One of Northern Ireland’s most senior British Army officers is to be sued over the death of a Catholic man in the North more than 40 years ago.
Eugene “Paddy” Heenan, 47, was killed in February 1973 when loyalist paramilitaries threw a grenade at the minibus carrying him and 14 others to a building site in east Belfast.
Mr Heenan’s widow, Mary, is now taking legal action against the British Ministry of Defence and General Frank Kitson, claiming her husband died because of negligence and misfeasance in office.
It marks the first time a retired senior British soldier has been personally sued over alleged actions during the Troubles.
Solicitor Kevin Winters said: “This week we have issued proceedings against the MoD and Frank Kitson on behalf of our clients, the relatives of Patrick Heenan.
“These are civil proceedings for damages but their core value is to obtain truth and accountability for our clients as to the role of the British Army and Frank Kitson in the counter-insurgency operation in the north of Ireland during the early part of the conflict and the use of loyalist paramilitary gangs to contain the republican-nationalist threat through terror, manipulation of the rule of law, infiltration and subversion all core to the Kitson military of doctrine endorsed by the British Army and the British government at the time.”
Gen Kitson, who is now in his late 80s, rose to become Commander-in-Chief UK Land Forces from 1982 to 1985. He was in charge of military operations in the North during the early 1970s.
He has been named as a co-defendant in the legal action on grounds that he and others used agents knowing, or should have known, that they would take part in criminal actions.
Court papers claim Gen. Kitson is “liable personally for negligence and misfeasance in public office”, because, in creating his policy, he was “reckless as to whether state agents would be involved in murder”.
His doctrine included the use of “counter-gangs”, subversion, psychological operations and the creation of covert military units such as the controversial Military Reaction Force (MRF).
Ex-soldier Albert “Ginger” Baker received a life sentence for killing Mr Heenan and three others but later claimed to have links to British intelligence.
Baker was a member of the outlawed Ulster Defence Association (UDA) at the time of Mr Heenan’s murder and known to be a leading member of the so-called “Romper Room” gang.
Mrs Heenan’s legal team say Gen. Kitson’s command and influence were such as to make him liable for the actions of Baker and others in the murder of Mr Heenan.
Mr Heenan, from Andersonstown, west Belfast, had been working as a foreman at a Catholic school.
Although no inquest was held into Mr Heenan’s death, it has been claimed he could have survived if first aid had been administered quickly.
KRW Law is also instructed by a number of families who were the victims of UDA violence during the same period and this legal action will be the first of a series of similar civil claims.