Hegarty family face no prosecution decision for fourth time

After an almost 50-year quest for justice, the family of Daniel Hegarty have now been confronted with the fourth separate decision not to prosecute anyone over his death.

The first non-prosecution direction came in 1973 following Soldier B’s participation in the now widely discredited investigatory process carried out by the Royal Military Police (RMP).

Daniel, a 15-year-old labourer, was shot twice in the head after encountering an Army patrol in Derry’s Creggan area in the early hours of July 31 1972. His cousin Christopher, then 16, was also shot but survived.

The boys had been in the area to witness the Army’s efforts to reclaim parts of the city from the IRA as part of Operation Motorman.

Following the shooting, the soldiers involved did not provide any first aid and instead withdrew from the area, leaving the teenagers where they fell.

The first time the police visited the scene was four days later. No bullet casings were recovered from the four rounds fired by a heavy military machine gun and the weapon itself was not seized for examination.

In his account to the RMP, Soldier B said he was 25 metres away when he opened fire on the teenagers.

Arguing self-defence, he claimed that one of the boys was armed and insisted that warnings were shouted before he pulled the trigger.

An inquest held in 1973 recorded an open verdict.

There were no major developments in the case for the next three decades until, in 2005, the police’s Historical Enquiries Team (HET) reviewed it.

Upon that re-investigation, HET submitted an evidence file to the Public Prosecution Service for examination.

Soldier B was interviewed by the HET in 2006 as part of that process and gave an account that, in some respects, was in variance to his 1972 statement.

In 2008 the PPS issued another non-prosecution decision.

Bloody Sunday
Des Doherty, solicitor for the family of Daniel Hegarty, speaks to the media outside the City Hotel in Londonderry on Friday (Liam McBurney/PA)

A year later, acting on the findings of the HET, Northern Ireland’s Attorney General ordered a fresh inquest.

Jurors in that inquest were unanimous in finding that Daniel posed no risk when he was shot.

The jury also rejected claims that warnings had been shouted.

A ballistics expert who gave evidence to the coroner’s court also called into question Soldier B’s claim that the shots could have been fired from 25 metres.

The expert also suggested that the machine gun had been moved into a raised position before the shots were fired – suggesting the soldier had more than a split second to react.

After the verdict the coroner referred the case back to the Director of Public Prosecutions for further analysis.

In 2016, the third non-prosecution decision was issued.

The family challenged this decision by way of judicial review and the court found in their favour, identifying flaws in the decision not to prosecute.

The case went back to the PPS for a further review – the outcome of which finally resulted in a decision to prosecute Soldier B.

In 2019, the PPS announced its intention to prosecute the veteran for the murder of Daniel and the wounding with intent of Christopher.

However, that decision was then subject to a further judicial review, this time taken by Soldier B himself, who argued that his serious ill-health should rule out a prosecution on public interest grounds.

That court challenge failed and the PPS was about to commence formal court proceedings against Soldier B when the Joe McCann trial collapsed, casting fresh uncertainty over evidence that was to be central to the prosecution – namely his 2006 statement to the HET.

A PPS review prompted by the McCann case concluded that the HET statement was unlikely to be deemed admissible in court.

Without it the Crown had no other way to prove that Soldier B fired the shots that killed Daniel and injured Christopher.

That was the rationale outlined by PPS lawyers on Friday when they informed the Hegarty family that, for a fourth time, a decision had been taken not to prosecute.