Paedophile, Pimp, Predator: How Northern Ireland most prolific sex offender Martin Heaney was caught

Moment Martin Heaney arrested coming out of Mass at south Belfast church.

By Brendan McCourt, UTV Up Close producer

To an outsider, 57-year-old Martin Heaney looked like an ordinary middle-aged bloke quietly going about his daily business. In reality, he was a gangmaster of the shadowy sex trade in Northern Ireland, who police believe lured over 120 young women into a cynical web of exploitation.

Operating below the radar for 15 years, he targeted vulnerable girls, with troubled backgrounds, drink, drug and abuse problems.

The former bus and taxi driver’s strippogram company in Belfast, was merely a front to woo young women with few prospects and little money, into what appeared to be a glamorous lifestyle. Exclusive interviews with three of his victims, police bodycam footage of his arrest and recordings of his interviews, help to unravel a story of greed and cynical exploitation. Most of these women were in their late teens and early 20s.

Watch the full programme here: Up Close: Paedophile Pimp Predator

With the promise of quick easy cash, he would persist in seeking sexual favours and then manipulate his victims into becoming sex workers, controlling and using them for his own gratification.

Heaney put the girls further at risk by advertising them as available for unprotected sex and other sexual acts, without their consent or knowledge.

One of his victims, Donna (not her real name) talked of how she was manipulated into acts she never wanted to take part in.

“I never ever wanted to do unprotected because there’s just so many risks, but, I felt if you told him no, what was going to be his reaction. There were times where it was like threesome. It used to be so awkward….it was your friend…you’re being forced to do things with her and other people.”

As Dectective Constable Andy Hull of the PSNI’s Trafficking Unit explained, Heaney would advertise the girls on sex websites and would promise buyers 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.”

When police raided Heaney’s house in a quiet part of Dromore, Co Down, they could hardly believe their eyes - on his laptop they discovered 16,000 videos.

Heaney setting up his camera for secret recordings.

Heaney had been secretly filming himself and sex buyers having sex with the girls. It left his victims feeling further abused and humiliated. One, who we’ll call 'Kate' said: “Sick, angry, annoyed. Its horrible to think someone filmed you at your most vulnerable, It just made me mad, then I cried for a while.“ When his case came to court , earlier this year, he pleaded guilty to controlling prostitution, human trafficking and voyeurism. He was sentenced to five years - with half of it on licence.

Because he spent two and a half years in custody after his arrest in September 2019, he walked free. Within days however, he was re-arrested for breaching his release conditions and is back in jail, facing further possible charges.

Heaney confronted in ice cream shop.

Can he ever change? Psychiatrist Paul Bell thinks not: “Individuals who do this sort of thing are not really in control of their impulses. they’re just not in control of themselves.” One of his victims concurs: “A leopard never changes his spots. He doesn’t see anything wrong with what he done even though its massively wrong.He thinks its ok but it hurts and ruins a lot of people.”

Paedophile, Pimp, Predator, airs on UTV, Tuesday, November 15, at 11.05pm.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know.