​Prominent counter-insurgency general sued over N. Ireland killing

Young boys with their bikes chat to armed British soldiers on the Peace Line in West Belfast August 10, 1997 (Reuters)
The British Army’s most prominent and decorated counter-insurgent, who helped suppress anti-colonial rebellions in Ireland, Malaya and Kenya, is being sued by the family of a man killed by Irish loyalist paramilitaries in 1973.

General Frank Kitson, now in his late 80s, is accused of negligence, misfeasance in office and breaching Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) over the death in the early 1970’s of Eugene Heenan.

Heenan, a construction worker, was killed in east Belfast after a Loyalist threw a grenade into a packed minibus in which he was a passenger.

Heenan’s widow, Mary, is bringing the legal action against Kitson.

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As well as being a career soldier, Kitson drew on his vast experience of irregular warfare to author several books on the subject of counter-insurgency and is held to be one of the leading theorists on the subject.

Solicitor Kevin Winters of KRW Law, heading Mary Heenan’s legal team, told the Guardian: “This week we have issued proceedings against the MoD [Ministry of Defence] 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.

The case hinges on Kitson’s alleged role in the engagement by security forces of local loyalist militias to meet British strategic aims to contain and disrupt republican groups like the IRA.

Winters also cited elements of Kitson’s own seminal work on counter-insurgency, saying that “manipulation of the rule of law, infiltration and subversion” were tactics which were all “core to the Kitson military of doctrine endorsed by the British Army and the British government at the time.

The Kitson doctrine also inspired the creation the controversial Military Reaction Force (MRF), a Northern Ireland-based unit of urban Special Forces soldier which operated in Ireland during the 1970s.

The MRF has since been accused of carrying out a number of killings – including civilian bystanders.

While former soldier and loyalist paramilitary Albert Baker was given a life sentence for the murder of Heenan, he later claimed to have links with UK intelligence services.

Mary Heenan’s legal team argue Kitson is liable for the death due the role of his command and influence in the incident which killed Heenan.

The legal action will be the first in a series by families affected by the actions of loyalist militias during the period.

The Kitson case would be the first which attempted to hold a senior officer individually accountable for a death during the Troubles.

In a statement the MOD said: “The Ministry of Defence has received no official notification of this case, nor are we aware of any evidence which would support the allegations.