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UTV’s current affairs series ‘Up Close’ looks into Martin Heaney’s sex trafficking conviction

The next episode of UTV’s current affairs programme ‘Up Close’ investigates sex trafficking in Northern Ireland and in particular the case of convicted predator and trafficker Martin Heaney in an in-depth programme which airs this week.


Presented by UTV reporter Emma Patterson, she speaks to survivors and police about Heaney’s crimes and their impact. 

She also asks academics, charities and the legal profession of the effectiveness of recent changes in sex trafficking legislation, introduced by Lord Morrow in 2016, and reviewed in 2019, as well as whether sex work should be legalised.


Three of Martin Heaney’s victims bravely speak out for the first time on local TV. With identities protected and voiced by actors, they all give harrowing accounts of how they were preyed upon by Martin Heaney and forced into prostitution, and unbeknownst to them, advertised on porn websites, driven by him to towns all over Ireland, and secretly filmed while carrying out sex acts with Heaney himself and other clients. 

One says she felt ‘violated and disgusted’, with another saying, she was “sick angry and annoyed... it’s horrible to think that someone filmed you at your most vulnerable.”


All were vulnerable women, some with histories of having suffered sexual violence in the past, some with addiction issues, some underage.

One said of the impact that Heaney has had on her life: "Sex doesn’t mean anything important and that’s a shame. Some people deserve to be loved, but you feel you can’t give that, it’s sad really."


The programme reveals how police became aware of his actions almost three years ago, and viewers will see for the first time PSNI bodycam footage taken during his arrest in 2019. Police describe the various stages of the eight-month long investigation, as well as the trail that Heaney left which led to his arrest, which exposed over 15 years of abuse. Police were able to track down 40 of the 120 victims, leaving 80 still to be identified.


Detective Constable Andy Hull said:

He seemed shocked, he seemed to be of the belief that he was a father figure to these girls and he was helping them.”


Andy Hull also explained that Heaney would have promised clients that the girls would perform certain acts without them knowing. 

He would be sending them in the house, and there would be men there, they’re expecting some of the more extreme things that he was offering on his website.  However, the women weren’t willing to do that, so he was putting them in real danger.”


There is also exclusive footage of him setting up a secret camera in a room which he used to record sex acts taking place that he had arranged. 

Police found over 16,000 videos on his home computer. 

Despite the evidence and testimony from 12 of the 120 plus women he exploited, he walked free having already served the sentence the judge handed him, only to be rearrested shortly after for breaking the terms of his licence and is now back in jail.

There are also interviews with Belfast Telegraph Political Editor Suzanne Breen who, while working as a journalist for another paper earlier in her career, having heard about Heaney’s activities in 2008, posed as a single mother desperate for work, which led to her meeting Heaney in Belfast and him propositioning her with paid for sex that very evening. 

On another occasion he contacted her about coming to his house for sex, and when she said she didn’t have a child minder, he suggested she bring the baby with her.  Suzanne said:

I was just horrified, how terrible this was for this man to be proposing to bring an innocent child into something so repulsive and revolting.” 

Other journalists exposed other activities and victims but he continued his predatory behaviour.

Psychiatrist Paul Bell also gives an interesting insight into Heaney’s mind saying:

He had a different type of sexual motivation than most of us have….very often goes along with someone who has very little feelings for other people.” 

Queen’s academic Caoimhe Ni Dhonaill discusses research carried out on the effectiveness of the legislation, with charities highlighting potential drawbacks, with some calling for the decriminalisation of sex work to ensure sex worker safety.

The PSNI has warned that there are more cases like Heaney’s out there, which involve both foreign gangs and local people. When Emma asked Detective Constable Andy Hull was Heaney’s the most extreme example of trafficking and coercion he’s seen, he says simply: “No,” explaining that there are cases currently going through the legal system which are more extreme.

Brendan McCourt, who produced and directed the programme said:

“It was important for us to examine this case and to probe further to see if legislation is working. Thank you to our local Sunday papers which followed Heaney’s story and provided pictures and reports for the programme, and to the police who are appealing for the remaining victims to come forward.  Most of all thank you to the victims who took part in the programme, for speaking out so bravely and with such dignity.”

‘Up Close’ airs this Tuesday 15th November at 11.05pm on UTV.


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