Belfast Telegraph

Hooded Men 'vindicated' after senior judges rule treatment in 1971 would be torture today

Francis McGuigan (left) and Liam Shannon, two the ‘Hooded Men’ outside court
Francis McGuigan (left) and Liam Shannon, two the ‘Hooded Men’ outside court
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

A man interrogated during internment in Northern Ireland has spoken of his "vindication" after the Court of Appeal ruled his treatment would be considered torture if it happened today.

Francis McGuigan is one of 14 known as the 'Hooded Men' who endured harsh interrogation techniques while imprisoned without trial 48 years ago.

They included having to stand against a wall in stress positions and beaten if they fell, being forced to listen to loud and constant static noise and being denied food, sleep and water.

It was also claimed they were hooded and thrown from a low flying helicopter, believing they were hundreds of feet in the air.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Mr McGuigan said: "We're all ecstatic here and find it hard to believe. We feel it justifies what we've been fighting for over the last 48 years."

Yesterday, the PSNI lost an appeal on the case after a previous ruling quashed their decision to drop an investigation into the 1971 events.

A majority decision from senior judges added the group now has a legitimate expectation that police investigate claims the Government had sanctioned the interrogation techniques.

They added that a previous investigation into ministerial involvement was irrational and failed to live up to a promise made by the former Chief Constable George Hamilton.

The court rejected, however, that the state had failed in their duty to carry out a full and independent inquiry as the events in 1971 took place before the introduction of human rights legislation.

Mr McGuigan added: "Although we do feel totally vindicated in our fight, we're still not finished.

"We got the British Government to admit, or the court to prove, that we were tortured.

"What happened today confirmed what we already knew. If it happened today it would be torture, so why would that not be the case 48 years ago?"

Yesterday Lord Chief Justice Morgan and Lord Justice Stephens said: "We are satisfied that the treatment to which Mr McGuigan and Mr [Sean] McKenna were subject would, if it occurred today, properly be characterised as torture bearing in mind that the convention is a living instrument."

Adding that while it was natural for civil servants to want to protect the political reputation of ministers, the judges said: "There is a real danger that the rule of law is undermined if that extends to protecting ministers from investigation in respect of criminal offences possibly committed from them."

Sir Donnell Deeny disagreed with the other judges on two points.

He said that it was inappropriate to change the definition to torture after 48 years and that the Chief Constable should be entitled not to investigate the events further.

In 1978, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found that the treatment of the Hooded Men to be inhuman and degrading but that it fell short of torture.

The court has since declined to revise its position, but Mr McGuigan has said the group will now try to use the latest ruling to change this.

"This treatment cannot be forgotten, it has had lasting and terrible effects on my mental health to this day, and I can only hope that this judgment will assist someone somewhere in the world that suffers torture at the hand of their government," he said.

In a statement yesterday Chief Constable Simon Byrne said: "Firstly I wish to acknowledge the distress that this case has caused to many people over many years.

"I note today's judgment and we will take time to consider the fullness of its implications and our next steps.

"We will now determine how best to progress this matter and meet our legal obligations.

"This case again brings into focus the need for a societal response to issues of legacy.

"We will study this judgment carefully before making any further public commentary."

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