian basis.
“That combination doesn’t just disappear after 13 years. We are still meeting and talking now about what issues we could work on next.
“We are all good friends and we don’t want to dissolve the group. We feel like it would be a shame if we don’t continue.
“I think it shows just what our politicians could achieve if they worked together and I don’t understand why our politicians can’t do the same for the greater good of people here.”
Peter’s own life was horrifically changed in an instant when he was paralysed in a loyalist shooting at his home in north Belfast in 1979 in what was a case of mistaken identity.
The attack triggered a series of tragic events in the family, with his father dying of a heart attack from shock that same day. Peter’s wife Anne was left so traumatised by witnessing her husband’s shooting in their home that she never recovered, dying at just 51 years old in 2006.
Peter recalls: “We had three young children and Anne was left dealing with them, the police and ambulance and her husband seriously injured as well as my dad dying outside our house.
“She was diagnosed with PTSD and she just couldn’t cope and went into depression. She just couldn’t get over it. She blamed herself for opening the door. We did everything we could but she couldn’t stop blaming herself.
“People talk about the Troubles and violence but they don’t realise the ripple effect in families.
“There have been 28 people die of heart attacks as a result of the violence during the Troubles yet they are not classed as victims.”
Peter spent a year in hospital before being finally discharged to life in a wheelchair.
It was later discovered that the intended target was a taxi driver who was renting one of the upstairs flats in the property Peter owned. No one has ever been charged with the shooting.
Now aged 69, Peter lives in the quiet Co Down village of Killough and has dedicated his life to his family and the pension campaign. His three children Patrick (48), Anne-Marie (47) and Louise (43) and 14 grandchildren mean the absolute world to him.
He believes the pension campaign gave him a focus. It started when a group of injured people met at the Wave Trauma Centre.
The group gathered a petition which was handed into Downing Street, Stormont and the Dail and put together a book of their stories which they used to lobby MLAs.
While he played a leading role in all these endeavours, to Peter it was a group effort.
He says: “I am paraplegic but I met people at Wave who had lost legs or were blinded, people from all sectors of our community, injured by all combatants.
“We all worked together as friends and what a battle and what a fantastic achievement.
“So many people also worked in the background; Alan McBride, Dennis Godfrey and Sandra Peake were absolutely terrific.
“Thousands of victims now have the recognition and financial help going into their old age. This was never about getting money for fancy holidays but most victims are in their 60s and 70s and it was about giving them independence in their old age.”
Terry Robb, head of personal banking at Ulster Bank which is also our headline sponsor, said the company was delighted to also be supporting the Special Recognition Award.
He commented: “At Ulster Bank, our purpose is to champion the potential of people, families and businesses so partnering with Sunday Life to deliver the Spirit of Northern Ireland provides us with a great opportunity to do this.
“The awards are all about celebrating ordinary people who selflessly serve others or who have made an outstanding contribution to their local community. Working across our branch network, we see just how many remarkable people there are in Northern Ireland and it’s really special to give these groups or individuals the recognition they so richly deserve.
“Our aim is to provide meaningful help for what matters and hearing some of the stories that come forward remind us of the importance of delivering on this commitment and while judging the entrants is never easy, it is always a very humbling experience.”
And he added: “For this reason, we’re delighted to be sponsoring the Special Recognition award, honouring someone who encapsulates the Spirit of Northern Ireland. Whether they have done something brave and courageous or show kindness in their daily life, we want to celebrate someone who is truly inspirational and deserves our appreciation.”
AWARDS CATEGORIES AND HOW TO NOMINATE:
Unsung Hero (sponsored by The Boulevard)
Someone whose great deed or deeds have previously gone unnoticed, but who will have made a major contribution to your life or to your community.
Someone who has overcome huge personal challenges, whether it is dealing with illness or disability or overcoming problems.
Spirit of Youth (sponsored by Better)
Someone under the age of 18 who should be recognised for their special achievements.
999 Hero (sponsored by Shield Accident Management)
A member of the emergency services who has gone above and beyond the call of duty in their job.
Someone who has worked tirelessly for a charity or as a fundraiser for many years.
Spirit of Health
A medical professional who has gone the extra mile to improve the health and well-being of their patients.
Spirit of Education
This award recognises a truly inspirational teacher who has helped children and young people fulfil their potential.
Caring Spirit Award (sponsored by Power NI)
A person, young or old, who has dedicated their time to caring for a friend or family member.
Spirit of Sport
Someone who has made an exceptional contribution to local sport over a number of years.
Climate Hero (sponsored by Concentrix)
Seeks to recognise an individual or community group going the extra mile to care for and protect the local environment for future generations.
Someone who the judges feel represents the Spirit of Northern Ireland by selflessly serving others and being an inspiration to us all.
Nominations will be received up until August 22. To nominate someone couldn’t be easier. Simply email your nominations to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us the story of the person who has made a difference. You can also post nominations to us at Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards, 33 Clarendon Road, Belfast, BT1 3BG