Belfast Telegraph

New evidence unearthed in 'Hooded Men' torture case, court told

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

By Alan Erwin

Newly unearthed documents point to a potential conspiracy around British Government ministers allegedly authorising the torture of the so-called Hooded Men, the Court of Appeal has heard.

Senior judges were also told one of the group was forced to stand against a wall for 30 hours amid treatment amounting to criminal assaults during internment in Northern Ireland 47 years ago.

The PSNI is challenging a previous ruling that its decision to end preliminary inquiries into the deep interrogation methods deployed against the 14 men was seriously flawed and should be quashed.

Lawyers for the Chief Constable claim no fresh evidence has emerged which would trigger a legal obligation to continue inquiries and seek the prosecution of anyone who perpetrated offences.

Five techniques were said to have been used against the men while they were held without trial: being hooded and made to stand 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.

Counsel for the daughter of Sean McKenna, one of the Hooded Men who died four years after his detention, countered that an unearthed memo from a former British minister should compel further investigation.

Seven of the 14 ‘Hooded Men' following a press conference at KRW Law in Belfast (Brian Lawless/PA)

In 1977 Merlyn 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 belief 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.

Karen Quinlivan QC argued that the Rees memo is significant and publicly unavailable in the 1970s - triggering the investigative obligation.

She said: "There's certainly material which raises, credibly and plausibly, an allegation that there was specific ministerial authorisation of the five techniques, and therefore there's evidence of a conspiracy which should be investigated."

Surviving members of the Hooded Men brought the original proceedings against the Chief Constable, Secretary of State and the Department of Justice after allegations of ministerial involvement emerged in a 2014 television documentary.

They argue 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.

PANews BT_P-8033b504-55e3-4602-b933-fab819daa85e_I1.jpg
A number of the surviving Hooded Men outside Buswell's Hotel in Dublin ahead of an Amnesty International press conference

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

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

Lawyers representing the Chief Constable and the Government insist Mr Rees later modified his assessment of the Hooded Men's treatment from torture to deep interrogation.

One of the challenges has been brought by Mary McKenna on behalf of her school caretaker father, whose death in 1975 she believes is linked to what he endured during internment.

"The reality is that two of the five techniques at the very minimum involve criminal assaults," her barrister told the three appeal judges.

"Wall-standing, in the case of Mr McKenna for a period of 30 hours over the course of his detention, that's recognised as unlawful."

Ms Quinlivan further contended: "In the 1970s it was not apparent to anyone that there was authorisation by British ministers, as opposed to Mr Faulkner, of specific use of the five techniques.

"In fact, the opposite was being stated repeatedly - that ministers didn't have a full grasp of what was going on."

The appeal continues.

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