A historic legal victory has been achieved with a ruling at the Supreme Court in London against the PSNI police for its refusal to investigate the torture of a group of civilians known as the ‘Hooded Men’.
The judgement has offered vindication at the highest level to the victims for their lifelong campaign against sectarian British policing and their cover-ups in the north of Ireland.
It has also ramped up pressure for the disbandment of the PSNI, which has been even more deeply disgraced by court judgements against it this week.
A lawyer for the group, Darragh Mackin, said it was a “landmark victory”.
“It was always clear that the initial investigation by the PSNI was nothing more than a window dressing exercise which only sought to pay lip service to the term ‘investigation’”, he said.
The 14 men were among 350 people arrested during internment in August 1971 who were selected for various torture methods as Britain sought to defeat nationalist resistance in Ireland.
They were taken to Ballykelly Army Camp in County Derry where they were subjected to being hooded, placed in stress positions for long periods, subjected to sustained loud noise and denied food, water and sleep.
The men were also beaten and flung, hooded, from helicopters that they believed were flying at height, but were in fact hovering close to the ground.
It was the PSNI who took the case to the highest court in Britain having failed in Belfast’s Court of Appeal to overturn a High Court ruling that found it should complete an investigation into the treatment of the men.
The judges referred to a British government memorandum which “referred to the use of torture and to its approval by UK ministers”.
They said: “There is no evidence that anyone involved in the authorisation or operation of the hooded men’s ill-treatment has ever been the subject of criminal charges.
“The court finds that the PSNI’s decision taken on 17 October 2014 not to investigate further the allegation [in the memorandum] was based on a seriously flawed report, was therefore irrational, and falls to be quashed.”
A half-hearted PSNI response indicated their intention to continue to defy the courts. It said it would “carefully consider its implications for future legacy investigations” but failed to confirm that it would carry out a meaningful inquiry into the crimes perpetrated on the men.
The 26 County Taoiseach Micheál Martin described the ruling as a vindication of the men’s campaign. Speaking in Brussels, he said: “There should have been an investigation much, much earlier in what was clear use of torture and an abuse of the basic human rights of those people.”
Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said she welcomed the findings and again called on the PSNI to respond.
“These men have been tortured, it’s been recognised internationally - it’s now time for the PSNI to do their job.”
Sinn Féin justice spokesperson Martin Kenny said “any new investigation must also be entirely independent of the PSNI and other members of the British policing and security forces.”
One of the men, Francis McGuigan, revealed he still suffers with the trauma of what he experienced following internment in 1971.
Mr McGuigan said he was delighted with the verdict, but added that he did not believe the PSNI could carry out any new investigation into the case.
He said: “I think the PSNI have to realise that with these judgments against them, they are not the people to investigate it.
“I think the next step is that Jon Boutcher (a detective who is in charge of other independent historical investigations) takes over the case. I have no faith in the PSNI doing it.
“The RUC were the people who did the torture, the interrogation. I don’t see how the PSNI can go in and investigate the RUC.”
Mr McGuigan said he was sad that some of the other Hooded Nen were not alive to hear the Supreme Court judgment.
“I think it is important that we carry on, not just for ourselves but for their families. For all the families I think it is important that this goes on and that the truth eventually gets out.”
He said he would have loved to have lived a normal life.
“I haven’t lived a normal life, I have lived with this for the past 50 years. I still have nightmares, I still get afraid to go to bed at night because I am having a bad day.
“I have seen myself hiding in the roof space of my own home. I have been found hiding in wardrobes at home.
“I have been getting counselling on and off for 40 years. It is only in the past six or seven years that I have admitted to myself why I needed counselling.
“I have actually stopped going because there are times when I came out and I was worse than when I went in.”
The victims are still fighting for the abuse to be formally recognised as torture rather than an “interrogation”, as elements of the British media continue to describe it.
Mr McGuigan said he wanted to see the British government held responsible for torture and rejected proposals for a ban on conflict investigations and litigation announced earlier this year by British Direct Ruler Brandon Lewis.
“I spent seven days in a boiler suit. I was hooded for seven days,” he said.
“I finished up with three broken ribs. Everybody talks about the five techniques, there was a sixth one, which was sheer brutality.
“It was just a nightmare. There was this white noise.
“In the interrogation to ask you to spell your name. There was one occasion when I couldn’t spell it. I kept making a mistake, but I couldn’t spell my own name.
“That was the state they had put my mind in. I thought I was losing my mind.”
It was all sanctioned by the British government, he added.
“Boris Johnson’s idea of an amnesty or drawing the line in the sand, it is not about the rank and file soldiers, it is not about what happened here in the north, it is about getting the British government off the hook.
“The Government sanctioned torture against what are classified as its own citizens, it is a war crime.”
VINDICATION FOR SMYTH-CAMPBELL FAMILY
The Supreme Court in London also rejected efforts by the PSNI to defend their approach to the shooting of Jean Smyth-Campbell.
Ms Smyth-Campbell was 24 when she died after being shot as she sat in a car on the Glen Road in west Belfast in 1972.
Her death was initially blamed by police on the IRA, but an undercover British Army unit, the ‘Military Reaction Force’, is believed to have been behind the killing.
In March 2019, the Court of Appeal in Belfast ruled that the PSNI would not be independent in carrying out a new investigation into the death, a ruling upheld on Wednesday.
In a statement following the decision, Ms Smyth-Campbell’s sister Margaret McQuillan, said: “Our family has today been vindicated by the ruling of the British Supreme Court.
“They have confirmed the Police Service of Northern Ireland failings in the case. The PSNI have already apologised for these failings. We believe, however, that the PSNI cannot be trusted, now or ever, in any legacy case, by any family.”
Speaking on behalf of the charity Paper Trail, Ciarán MacAirt, who in 2014 discovered the British Army documents which led to the court case, said: “Jean’s family are an inspiration to families who lost loved ones during the conflict.
“Their battle for truth and justice is a beacon for us all.”