Former death row prisoner tortured into ‘confession’ takes case

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A Belfast man has begun a High Court action over the British Army’s use of torture techniques to extract a false confession used to secure a death sentence against him at trial.

In October 1972, Liam Holden was arrested at his home in the Whiterock area of Belfast by the British army acting unilaterally and in the absence of the RUC. Held illegally for more than six hours at the Blackmountain military barracks, he had water poured over a cloth held over his face (waterboarding), endured direct physical assault and threats to kill him. All this was done to obtain a false confession.

He was charged with shooting a British soldier, and spent four weeks on death row awaiting execution in 1973 before his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

He subsequently spent 17 years in prison and a further 23 on licence. He became the last person to be sentenced to death under British jurisdiction. His conviction was ultimately quashed by an appeal court in 2012, but he has now begun a civil case in connection with the abuses he endured.

His lawyer, Patricia Coyle, said: “The alleged confession to the murder of Private Frank Bell consisted of one paragraph. He was remanded in custody, prosecuted and tried before a jury for the offences of capital murder and possession of a firearm and ammunition at Belfast City Commission from 15th to 19th April 1973.”

He intends pursuing his allegations of torture through the High Court which has set aside two to three weeks to hear the case in June next year.

“This will be the first time in Northern Ireland in almost 50 years that a civil court has the opportunity to consider, conclude and make a finding that the British army used torture on a civilian in their sole custody in 1972. Such a finding in a civil court would be made on the balance of probability; in other words, that it is more likely than not that the torture occurred,” Ms Coyle said.

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