Belfast Telegraph

Challenge to the alleged torture during internment could be set for Supreme Court

By Alan Erwin

A legal challenge to the alleged torture of 14 men during internment in Northern Ireland could be set to go directly to the UK's highest court.

Lawyers involved in the so-called Hooded Men case want permission to "leapfrog" the usual route and bring any appeal straight to the Supreme Court in London.

The application is based on the public interest in ensuring a final outcome for surviving members of the group in proceedings related to their treatment nearly half a century ago.

In October a High Court judge ruled that a police decision to end preliminary inquiries into suspected British Government-sanctioned torture of the men is to be quashed.

Mr Justice Maguire held that research undertaken to establish any criminality around their deep interrogation in 1971 had been too narrow and lacked focus.

But he rejected related claims that the State was in breach of a legal obligation to carry out a full and independent investigation into their treatment - because the events occurred decades before human rights legislation came into force.

The verdict left the Police Service of Northern Ireland facing a fresh process on how to handle allegations of ministerial involvement which emerged in a 2014 television documentary.

Lawyers in the case returned to court this week seeking a certificate that would allow any challenge to the outcome to bypass the Court of Appeal.

Although no appeal has been confirmed, Mr Justice Maguire was told the bid to take a leapfrog appeal to the Supreme Court was agreed by the parties.

Hugh Southey QC, representing most of the surviving Hooded Men, contended: "If ever there was a case where a certificate is appropriate this is that case."

Following submissions judgment was reserved in the application.

Outside court the men's solicitor, Darragh Mackin of KRW Law, stressed the need to secure a final resolution. 

He said: "Given the significant and importance of the issues in play, it is our view that this matter should proceed directly to the Supreme Court.

"One of our clients has sadly passed away since this case began. Time is of the essence."

Mr Mackin added: "If there is to be an appeal, it should be expedited to the Supreme Court to ensure justice is done and seen to be done by those it directly affects."   

The Hooded Men issued proceedings against the Chief Constable, Secretary of State and the Department of Justice.

During the original case they argued the authorities have failed to comply with duties under the European Convention on Human Rights to properly probe and order a full inquiry into what happened to them while interned at British Army facilities in Ballykelly, Co Derry.

Amid claims the men's treatment was sanctioned by the State, the court heard former British Prime Minister Edward Heath was involved in the decision making process.

Stormont's Prime Minister at the time, Brian Faulkner, was also personally briefed on the deployment of the techniques, according to their case.

Five techniques were used against the men while they were held without trial: being hooded, made to stand spread-eagled in a stress position against a wall and beaten if they fell; forced to listen to constant loud static noise; and deprived of sleep, food and water.

RUC Special Branch officers were were said to have been taught the methods by soldiers but sought assurances of immunity from prosecution before carrying them out.

In a statement one of the group recalled collapsing and being punched in the stomach to revive him.

He said he was against the wall for three days, subjected to kicks or beatings every time he dropped to the ground or fell asleep.

The court was told he suffered hallucinations and prayed for death.

It was claimed that the group's treatment during the British Government's internment programme in Northern Ireland was on the scale of a war crime.

Another of those allegedly tortured was bitten by a soldier's dog and had to drink from the animal's dish, according to legal representatives.

School caretaker Sean McKenna was also slammed into concrete posts and made to go barefoot after being taken from his Newry home in August 1971, it was claimed.

Lawyers for his daughter argued that the interrogation techniques "ruined" him and worsened a heart condition which led his death four years later at the age of 45.

Mary McKenna's legal challenge was heard alongside that brought by the other surviving members of the Hooded Men.

She was 14-years-old when her father and brother were both taken from their house by British soldiers.

His internment ended in May 1972, when he was released on medical grounds to enter a psychiatric hospital.

But the impact of being subjected to the five techniques caused his psychiatric break-down, according to his daughter.

Counsel for the Government and Chief Constable countered that the 1998 Human Rights Act, which came into force in 2000, has no retrospective powers.

He also insisted that a former British government minister who alleged predecessors had authorised torture in Northern Ireland later corrected his assessment.

The claim made by Merlyn Rees in a newly discovered memo was central to the case.

In 1977 Mr Rees, then Home Secretary, sent a letter to Prime Minister James Callaghan setting out his views on procedures deployed against the men, the court heard.

In the memo he states it was his view that "the decision to use methods of torture in Northern Ireland in 1971/72 was taken by ministers - in particular Lord Carrington, then Secretary of State for Defence".

The document, uncovered from the National Archives in London, featured in an RTE documentary in 2014 and led to questions being raised at the Northern Ireland Policing Board.

But it was argued that within weeks Mr Rees' assessment of the men's treatment was "modified" to having faced deep interrogation

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