Britain’s highest court has denied that former RUC police chief Ronnie Flanagan failed to protect Catholic schoolgirls from degrading and inhumane treatment during the Holy Cross dispute.
The PSNI created a ‘corridor of hate’ at Holy Cross girls’ school in north Belfast for three months in 2001, with terrified Catholic children forced to run the gauntlet past a loyalist mob each day.
The hildren and their parents were subjected to terrifying levels of violence and intimidation before the confrontations finally ended in November 2001. Little or no attempt was made to protect the young children from the loyalists, who were seeking to shut a Catholic school in the area.
Paramilitaries and their supporters were allowed by the RUC to stand within inches of the schoolgirls and hurl excrement, urine, bottles and blast bombs, scream epithets and even display pornographic images to the children.
In 2004, the mother of one schoolgirl identified only as ‘E’ took a legal challenge against the RUC’s failure to police the protest apprpriately.
The case reached the House of Lords in June after being rejected by the Court of Appeal in 2006.
In an extraordinary judgment yesterday, five law ‘lords’ dismissed her appeal out of hand.
They said the events witnessed by the Holy Cross children were “obviously terrifying” but said there had been “precautions deemed necessary to enable them to get to school without physical harm”.
Speaking for the law lords, Baroness Hale of Richmond said the children’s experience could have been worse.
She went on: “Hindsight is a wonderful thing and no doubt the police have learned lessons from this whole experience.
“But in a highly charged community dispute such as this, it is all too easy to find fault with what the authorities have done when the real responsibility lies elsewhere.”
Lord Carswell said E’s case, which was supported by the Human Rights Commission, was “quite insufficient to establish that the course adopted was misguided, let alone unreasonable”.
“I am satisfied that the senior police officers did at all stages pay regard to the interests of the children, with particular concern for their physical safety.
“Moreover, the evidence points sufficiently clearly to the conclusion that the action taken was in fact in their best interests.
“I do not find any substance in this argument.”
The five also gratuitously denigrated the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, which it said had ‘wasted their time’ by repeating arguments in its own submission.
The schoolgirl’s solicitor Fearghal Shiels, of Madden & Finucane Solicitors, said the case would now be brought to the European Court of Human Rights.
“It is difficult to reconcile the fact that the House clearly accepted that the children were subject to inhuman and degrading treatment, yet concluded that permitting a protest to take place which the police admitted was illegal, was upholding the rule of law.”