Exclusive: Suspect in murder of Co Tyrone man Damien Heagney is convicted drug dealer

The 50-year-old arrested after police searched a house in Cookstown has served time behind bars after he was caught with a large consignment of drugs

Police divers and scene of crime officers at the Altmore reservoir in Cappagh this week

Detective Chief Inspector Rachel Wilson

The police search

Damien Heagney

Steven MooreSunday World

A suspect in the murder of Cookstown man Damien Heagney is a convicted drug dealer, we can reveal.

The 50-year-old arrested last Saturday after police searched a house in Cookstown has served time behind bars after he was caught with a large consignment of drugs.

Meanwhile it’s understood police are trying to establish if the body of the 47-year-old had been in a reservoir in Cappagh the whole time since his murder or if it was moved from somewhere else and placed in the water days or even weeks later.

On Friday police confirmed forensic tests had proved the remains discovered in the reservoir on Wednesday are those of the Co Tyrone man.

Officers have now finished their search of the reservoir and are now investigating the circumstances of his death including when and how he was killed and how long his body had actually been in the remote body of water.

Damien Heagney

Mr Heagney, who is from Cookstown, was last seen in Dromore, County Tyrone on New Year's Eve 2021.

The 47-year-old was first reported missing in July, but police recently upgraded this to a murder investigation.

On Friday police said they were following a number of lines of enquiry but we can reveal the only man to be arrested on suspicion of murder is a convicted drug dealer.

He served six months behind bars after he was caught with a massive haul of cannabis and pleaded guilty to possession with intent to supply a Class B drug.

And we can also reveal he was later in a horror accident which very nearly took his life.

The man was arrested last Saturday by officers investigating the disappearance of Mr Heagney following a search of a property in the Cookstown area however he was released 24 hours later on bail pending further enquiries.

The police search

Sources in Cookstown say the man comes from a highly respected family and despite his previous involvement in crime there is deep shock at his arrest and alleged involvement in the murder of Mr Heagney.

“He’s from a really good family and although he got himself into a bit of trouble years ago nobody can believe he’d have anything to do with something like this,” said the source.

The Sunday World understands detectives have their sights on a second suspect who is well known in the Co Tyrone criminal underworld.

On Friday it was reported by the Irish News that Damien Heagney was living in fear of being murdered and had been living out of his car for several weeks before he went missing.

They also reported he had come under the radar of republicans in the past and was once ‘arrested’ by the Provos following an incident in Coalisland and he was ordered out of Tyrone.

The Sunday World understands there are concerns as to why the police didn’t open an investigation into his disappearance sooner.

Detective Chief Inspector Rachel Wilson

Although he wasn’t reported missing until July 19th it’s understood police were aware of concerns about his whereabouts as far back as January.

A Cookstown source told the Sunday World: “Neighbours started getting worried when he hadn’t been seen and post was building up at his door.

“Damien had issues and was well known to the police. Police were made aware of concerns he hadn’t been seen and there were a number of red flags like his failure to turn up at welfare meetings and missing court dates back in June.”

Police were contacted as early as January but didn’t escalate the investigation.

“A simple check of his ATM use or his social media and mobile phone use would have raised an alarm with them had they checked.”

Mr Heagney, a keen supporter of Tyrone GAA, posted his last message on Facebook back on December 6.

Since the search of properties last week police suddenly launched a murder investigation and have been extremely pro-active in passing on details in the investigation.

To date, police have searched three properties in County Tyrone and taken a number of items away for further examination.

On Wednesday, police confirmed they had recovered Mr Heagney's car and have also identified another vehicle of interest, a white Citroen Berlingo van, registration number LM58 UVW.

They also revealed his dog has still not been found.

The same day detectives announced a £20,000 Crimestopper’s reward to anyone who provides information which leads to a prosecution of the killer or killers.

Detective Chief Inspector Rachel Wilson told a media facility, “Damien was last seen in the Dromore area, in the early hours of Friday 31st December. I want to appeal to anyone who saw Damien at any stage to contact us.

“We have recovered his vehicle, a Grey BMW FX6 6JXR which is currently being examined.

“We have also identified another vehicle of interest, a white Citroen Berlingo van, registration number LM58 UVW.

“We know that the Citroen van travelled in the Tyrone and Fermanagh areas between Friday 31st December and Friday 7th January. I would like to hear from anyone who saw this van during that time period.

“Finally, Damien’s dog Tyson, a three-year old black coloured Rottweiler cross breed, which was wearing a red coloured collar, is also missing.

“I would appeal for anyone who has any information surrounding Damien’s disappearance and murder to contact Major Investigation Team detectives on 101 quoting reference 1058 of 19/07/22.

“The charity Crimestoppers is offering a reward of up to £20,000 for information it receives that leads to the prosecution of those responsible. Crimestoppers is independent of the police.

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