A FORMER soldier who was accused of killing schoolboy Daniel Hegarty during the Troubles in Northern Ireland has died.
Daniel’s family have been informed of the veteran’s death, it was confirmed today, although it is believed that he may have died on Friday, September 22.
Daniel was 15 years old when he was shot twice in the head by a solider in the Creggan area of Derry on July 31, 1972.
The man charged with his murder became referred to as ‘Soldier B’.
Daniel’s death occurred during Operation Motorman, a military operation by the British Army which was designed to reclaim areas in Northern Ireland deemed to be under republican paramilitary control at the time.
Daniel’s cousin Christopher Hegarty, who was 16 at the time, was wounded in the same incident, and Soldier B was also charged with wounding the teenager.
An inquest held in 2011 found Daniel had posed no threat to the soldiers and was shot without any warning, yet the Hegarty family’s quest for justice was dealt a blow in 2021 when Northern Ireland's Public Prosecution Service (PPS) announced its decision to discontinue the prosecution of Soldier B.
The family won fresh hope in July of this year, however, when a Court of Appeal judge overturned the PPS decision, which opened the door for Soldier B to be prosecuted.
Speaking today, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood praised the dignity of the Hegarty family, following the news of the veteran’s death before that trial could take place.
“Daniel Hegarty was shot and killed more than fifty years ago,” Mr Eastwood said.
“It is a damning indictment on this society that his family have had to fight a lifetime for truth, justice and accountability.
“And it is further evidence that the British Government’s approach to legacy - shutting down justice - will never work for those who have lost the most.”
He added: “There have been serious institutional failings in this case that have badly let the Hegarty family down.
“The PPS decision to drop the case in 2021 was a significant blow and forced this family to fight again for their right to justice.
“The Hegarty family have again demonstrated grace in their response to this news.
“There is no victory for anyone in any of this.
“Families like the Hegartys deserve the truth and they deserve justice. That should be the focus of political leaders across these islands.”