Family's tribute to the man loved by everyone

THE family of Jim Heasley who died after being attacked on his way home after a night out have revealed that he had spent five years battling throat cancer 13 years ago.

But it was an attack on the popular pensioner, known as Sunshine, in Manor Drive in the early hours of Sunday morning October 17 that was to rob him of life.

His brother David Heasley said that his older brother, a slight and frail man, never regained consciousness after the attack as he walked home from the Pigeon Club. He passed away peacefully on October 29 at Belfast City Hospital.

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Following his death Jim's eyes have been donated for transplant and will help two people to regain sight again,

It is the second murder David and his family have had to deal with. His grand daughter Leona's partner Darren Roberts was stabbed in Lisburn on June 13, 2009.

The Heasley family were brought up in Sawel Place in Tonagh. Jim went to Central Primary School and was a fitter at Hilden Mill before he joined the RAF. He also worked as a plumber at Finlays in Belfast and as a mess hand for 30 years at Thiepval Barracks.

David remembers him as a character who was loved and respected by everyone.

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"He was a real character," said David. "He loved his drink and he loved a bit of craic. He was a real Liverpool fan. He loved to watch his team on TV and loved to play cards"

He was known as Sunshine to his friends because he would call everyone 'Sunshine.'

Jim moved to Craig Gardens ten years ago and was a well known face at Hagues and the Pigeon Club.

"Everyone was his friend, everyone knew him," David said.

David was first made aware that his beloved brother was seriously injured when he got a call from his sister at 6am on the Sunday morning of the attack. He did not realise how badly injured Jim was until he visited him at Lagan Valley Hospital where it was revealed that he had serious head injuries.

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He was later transferred to the Mater and the day before he died was taken to the City.

"He never regained consciousness," said David. "The doctors had hoped that after 48 hours he would come out of the coma but he never did. We lived in hope that we would pull through. I knew as soon as I saw him that he was in a bad way. All we could do was hope and pray.

"After he had pulled through throat cancer in 1997 we would never have expected this," said David. "He had spent five years battling cancer and was proud of that.

"It is really sickening when you think that he battled cancer and then this happened. "He would not have hurt anyone and was disgusted by violence.

"He was 70 years old, frail and slight. "

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David said Jim would often go to the Pigeon Club for company and a drink

"He enjoyed dancing. So the joke was that he would hobble to the Pigeon Club with his walking stick and once the music was on he would be up on the floor," said David. "He loved the craic, talking about football.

"Anyone who knew him liked him You couldn't have disliked him. He was just a character. "

David said Jim's death has left the family distraught.

"We just cannot believe it," he said.

Referring to the decision to donate Jim's corneas for transplant David said: "That is something that he would have wanted.

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"We had been approached and we agreed. We have been told that it will help two people to see. We as a family know it is something that he would have wanted."

David said the family would appeal to anyone who can help the police with their investigation to contact detectives.

"We would appeal to anyone who can help to ring the police," he said.

"It was a massive funeral last Thursday. There were about 600 people in St Paul's Church and we are very grateful for all the support we have received, especially the nursing staff at the intensive care units."

Jim Heasley with brother David and sister in law Vera