Belfast Telegraph

Hooded men: 'While there's breath in my body I'll fight to prove it was torture. This makes me very, very angry'

The so-called Hooded Men at a press conference in Belfast following the rejection of their case by the European Court of Human Rights
The so-called Hooded Men at a press conference in Belfast following the rejection of their case by the European Court of Human Rights
Deirdre Montgomery, daughter of the late Michael Montgomery, one of the 'Hooded Men', sheds a tear at the press conference
Claire McNeilly

By Claire McNeilly

One of the so-called Hooded Men has spoken of his anger after a European court rejected an Irish request to find that he and 13 others suffered torture while they were interned.

Liam Shannon, who experiences nightmares and flashbacks, also vowed to "never give up the fight" for justice, which he promised his grandchildren "will carry on long after I'm gone".

The 70-year-old and the other Hooded Men expressed dismay and disappointment at the decision by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to reject the Republic's call over the controversial case.

In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph at the offices of KRW Law, which has been representing the Hooded Men, he admitted that he believed they were finally going to see "the wrongs of the past put right" yesterday.

"I've been fighting for 47 years and, to be honest, I thought the ruling was going to go in our favour," Mr Shannon said.

"I honestly believed that we had presented enough information and evidence to convince the court that this wasn't degrading and inhuman treatment; this was torture in a purpose-built torture chamber in Ballykelly."

The Belfast man added: "While there's breath in my body I will fight to prove that we were tortured. And when I'm not here, and if it's not won, my grandchildren will do it."

The Hooded Men were 14 Catholics interned - detained indefinitely without trial - in 1971 who said they were subjected to a number of torture methods. These included five techniques - hooding, stress positions, white noise, sleep deprivation and deprivation of food and water - along with beatings and death threats.

The men were hooded and flown by helicopter to a secret location, later revealed as an Army camp at Ballykelly, outside Londonderry.

In 1978, the ECHR held that the UK had carried out inhuman and degrading treatment - but it fell short of defining this treatment as "torture". Then, in 2014, the Irish government said it would ask the European Court to revise this judgment.

Mr Shannon said he believes the decision not to revise the 1978 judgment and find that the five techniques constituted torture was "political".

"It makes me very, very angry; not alone because of what happened to us, but because the flawed judgment has been used for decades by governments all over the world," he said. The ECHR found: "The government of Ireland had not demonstrated the existence of facts that were unknown to the court at the time or which would have had a decisive influence on the original judgment. There was therefore no justification to revise the judgment".

The revision request was dismissed by six votes to one, with only the judge elected after they were nominated by the Republic issuing a dissenting opinion. Mr Shannon, who was diagnosed with Crohn's disease following his release from prison in 1974, said his health has suffered as a direct result of the stress and trauma he endured through sustained torture.

"In the past three years I've had nine stents put in my heart and last year I had an abdominal aneurysm," he said.

"Only sheer doggedness keeps me going - that and trying to stop something which I know to be terribly, terribly wrong."

He added that his wife Bernadette (73) and four children - Annette (50), Jennifer (48), Adeline (47) and Liam (50) - support him but "don't like what's happened to me".

Mr Shannon added that lawyers for the men have called on the Irish government to appeal.

Daragh Mackin, a solicitor from KRW Law who has been representing the Hooded Men, voiced his disappointment.

"In circumstances where the Belfast High Court, the London Supreme Court has ruled that these techniques are torture, it is difficult to comprehend how the European Court has missed this opportunity," he said.

"It is deeply regretful that we are left with only the consideration that it is procedural gymnastics that have allowed for this ruling to continue and for this grave injustice that the Hooded Men suffer and continue to suffer."

Grainne Teggart, Amnesty's Northern Ireland campaigns manager, called for "an independent and effective investigation into what happened" to the men "and prosecute any state agents involved in sanctioning or carrying out these violations at the time".

Meanwhile, Ulster Unionist justice spokesperson Doug Beattie said it was time for the European Court to look at IRA crimes following the high profile case.

"Amongst the thousands of IRA victims were cases of people being abducted, held, tortured and murdered," he said.

"Some were left at the side of a lonely border road. Others were dumped in unmarked and secret graves. Unlike the 'Hooded Men' they were not alive to tell the tale in a courtroom. The IRA was promoted, endorsed and justified by Sinn Fein for decades, and still is to this very day.

"Many people will now be asking if the Irish government would be prepared to take such a stand for the victims of the IRA."

Mr Beattie added: "Given the number of self-styled 'human rights' lawyers in Northern Ireland, one would have thought there would be no shortage of takers to highlight undoubted instances of crimes against humanity - including abduction, torture, murder and the targeting of civilians."

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