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Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Judge rules that Hooded Men treatment was ‘torture’

The daughter of a Newry man who became one of the “Hooded Men” – fourteen Catholic men who were subjected to horrific interrogation methods carried out by British soldiers and sanctioned by the British government during internment in 1971 – says the recent high court ruling which finally deems the men’s treatment as “torture” has stunned the surviving men and their families.

Mary McKenna’s father, Sean, was taken from his home along with his 17 year old son (Sean junior) on the morning of internment, 9th August 1971.   Sean senior was taken to a secret interrogation centre in rural County Derry where he and 13 other “hooded men” were tortured for up to 10 days with hoods placed over their heads the entire time.  The men were subjected to the soon-to-be infamous “five techniques” of hooding, stress positions, white noise, sleep deprivation and deprivation of food and water – combined with brutal beatings and  death threats. Some reported being blindfolded and thrown from helicopters they were told were hundreds of feet in the air when they were just several feet off the ground. None of them would ever fully recover from what they suffered in Ballykelly and several did not recover at all.

Mr McKenna, who was the oldest of the hooded men and suffered from a pre-existing heart condition, was one of those who did not recover and, according to lawyers, medical evidence backs claims that the torture he endured was responsible for his death in 1975 as well as his prolonged psychiatric effects.

In 1978 the European Court of Human Rights found that the UK had carried out inhuman and degrading treatment – but it fell short of defining it as “torture”. In 2014, following an RTE documentary, The Torture Files, the Irish government asked the European Court to revise its judgement in the case of the “Hooded Men.”

A High Court judge ruled on October 27th that the men’s treatment would probably be viewed as “torture” today. Mr Justice Maguire rejected claims that the state was in breach of a legal obligation to carry out a full and independent investigation, given that the events occurred decades before human rights legislation came into force, however he quashed a PSNI decision not to take further steps to identify and potentially prosecute those responsible for any criminal acts.

Mary, who joined the families and the 9 surviving men in the Belfast courts to hear the ruling, said it took them all by shock.

“We had not expected there to be such a decision at this point,” she said.

“The court has now recognised that if the same treatment was handed out today, it would be seen as torture,” added Mary, who said the case was now expected to go to the EU courts and be up and running in the next six weeks. Describing the admission of torture as “what we wanted to hear for so long”, the Newry woman said her 90 year old mother Bridget was also pleased to hear the Belfast Court’s ruling but she asked how much longer the families and survivors were expected to wait for full justice to be served.

“Men who are now in their 80s and 90s were the Hooded Men. How much longer can they wait to see justice?” she asked.

“Our case may be different to some others as my father is now dead, but he had his right to life, which should have been protected.

“All we want is justice, for all those who were tortured, justice for all the lives taken by the British.  Justice so we never see this type of treatment happen to anyone ever again, no matter what country.

The men’s solicitor, Darragh Mackin, described the judgment as “truly momentous in the Hooded Men’s campaign for justice”.

“For the first time, the court has directly held that the description of ‘torture’ is an accurate reflection of the treatment to which our clients were subject,” he said.

“For over 45 years, it has always been our clients’ case that they were the victims of torture.

“Today’s judgment exonerates their campaign.

“We look forward to the next step, and for the first time an investigation into the tortuous treatment to which they were subject.”

The Newry solicitor celebrated another human rights victory recently after helping to secure the release of Dublin man Ibrahim Halawa last month.  The Irish-Egyptian man was detained in Egypt for more than four years on charges related to a 2013 Muslim Brotherhood protest in Cairo. The renowned Human Rights lawyer with Kevin Winters KRW law firm, was a key figure in the four year long legal battle to release Mr Halawi and he also represents a number of ongoing legacy cases throughout the north.