A retraction of the 35-year-old British Army claim that a teenager shot dead by a soldier in Derry was a “terrorist” has been welcomed by nationalists.
Fifteen-year-old Daniel Hegarty was killed in 1972 on the morning of Operation Motorman, an intensive British military surge to retake control of liberated areas in the major cities in the Six Counties.
A recently disclosed British Army account of ‘Operation Banner’, by which it describes its military campaign during the conflict, repeated the claim that the teenager was a “terrorist”.
The document, which is riddled with inaccuracies, falsehoods and jingoism, has been dismissed by republicans as a propaganda exercise.
However, the Pat Finucane Centre in Derry raised the Hegarty case and others last July with the British government and pressed for the record to be put straight.
Britain’s defence secretary Des Browne has since written to the Pat Finucane Centre to confirm that Daniel is considered innocent.
“The paragraph in question is inaccurate and this should have been picked during proof reading, but unfortunately was not,” Browne wrote. The ministry has apologised to the family for its additional distress.
Margaret Brady, Daniel’s sister, welcomed the news but said it was wrong that they had been forced to fight to clear her brother’s name.
“I only wish they would accept that the British army shot many people without justification and where they posed no threat,” she said.
Sinn Féin Assembly member for Foyle, Martina Anderson said there should be a full and independent inquiry into the shooting of the teenager.
“The admission by the British government that Daniel Hegarty was not a terrorist does not go far enough. What is needed is a full independent inquiry into why this child was shot dead at point blank range on the morning of the 31st July 1972. The British government need to disclose all the facts relating to this case.” She congratulated the Hegarty family for their tenacity in pursuing the case.
SDLP leader Mark Durkan also welcomed the army’s retraction and called for other disputed British army claims to be investigated.
“I am pleased that, on this occasion, the ministry of defence has moved more quickly and more fully that most of those with an interest in this travesty had expected,” he said.
Mr Durkan said he was concerned that the Operation Banner document was to be re-issued.
“There are unfortunately a number of other families whose tragedies and travesties have been misrepresented by this document, including the Bloody Sunday families,” he said.
“I will be pursuing this matter further with the British government in order to see that they will have their burdens eased by the removal of additional injustices in the guise of this document.”