Relatives for Justice has campaigned on behalf of the Hegarty family in connection with the killing of their son, Daniel. The following is their profile on the case.
Daniel Hegarty was 15 years, from Swilly Gardens, Creggan, Derry City, when he was shot dead on 31 July 1972 by members of the British Army’s Royal Scottish Guards, in Creggan Heights.
Daniel was the only boy in a family with four children. He was a pupil at Bridge Street Primary School and later at St Joseph’s Secondary School, both in Derry. He left school only weeks before his death and was working in Morgan’s Rag Store in the Waterside area of Derry.
His family described Daniel as a quiet boy who kept company with his cousins. They said he was always collecting scrap metal to sell, and with the money he made he was always buying his mother presents and sometimes ornaments for their home. He was a very caring lad, who used to love helping the old people living in the Creggan estate. He liked to do their gardens up and any other work they were unable to do.
In the early hours of 31 July 1972 the British Army commenced a major military operation known as ‘‘Operation Motorman’. The military strategy behind the operation was to invade, saturate, and ultimately occupy nationalist areas throughout the six counties. Some of the areas invaded that morning, and the Creggan estate where Daniel lived was one of them, had been ‘no-go’ areas for British military forces for some time. The ‘no-go’ areas sprang up in the aftermath of the introduction of internment in August 1971, and ‘Bloody Sunday’ in January 1972, when 14 civilians were shot dead by British soldiers in Derry at an anti-internment rally. Not surprisingly Derry City was one of the most prominent and largest of the ‘no-go’ areas in the north of Ireland at that time. It was heavily barricaded and armed IRA members openly patrolled the streets.
‘Operation Motorman’ in Derry City was heralded by the arrival of several Royal British Navy battleships in Lough Foyle in the early hours of the morning. The Lough effectively splits the city into two-halves-the mainly nationalist west bank, and the mainly unionist east bank. Heavy amphibious crafts carrying soldiers and equipment disembarked from the battleships and began landing on the western shores of the Foyle. The rumble of heavily armoured Centurion tanks could also be heard moving towards the permanent barricades. In the air the drone of British Army helicopters monitoring operations or dropping of invading soldiers resounded all over the city. By daybreak the west bank of the city was effectively surrounded by thousands of heavily armed British soldiers.
The IRA in Derry had already made it well known in the event of any major military incursion into the city’s ‘no-go’ area by the British soldiers they would not confront them because of the danger to residents.
The residents on the west bank of the city were alerted of the British military invasion just before dawn by the wailing of several warning sirens.
Daniel was staying in his cousin’s house, which was also in the Creggan, when the sirens woke him and his cousins. Daniel and his cousins, Thomas and Chris, got up and got dressed and went outside to investigate. It was just after 4am as the three youths walked across Creggan Heights towards the Circular Road. The sun was already out and the morning sky grew brighter as they made their way along. After a short distance another youth stopped them and told them British soldiers were coming, and were everywhere. Daniel and his cousins decided to make their way back home.
Daniel’s cousin, Thomas, described what happened next as they walked along a footpath back through the Creggan estate. ‘I was tight against the hedge and Daniel was halfway on the footpath, with Chris behind when shots rang out. I saw Daniel dive face down and Chris dived with him.’ He then noticed ‘Chris was lying on the ground holding Daniel’s head.’ He ran over to Chris and got him up and into a nearby house. He noticed his brother was wounded in the head, ‘but he didn’t seem to realise it.’ His cousin Daniel lay dead on the street.
Daniel had been hit twice in the head and killed instantly. One of the bullets had gone through Daniel’s head and struck Chris on the side of the head.
The culprits of the shooting were British soldiers situated in an alleyway just off the street where the youths were walking, and had fired without warning. The soldiers, had set up a heavy machine gun position on sandbags in the alleyway. They fired on the youths from a distance of less than ten feet with the heavy weapon. After the firing civilian witness said none of the soldiers approached the body of the youth.
Thomas also said that immediately after firing he heard the soldiers, who apparently thought they had killed Chris as well as Daniel shouted they had killed two “Fenian bastards.”
Civilian eyewitnesses all confirmed the youths were shot at from point-blank range. Others who ran to their aid said they saw no weapons of any kind beside the dead youth.
The British Army Press Office issued several statements after the shooting trying to justify the actions of their soldiers. In their first statement they accused Daniel of being a gunman. In their second they said he was a nail-bomber, and in their third statement they said he was a petrol-bomber. In all the versions they claimed their soldiers were defending themselves.
Chris, who remained in hospital for some time, and his brother Thomas were neither questioned nor arrested about any offences allegedly carried out by the dead youth. Nor did the authorities contact them in relation to the killing.
An inquest into the killing of Daniel Hegarty was held in October 1973. None of the soldiers involved in the shooting attended the hearing. All were known simply as soldiers ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’, and ‘D’. A Corporal in the British army’s ‘Special Investigation Branch’ read out their statements.
One soldier in his statement said they were in Creggan Heights setting up a machine gun on a pavement at the mouth of an alleyway when three figures appeared running towards their position. The soldier claimed the figures were called on to stop, when they did not stop, one soldier fired three shots hitting two of the young people. After the shooting he said that ‘operations dictating otherwise the two bodies were not examined, and I am therefore unable to say whether they were armed or not.’
Another soldier said in his statement that he saw ‘one of the youths with what looked like a revolver or a nail-bomb or a similar object.’
A civilian witness, who said he helped carry a seriously injured youth into a house, told the hearing what he found when he arrived at the scene, adding ‘there was certainly no gun or bombs, in fact there was not even a stone within view.’
The inquest jury returned an open verdict.
No British soldiers were charged in connection with the killing of Daniel Hegarty.