British general faces lawsuit over death of Catholic during Troubles

First time a former soldier defends civil claim for damages over alleged actions in North

One of the most senior British army officers ever to serve in Northern Ireland is to be personally sued over the death of a Catholic man in Belfast in the early 1970s.

Eugene “Paddy” Heenan was killed in February 1973 when the minibus carrying him and 14 other men to a building site in East Belfast was attacked by Loyalist paramilitaries.

A British army soldier, Albert “Ginger” Baker, was later jailed for life for killing Heenan and three other men, but he later claimed to have had links to British intelligence.

Now Heenan's widow, Mary, is suing the British ministry of defence and Gen Sir Frank Kitson for aggravated and exemplary damages, claiming that her husband died due to negligence and misfeasance in office.


The decision to sue Mr Kitson personally marks the first time that a former British soldier will have faced the prospect of defending a civil claim for damages for alleged actions during the Troubles.

Should have known

Now in his late 80s, Mr Kitson has been named as a co-defendant in the legal action on the grounds that he and others had used agents knowing, or that they should have known, that they would take part in criminal actions.

“Given that those agents were embedded with paramilitary groups and the nature of Northern Ireland at the time, it was reasonably foreseeable that activity could include murder,” the statement from Mrs Heenan reads.

“Frank Kitson was therefore negligent in creating the policy and the Ministry of Defence were negligent when allowing its implementation. The policy created the expectation that people working for the State would commit murder.”

Claiming that Mr Kitson was “liable personally for negligence and misfeasance in public office”, Mrs Heenan’s solicitors say he had “at its lowest” been “reckless as to whether State agents would be involved in murder”.

Papers served

The legal papers were served on the ministry of defence in London and, separately, on Mr Kitson on Friday.

The "heart of the claim" is that British army units such as the Military Reaction Force (MRF), the subject of a 2013 investigation by BBC's Panorama, had been "involved with paramilitaries and took part in a number of murders".

Mrs Heenan’s solicitors have now demanded disclosure of all the information the ministry of defence holds about Baker; but also the names of all those who served with the MRF or other undercover units.

In addition, the solicitors have sought from the ministry “the guidelines and guidance for any undercover soldiers or agents who were tasked to infiltrate paramilitaries in place at the time of Mr Heenan’s murder”.

Today, Mr Kitson lives a quiet life. In the 1950s, he received a Military Cross and Bar for service during the Malaya conflict. Following his Northern Ireland service, he rose to be commander-in-chief of UK land forces from 1982 to 1985.

Mr Kitson was also aide-de-camp general to Queen Elizabeth from 1983 to 1985 and served for a time as deputy lord lieutenant of Devon later in the decade.

No inquest was ever held in Mr Heenan’s death, though the autopsy report given to the family showed that he could have lived if he had been given proper first aid.

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy is Ireland and Britain Editor with The Irish Times