A senior British army officer is to be sued over the death of a Catholic man in Northern Ireland more than 40 years ago.

Eugene "Paddy" Heenan, 47, was killed in February 1973 when loyalist paramilitaries threw a grenade at the minibus carrying him and 14 others to a building site in east Belfast.

Mr Heenan's widow, Mary, is now taking legal action against the Ministry of Defence and General Frank Kitson, claiming her husband died because of negligence and misfeasance in office.

It marks the first time a retired senior soldier has been personally sued over alleged actions during the Troubles.

Solicitor Kevin Winters said civil proceedings for damages have been issued.

Gen Kitson, who is now in his late 80s, rose to become commander-in-chief UK Land Forces from 1982 to 1985.

He was in charge of military operations in Northern Ireland during the early 1970s.

He has been named as a co-defendant in the legal action on grounds that he and others used agents knowing, or should have known, that they would take part in criminal actions.

Court papers claim Gen Kitson is "liable personally for negligence and misfeasance in public office", because, in creating his policy, he was "reckless as to whether state agents would be involved in murder".

His doctrine included the use of "counter-gangs", subversion, psychological operations and the creation of covert military units such as the controversial Military Reaction Force.

Ex-soldier Albert "Ginger" Baker received a life sentence for killing Mr Heenan and three others but later claimed to have links to British intelligence.

Baker was a member of the Ulster Defence Association at the time of Mr Heenan's murder and known to be a leading member of the so-called "Romper Room" gang.

Mrs Heenan's legal team say Gen Kitson's command and influence were such as to make him liable for the actions of Baker and others in the murder of Mr Heenan.

Mr Heenan, from Andersonstown, west Belfast, had been working as a foreman at a Catholic school.

Although no inquest was held into Mr Heenan's death, it has been claimed he could have survived if first aid had been administered quickly.