Some of the ‘Hooded Men’ who received a PSNI apology for their torture this week have dismissed it as “too little, too late” or rejected it outright.
In 1971, the fourteen men were selected from hundreds of interned nationalist civilians and subjected to various abuses including hooding; deprivation of sleep, food and water, forced to stand in stress positions; and beaten if they fell, for over a week.
Some of the men were hooded and thrown from helicopters a short distance off the ground, having been told they were hundreds of feet in the air.
While the British Army was responsible for picking up the men, it was the (then RUC) police who subjected them to these violent and brutal ‘interrogations’.
Senior British military figures have long sought to downplay the brutalisation of innocent men and delayed efforts to recognise the facts of their treatment.
But after a decades-long campaign, the PSNI statement admitted that the treatment of the men “would be characterised today as torture”.
“We wish to acknowledge that the treatment you received was not acceptable at that time and is not acceptable by modern standards of policing,” they said.
“We would like to convey an apology to you for the actions and omissions of police officers at that time.”
The surviving eight members of the Hooded Men gathered at Garnerville PSNI base in Belfast on Tuesday morning where the apology was issued to them. But there were mixed feelings as they spoke to the media afterwards.
Michael Donnelly, who is from Derry, described the apology as “50 years too late” for him and he said that it personally feels “fairly meaningless”.
“I do not accept it - not at all,” Mr Donnelly said.
“I was trying to survive literally by the second, you could barely breathe at times when you were wearing the hood,” he said.
“Sometimes I thought I was going to survive and then other times I thought I was going to die.”
Mr Donnelly said he does not see why he should forgive anyone for his treatment.
Liam Shannon and Jim Auld described the British government as the “orchestrators” of the torture and they “must now do the right thing and apologise”.
“This apology in some ways is too little too late,” they said.
“It ought to have been delivered long before now and is only coming on the back of latest legal challenges against the police over their failure to investigate the criminality of the State,” they said.
They called on the PSNI to remove their objection to their judicial review challenge, listed in a few weeks’ time.
“The apology was timed to try and influence the case,” they said.
“Any suggestion that we will stop our battle for a proper investigation is premature.
“We also now call upon the state to withdraw its insensitive attempt to stop our rightful claims for proper compensation for the horrendous treatment suffered by us.
“This apology must be seen in its proper context. It will only have any real effect if it will be replicated in all outstanding legal cases and leads to the government apologising as well. Otherwise it looks like the government passing the buck and seen as hollow.”
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood agreed the apology was “far too late.. but it is important in the journey for truth and justice for the Hooded Men.
“It’s now on the British government, British Army and security forces who had a hand in their barbaric torture to issue an apology now.”
Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly said it was “only through their determination and persistence that the British State has not succeeded in covering up their role in the systematic torture of these men.
“The demand for truth and justice will not go away. Neither will it be buried by the British government’s flawed legacy bill.”
It emerged that Joe Clarke (pictured, inset), the youngest of the surviving Hooded Men who died on Monday aged 71, received the apology on his death-bed. His death added to the toll of an emotional week.
Mr McIlmurray described how the treatment Mr Clarke received took its toll on him.
“After nine days of torture, Joe was brought to Crumlin Road Prison, and handed over by the army to prison staff at the gate,” he explained.
“When Joe saw himself in a mirror he broke down. For those nine days, the boiler suit he was forced to wear had been his bed and his toilet.”
He added that the surviving members of the Hooded Men group offered “their heartfelt condolences to his wife Marie and his children to his wider family circle and friends”.
“Joe may have lost this battle, but be assured the surviving eight Hooded Men, Michael Donnelly, Kevin Hannaway, Francie McGuigan, Brian Turley, Liam Shannon, Jim Auld, Patrick McNally and Davy Rogers, will continue to campaign for justice in his memory,” he said.
An apology was brought to the grave of Pat Shivers, who died in 1985, aged 54. His premature death was blamed on his treatment.
In 2014, his widow revealed how the torture “took over his mind and his life”.
She said that afterwards, “he went through the motions” of life, but “you could see the fear in his eyes, and the horror of it, and that’s how Pat lived his life until he died”.
She said she was “delighted” with the apology, but called on the Dublin government to pursue an apology from London.
“This was not soldiers acting of their own bat, this torture was authorised at the highest political level so we need an apology to reflect that,” she said.
“The British government shouldn’t hang around, it needs to get on with it. I am 82 years old. Six of the 14 men are dead, and looking around today it’s obvious that many who are still here are increasingly frail.”
Hooded Men case co-ordinator Jim McIlmurray said the treatment of the Hooded Men had a wider impact.
“Their ordeal had ramifications far beyond the north of Ireland,” he said.
“The Hooded Men provided a blueprint for some of the most notorious state-sponsored torture in recent years, from Abu Ghraib to Guantanamo Bay.”