Self-defence claims raised by a British soldier who shot an innocent teenager at point-blank range in Derry 45 years ago have been stripped of all credibility, the High Court has heard.
Judges were told Daniel Hegarty was a member of a prayer group who posed no threat and would have stopped in his tracks.
Relatives of the schoolboy are challenging a decision not to prosecute the man who fired the fatal shots. Their lawyers claimed the conclusion reached was perverse and irrational.
Fifteen-year-old Daniel was unarmed when he was shot twice in the head during a large-scale British military operation in the Creggan area of the city in July 1972. His cousin Christopher, 16, also sustained a bullet wound to the head but survived.
The shootings occurred as British troops were deployed in an attempt to regain control of the ‘Free Derry’ liberated area.
In 2011 an inquest jury unanimously found Daniel posed no risk and had been shot without warning. But in March last year it was decided not to pursue charges against ‘Soldier B’, who fired the fatal rounds, on the basis of no reasonable prospect of a conviction.
According to prosecutors, forensic experts were unable to state that ballistics evidence is inconsistent with ‘Soldier B’s account of the circumstances in which he fired.
Daniel’s sister, Margaret Brady, is now seeking to judicially review that decision.
Her senior counsel, Michael Mansfield QC, pointed that that expert evidence completely refutes assertions that the bullets were fired in self-defence. Instead, the scientific opinion backed the family’s belief that it was an unlawful killing carried out at a range of less than 10 feet.
‘Soldier B’ claimed to have pulled the trigger on the machine gun while it was on the ground - an account contrived to suggest fear of a non-existent threat.
Referring to overwhelming expert evidence, Mr Mansfield submitted: “The pretence of self-defence basically falls away altogether... there’s no credibility left.”
Although he accepted a conviction could not be guaranteed, the barrister said a jury could establish proof beyond reasonable doubt.
“There’s credible evidence from the cousin, from the man in the house next door and from the ballistics,” he told the court.
“There’s no support for B’s account coming from the rest of his platoon.”
Despite recognising the tensions facing soldiers trying to perform a policing operation at the time, Mr Mansfield was withering in his assessment of Soldier B’s actions.
“He saw young men at a time of night when he thought they shouldn’t have been out and he shot them,” the barrister said.
“He plainly has shot at people who would have stopped absolutely in their tracks if they had been warned.
“Two of them were members of the Rosary Crusaders - a prayer group.”
Reserving judgment in the case, Justice Treacy said he would give a decision as soon as possible.