Court finds British Army interrogations were illegal
Hundreds of people could be in line for compensation after a British military document revealed that the British army continued to interrogate suspects it had captured, despite being banned from doing so.
The document, contained in a confidential file, was uncovered during the appeal of Liam Holden, the last man in Ireland to be sentenced to death by the British authorities.
Mr Holden was 19 when he was convicted of a British soldier’s murder in 1972 after signing a confession under duress and being subjected to ‘waterboarding’ -- a torture technique -- in British hands.
The father-of-two later had his death sentence commuted to life imprisonment, but he spent 17 years in jail.
Earlier this summer, the Court of Appeal quashed Mr Holden’s conviction on the grounds that his arrest by British soldiers was unlawful.
However, Britain continued to resist the release of details of the secret ‘blue card rules’. Following a High Court challenge by human rights lawyer Patricia Coyle, the British MoD [Ministry of Defence] has finally agreed to make public the military rules of arrest.
The directive was issued to all members of the military in May 1972 after the then attorney general said that holding people in military detention to obtain intelligence, “as appears sometimes to have been the practice, was certainly outside the law”.
The British army was told to hand suspects over to the RUC police at the earliest opportunity and to question them only to establish the identity of the person under arrest.
Mr Holden said he was working as a chef when he was taken from his home and brought to the British Army barracks.
“By the time they were finished with me I would have admitted to killing JFK,” he said.
He was subjected to sustained torture and then threatened that he would be shot if he did not confess to the killing.
“I was beaten and they told me to admit I had shot the soldier, but I said that wasn’t true because I didn’t,” he said.
“Then six soldiers came into the cubicle where I was being held and grabbed me.
“They held me down on the floor and one of them placed a towel over my face, and they got water and they started pouring the water through the towel all round my face, very slowly.
“After a while you can’t get your breath but you still try to get your breath, so when you were trying to breathe in through your mouth you are sucking the water in, and if you try to breathe in through your nose, you are sniffing the water in.
“It was continual, a slow process, and at the end of it you basically feel like you are suffocating.”
Mr Holden said he eventually ‘confessed’ after he was threatened with being shot.
Ms Coyle, of Harte Coyle Collins solicitors, said the release of the previously confidential information could open the door for anyone held in military custody for more than four hours after May 1972, to sue the British government.
“It is quite astonishing that it has taken almost 40 years for the ‘blue card rules’ and army directives underpinning the rules to become public,” she said.