Northern Ireland

Former internees claim 'new evidence' of Army torture

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Media captionFormer internees claim 'new evidence' of Army torture

A group known as the Hooded Men have claimed that new evidence has emerged that proves the UK government subjected them to torture in Northern Ireland.

Twelve men, arrested under the policy of internment in 1971, were taken to a secret location and subjected to what was called "deep interrogation".

It has since been confirmed the secret location was Ballykelly Army base.

The Ministry of Defence (MOD) has consistently rejected allegations that it used torture.

It has also pointed out that it has "always fully co-operated" with statutory inquiries.


In 1978, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the men had been subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment, but not torture.

However, the men and their lawyers have now said that documents, recently discovered in the public records office in London, could lead to that decision being reversed.

On their way to the interrogation centre in 1971, the interned men were hooded and thrown to the ground from helicopters.

Image caption An extract from the MOD documents recently discovered in the public records office

They had been told they were hundreds of feet in the air, but were actually just a few feet from the ground.

They were then subjected to what the Army referred to as "the five techniques".

They were beaten, deprived of sleep, food and water, and forced to stand in a stress position against a wall for long periods.

"The noise was indescribable, like steam coming from a boiler at a high rate," said former internee Gerry McKerr.

"We were put against the wall and told to hold the position for as long as we could. On falling, we were beaten and placed back against the wall again.

"I collapsed innumerable times and was beaten each time," Mr McKerr said.

"I still have dreams of being attacked and saying to myself 'not again I can't do this again'. It's a recurring thing, it's always in my mind."

In 1976, the European Commission upheld a complaint by the Irish government that the way the men had been interrogated constituted torture.


Embarrassed by the ruling and the international criticism that followed, the British government appealed.

Two years later the finding was overturned, as the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the treatment of the men was inhumane and degrading, but did not constitute torture.

"The argument put forward by the British government was that it was inhumane and degrading treatment and not torture because, as a point of law, for it to be torture the person administering the treatment had to enjoy it," said Mr McKerr.

"They said that because those administering the beatings were not enjoying it, it was inhumane and degrading but not torture. It felt like torture to us."

The documents found in the public records office in London were uncovered by the Pat Finucane Centre.


The men and their lawyers claim the material proves the UK government deliberately withheld information from those investigating the complaint by the Irish government.

One document, classified as secret, said it is "very important to keep secure the existence and location of the centre in Ballykelly where the 12 detainees in question had been interrogated".

The men say this, and the other documents, prove that the British government covered up what happened to them, and that they were subjected to pre-meditated torture.

"What we went through was indescribable," says another of the 14 men, Liam Shannon.

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Media captionLiam Shannon spoke to the BBC's Vincent Kearney about the techniques used

"There was a book written at one stage called The Guinea Pigs and that's what we think we were, guinea pigs for these techniques. It was obvious it was all about seeing how far they could push each of us before we would break.

"It's something that never leaves you," Mr Shannon said.

"At any time of night or day something will come up, particularly when you see situations like Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay, where you see prisoners walking about hooded in orange jump suits, because that's what happened to us and that's what's happening today."

'Horrific treatment'

While all of the men were interned, none was ever convicted of an offence.

They say it is now time for the British government to be put back in the dock.

"What happened to us was torture, without doubt," said Mr Shannon.

"The British government and their agents never admitted torture, they got off the hook. They lied their way out, they lied to the Irish government, they lied to us, they lied to the European Court and we want to now get them to stop lying and admit that they tortured us and that torture was a policy that they adopted in 1971 in the north of Ireland," he added.

Lawyers for the men sent the documents uncovered in the public records office to the Irish Attorney General earlier this month.

Solicitor Peter Corrigan said: "What has to be done is that the case against the British government has to be made in public, evidence that was previously presented in court, and evidence that continues to be hidden from the court must be exhibited and displayed for all to see the horrific treatment these men were subjected to."

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