Irish Republican News · October 12, 2010
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Fresh calls for torture inquiry

Amnesty International and British Irish Rights Watch today urged British authorities not to forget victims of torture in Ireland, following the release of a new Guardian film by Ian Cobain.

The organisations repeated calls for the investigation of allegations of torture and other ill-treatment and emphasised that such investigations must be included in any mechanism established to deal with outstanding abuses in Britain’s past.

Hundreds of men and women found guilty of offences in the North of Ireland during the conflict are attempting to have their cases reopened, after the confessions that led to their convictions were beaten out of them by police.

The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), the body that investigates alleged miscarriages, has received applications from more than 200 people who argue that they fell victim to miscarriages of justice at the province’s non-jury courts.

So far the court of appeal in Belfast has heard 26 cases referred by the commission, and has overturned convictions in 24 of those. Solicitors in Belfast and Derry say they believe many more people will be applying to the commission in the near future.

As the appeals mount, a number of men who served as detectives with the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) have told the London Guardian how senior members encouraged the systematic mistreatment of suspects at Castlereagh interrogation centre in east Belfast, and elsewhere, after the establishment of the Diplock courts in 1973.

They say they took full advantage of the vague wording of emergency legislation which allowed the courts to admit confessions as evidence, providing there was no evidence they had been obtained through the use of torture, or inhuman or degrading treatment.

One retired detective commented: “Do repeated slaps around the face amount to torture? What about an occasional kick in the balls?”

A number of people who pleaded guilty on legal advice after signing so-called confessions have succeeded in having their convictions overturned.

In addition to the 26 cases heard by the court of appeal, a further seven cases are waiting to be heard, and 80-odd are still being considered by the CCRC. These include 47 people who were juveniles at the time of their conviction.

A number of those whose convictions have been overturned have been able to establish that there were grounds to suspect that the RUC men responsible for their own mistreatment had beaten others.

Almost all the men and women who are appealing were convicted by the controversial non-jury Diplock courts.

Eamonn McDermott, who served 16 years in jail after confessing to the murder of a Catholic RUC detective in Derry in 1977 - and whose conviction was overturned 30 years later - said: “What I find interesting is that the first time the Diplock system is scrutinised by any sort of outside agency, it starts crumbling. I think there was quite a lot of surprise at the CCRC at what was acceptable at the time.”

Few people from the North approached the CCRC during the early years of its existence, with the result that it staged a conference in the province in 2004 aimed at raising awareness and promoting public confidence in its work. A small trickle of applications followed, but that has recently swollen.

Some of those whose convictions have already been quashed have received substantial sums in compensation. Others, however, have not, with the British government arguing that there is no obligation for them to be compensated. A number are challenging this refusal through the courts.

“Victims, including victims of torture, have frequently been left out of the debate about how to deal with the legacy of Northern Ireland’s past,” said Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen.

“Anyone responsible for torturing people must be held accountable. This should include those higher up the chain of command who authorised torture or ill-treatment of detainees. This must involve the possibility of criminal prosecutions, where appropriate.

“Without this, and without the truth, neither justice nor reconciliation will be achieved and the door will be left open for these abuses to be repeated. Impunity will only breed further injustice.”

British Irish Rights Watch Director Jane Winter said: “We have long been aware of serious human rights violations against suspects and prisoners by members of the RUC and the army in Northern Ireland. It is important that these shocking incidents are exposed and that where possible justice is now seen to be done. The impunity around interrogation techniques amounting to torture has continued as we have seen in the case of Iraqi detainee Baha Mousa and others and must now be institutionally expunged.”

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