Historical Enquiries Team to investigate murder of Kevin Heatley

October 30, 2012

By Christine Keighery

The Historical Enquiries Team (HET) is set to investigate the brutal murder of thirteen year old Newry boy, Kevin Heatley, who was shot dead by members of the British Army’s Royal Hampshire Regiment on 28th February 1973, as he sat on a wall in Main Avenue, Derrybeg, chatting with friends.

Reports from the time say that on the evening of Tuesday 27th February, Kevin and his friends had been watching the erratic antics of British Soldiers who had stormed the estate shortly before midnight, shouting and blowing whistles, drawing residents from their homes to investigate. Some of the soldiers were, reportedly, under the influence of alcohol.

The behaviour of the soldiers was the culmination of what residents described as days of harassment from British troops patrolling the area.  A shot rang out just after midnight and Kevin fell off the wall, fatally injured by a gunshot to the head, inflicted by a soldier just yards away from where Kevin sat.

The murder of young Kevin, or ‘Beansy’ as he was known to his friends, sent shockwaves throughout the local community.  His friends and family were devastated by the death of the “jovial outgoing boy who was always full of crack, wit and stories.”

Their pain was compounded by the British Army’s claims that the army patrol had returned fire after being shot at.  The claim was contrary to several witness statements, local press reports and an audio recording of the evening’s events, where only a single shot was heard.

Some eight months after Kevin’s murder, corporal Francis Foxford, a member of the Royal Hampshire Regiment was charged with the manslaughter of the boy.  At his trial in March 1974, Foxford claimed a crowd attacked his patrol and a ‘small person’ fired at him, to which he returned fire. His claims and those of his colleagues were rejected by the evidence of civilian witnesses and Foxford was found guilty of the lesser charge of unlawful killing and sentenced to three years imprisonment.

He immediately launched an appeal which went in his favour, and his conviction was quashed on a technicality.  Foxford was released in June 1974 and returned to England and his regiment.   No other British soldiers were ever charged in connection with Kevin’s murder.

Kevin’s sister, Jean Heatley, spoke to The Examiner about the HET inquiry.  Jean, who is one of seven of Kevin’s brothers and sisters, told us they hope the investigation will finally bring them the justice Kevin deserves.

She said, “It will be the fortieth anniversary of Kevin’s murder in February next year, and we hope that at last we can finally get justice for him.  My mother passed away two years ago, without ever getting that justice so we hope the HET inquiry can achieve that for us now.”

Jean has appealed to anyone who remembers the events of that terrible night or who could be of any help to the inquiry to contact her or her siblings.  So far she has received a great response from the local community and remains hopeful that the HET inquiry will bring them the justice which their devastated mother never got.

Sinn Féin MLA Mickey Brady has welcomed the investigation and stressed the importance of any information in relation to the killing being brought forward.

Speaking about the case, Mr Brady said:“I can remember the night that young Kevin was murdered. As the news spread around Newry that the British Army had murdered this young child, there was groundswell of anger and despair. The Heatley family were well known and respected in Newry and the fact that Kevin was just thirteen years of age brought it home to families that even their children were not safe from the brutality of the British Army.

“I would ask people who have any recollection of that dreadful evening to come forward and help the family piece together the final minutes of Kevin’s life.

“It is important for the family to get to the truth regarding the exact facts of what actually happened. At the time the British Army made a spurious claim that they had been shot at, but this had been strenuously denied by local people who said that they had only heard one shot.

“So, it is very important that people cooperate with this investigation so that the family can finally come to terms with the murder of their beloved son and brother.”