'Hooded men' seek Northern Ireland torture investigation

Appeal could determine if security forces can be convicted over Troubles torture claims

A potential landmark case has opened in Northern Ireland that could determine whether former soldiers and retired police officers can be convicted over torture allegations.

The Belfast court of appeal will sit for three days to hear the case of the “hooded men”, who were beaten and subjected to severe interrogation techniques at the start of the Troubles.

Their lawyers are seeking permission to bring a case against former members of the military and the Royal Ulster Constabulary, whom the 14 men claim were responsible for beating and torturing them in 1971 during a mass security clampdown known as internment.

Human rights organisations and their legal team believe the judgment could set a precedent for how many controversial killings and other incidents during the Troubles are investigated.

Backed by Amnesty International, the former detainees are seeking to identify those in the security forces who meted out the ill-treatment and those who ordered them to do so.

Speaking before the first day of the hearing, Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland campaigns manager, said: “The torture of these men was authorised at the highest levels of government. In line with the UK’s international human rights obligations, those responsible for sanctioning and carrying out torture, at all levels, must be held accountable and, where possible, prosecuted.”

Francis McGuigan, one of the hooded men, said: “We intend to robustly defend this … there should be an investigation to identify and hold to account those ministers, MoD and RUC officers who were responsible for authorising and carrying out torture on us. The investigation must be independent and must get under way without any further delay.”

The high court in Belfast ruled in October that the Police Service of Northern Ireland must investigate the unlawful treatment of the 14 men.

The European court of human rights rejected the men’s request to have their treatment referred to as torture in March.

The European judges ruled by six to one that the original judgment from the 1970s that Britain was guilty of inhuman and degrading treatment but not torture should stand.

The 14 were subjected to five techniques including hooding, being put in stress positions, forced to listen to white noise and deprived of sleep, food and water. Their ordeal began on 9 August 1971 when hundreds of suspects were detained without trial, the overwhelming majority of them from the nationalist community.

As well as physical assaults and death threats, some detainees were taken up in army helicopters, told they were very high up and then dropped a few feet to the ground.


Henry McDonald Ireland correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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