Operation Motorman was the code name given to a mission carried out by the British Army in the North of Ireland on July 31st, 1972. The goal was to forcibly reassert control over the Nationalist and Republican areas where they were not welcome with a particular focus in the cities of Derry and Belfast. In these cities, nearly impenetrable barricades had been erected in many neighborhoods barring any soldiers from entering or policing the communities. When the Provisional Irish Republican Army detonated more than twenty bombs in Belfast on July 21st of that year, the English government decided that the “No-go” areas in these towns would no longer be tolerated and Operation Motorman was born.
There was too much activity in the lead up to the mission for it to remain covert. More than 20,000 members of the army were involved and the tanks and extra personnel flooding into the region made any secrecy impossible. Many prominent members of the (P)IRA left the region in the days before Operation Motorman took place, avoiding immediate arrest when the barricades came down. Sirens began to blast at about 3:30 in the morning through the Bogside and Creggan neighborhoods of Derry while the army attempted to tear down or drive through at least sixteen barricades in the area.
After this rude awakening, some people took to the streets to observe the soldiers while they worked. Daniel Hegarty went out with his cousins to see what was going on in Creggan Heights, where he lived. Daniel and one of his cousins were shot in the head at close range by the army just a few minutes after they stepped out of the house and while one of them miraculously lived through the incident, the fifteen year old Hegarty was killed instantly.
The circumstances of Daniel Hegarty’s death have been disputed ever since. The soldiers involved said that they thought the boys might have been armed or guarding the area for the IRA and that they “feared for their lives” when the teenagers were shot. Originally they branded Hegarty as a terrorist despite the fact that he had no affiliation with any paramilitary group and was completely unarmed when he was killed. The Hegarty family pushed back against this distinction for decades and in 2007 the English government formally apologized for calling the teenager a terrorist. Official accounts were changed to list Daniel Hegarty as a civilian casualty of Operation Motormouth, reflecting what his family and everyone in Derry already knew. Despite these changes and the formal apology, the English Government repeatedly declined to bring any charges against the soldier who killed Daniel Hegarty so many years ago. Until now.
In 2019 the courts FINALLY brought charges against the man who shot Hegarty. This is a testament to the determination of the young man’s friends and family and the people of Derry who refused to give up until they get justice for his death. Their fight still continues to this day.
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