Papers served on ex-British army general 42 years after killing

Damages are sought from Frank Kitson over 1973 Belfast blast in which Eugene Heenan died

Albert “Ginger” Baker, a British army soldier who had allegedly gone absent without leave to join the Ulster Defence Association, gave himself up to police in Wiltshire. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire

Albert “Ginger” Baker, a British army soldier who had allegedly gone absent without leave to join the Ulster Defence Association, gave himself up to police in Wiltshire. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire

 

MARK HENNESSY London Editor

Eugene Heenan was better known as Paddy to his friends. On February 1st, 1973, he and 14 other men were travelling to work in a minibus when a masked man, carrying a walking-stick, stepped in front of them on Kingsway Park in east Belfast.

“He was walking slowly and limping. There were two masked man on the other side of the road walking in single-file about five yards apart,” according to legal papers prepared by Belfast solicitors Kevin Winters.

One of the masked men tried to open the back door, but was stopped. Instead, the man broke a window and threw in a Mills 36M standard-issue British army hand grenade.

A couple of seconds later, the grenade exploded, its shrapnel killing Heenan (47), a father-of-five from Andersonstown in west Belfast, who had been working as a foreman at a Catholic school.

No inquest was ever held, though the autopsy report given to the family showed that Heenan – described by a fellow worker “as a peaceful kind of man” – could have lived if he had been given proper first aid.

Some 42 years on, his widow, Mary, has served papers on the ministry of defence and the retired British army general Frank Kitson, seeking aggravated and exemplary damages for the death of her husband.

The claim is based on allegations that the army had placed agents inside loyalist paramilitaries, who ended up themselves on occasions committing acts of terrorism.

Albert “Ginger” Baker, a British soldier who had allegedly gone absent without leave to join the Ulster Defence Association, gave himself up to British police in Wiltshire six months after Heenan’s death.

Under questioning, Baker admitted to involvement in Heenan’s death, along with 11 armed robberies; but also in the killings of three Catholic men the year before Heenan died: James McCartan, Paul McCartan and Philip Faye.

Sentenced to life, Baker later gave evidence against UDA men in a 1974 trial in Belfast. However, the charges were dismissed when the judged ruled that Baker had given inconsistent testimony.

Two years after he was jailed, The Sunday World reported that Baker had claimed the cars used in the Dublin/Monaghan bombings had been driven from Belfast by UDA men.

Later, Baker’s family confirmed, according to the legal papers filed, that he had told them that he had delivered the explosives that were used in Dublin and Monaghan from Eglinton in Derry to Belfast.

He claimed that the explosives had come from a man “with a close association” to British intelligence, while one of the cars used in Dublin had been rented in Belfast by “a well-dressed Englishman”.

In July 1988, Labour’s Ken Livingstone interviewed Baker in Durham prison, where the latter claimed that he had “close links” with British intelligence and had been given two contacts by the UDA’s east Belfast “brigadier”, Tommy Herron.

The Irish government’s 2004 inquiry found that the Belfast car-hire had been made using a driving licence belonging to a “Joseph Fleming” from Derby, while a number of witnesses reported that the hirer had “a cultured, English accent”.

“Baker’s knowledge of these matter where there is strong suspicion of state involvement indicates that he was an undercover soldier in Northern Ireland, ” the legal papers lodged by Mrs Heenan’s solicitors say.

Frank Kitson, the British army’s acknowledged expert on counterinsurgency, was sent to Belfast as a brigade commander from September 1970 to April 1972, responsible for Belfast and surrounding districts.

Now in his late 80s, 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.

“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,” the papers say.

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

The legal papers, which were served on the ministry of defence in London and, separately, on Kitson on Friday, are the first time when a British officer has been personally sued for alleged actions in NI during the Troubles.

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

Seeking damages, 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”.

Kitson now lives a quiet life, nearing 90. In the 1950s, he received a Military Cross and Bar for service during the Malaya conflict. Following his NI service, he rose to be commander-in-chief of the UK land forces from 1982 to 1985.

In the 1980s, he was aide-de-camp general to Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom from 1983 to 1985 and served for a time as deputy lord lieutenant of Devon later in the decade.

Kitson has long rejected allegations that “low intensity operations” ever sanctioned illegal action, advocated “the suppression of legitimate dissent”, or amounted to an interference by the military in civilian life.

In Northern Ireland, the British army, he wrote in a foreword to 1991 edition of his book, had “the essential offensive task of neutralising the insurgents themselves”.

Backed by intelligence, he said his system was “based on the assumption that, if found, insurgents could be engaged in battle legally, or captured and convicted in court, or detained under emergency legislation”.