The death of Belfast teenager Dessie Healey has been marked with the launch of a new family report documenting the circumstances of his killing 51 years ago.
The report provides an analysis of the available forensic, ballistic and eyewitness evidence including linked cases and thematic patterns.
Dessie was just 14 years of age when he was shot and killed by the British Army on August 9, 1971, during disturbances in the Lenadoon area following the introduction of internment without trial. No investigation ever took place into the schoolboy’s death.
His murder had a lasting and profound impact on the family and it remains an incident that they struggle to even speak about.
The family only heard Dessie was dead three days after the shooting took place. The sense of injustice is heightened by the false claim that Dessie was throwing a petrol bomb when shot.
His family are seeking to overturn the verdict of previous biased investigations with a fresh inquest that is due to commence in December this year.
Speaking after the launch of this report, Relatives for Justice said: “The Healeys are looking forward to that process shedding some light over what happened 51 years ago; they are looking forward to the truth coming to light, to correct the historical narrative, to right the wrong.
“RFJ hopes this family report brings them closer to that legitimate goal – family reports form part of our overall holistic approach to supporting and empowering families and crucially providing a voice to what were once unspeakable truths.”
The report details how along with many other youths of the Lenadoon area, Dessie spent the morning of that day behind a barricade.
According to witnesses, the youths threw stones and empty glass bottles at the British soldiers. The British Army fired rubber bullets at the crowd.
Dessie was one of those teenagers. It is believed he threw at least one bottle of HP sauce at the British Army. Then, the 14-year-old bent down to take another one, but he never got to launch it. A British soldier fired a live round from a high velocity rifle aimed at his chest as he was about to throw the sauce bottle. Dessie fell to the floor and panic ensued.
Some of his friends tried to lift Dessie up in an attempt to bring him to a safe place, but they were forced to leave him on the ground and run when the British Army fired more rubber bullets and CS gas.
Then, a snatch squad charged along with a military vehicle to where Dessie was lying, British soldiers threw his lifeless body into the armoured car, and they drove away in the direction of Stewartstown Road.
When Dessie did not go home that evening, his parents thought he had probably gone to the home of one of his aunts. It was not until a few days later that Dessie’s mum Peggy found out about her tragic loss, on the 13th of August 1971.
There is very little information available about the original investigation and inquest into the killing of Dessie. The PSNI’s Historical Inquiries Team (HET) had been investigating Dessie’s killing prior to their disbandment.
The HET investigators accepted the historical statements of British soldiers and based the report almost exclusively on their account, ignoring several civilian witness accounts that were collected at the time.
It is hoped that the fresh inquest later this year will correct the public record into Dessie’s death.