Northern Ireland

Hooded men: Villiers ordered to give sworn statement

The 14 men were arrested at the height of the Troubles under the policy of internment or detention without trial
Image caption The 14 men were arrested at the height of the Troubles under the policy of internment or detention without trial

The secretary of state has been ordered to give sworn testimony to a court over the group known as the 'hooded men'.

If Theresa Villiers fails to meet next week's deadline, she could be subject to contempt of court proceedings.

The group claim they were tortured by the Army in the 1970s and believe the Secretary of State is withholding documents relating to the case.

She has denied this accusation, saying the UK government "takes these issues very seriously".

"I can provide reassurance that we're going to be disclosing all the documents that are required.

"Obviously with matters of such sensitivity, which date back some decades, it takes a while to do the searches needed to ensure that we've found all the relevant documents and compiled the appropriate affidavit to support them."

The 14 men were arrested at the height of the Troubles under the policy of internment or detention without trial.

Surviving members of the group are involved in a judicial review.

Torture

They are challenging the failure of the police, the secretary of state, and the justice minister to investigate allegations that they were tortured.

Eight of the 14 men attended the High Court hearing in Belfast on Friday.

The case has been subject to delays after the Northern Ireland Office said it needed more time to examine documents.

A barrister acting for the men said reasons given for the delays were "unacceptable".

Image caption If Theresa Villiers fails to meet the deadline to sign off on her affidavit, she could be subject to contempt of court proceedings

The crown's barrister said a "significant amount of work" had been undertaken in gathering documents.

He told the court 18 days had been spent in the national archives, and four days on looking at papers in the Northern Ireland Office and Ministry of Defence.

A deadline of 24 March was set for Theresa Villiers to sign off on her affidavit.

The court heard she had failed to do so because of her recent trip to the United States.

The court also heard that other UK government ministers had been contacted in relation to the case.

Speaking outside court, spokesman for the group, Francis McGuigan, said he believed the UK authorities were waiting for the group to die so they would not have to investigate the torture claims.

Alzheimer's

"There's four of the lads have died since, one of the lads is in the early stage of Alzheimer's - none of us getting any younger," he said.

"We're all well into our 60s now, some of us into our 70s, and we'd like to see a successful conclusion to this case.

"We want it back in court in Europe, we want Europe to re-look at the whole decision they made back in 1978, and come out with the truth."

Liam Shannon, another of the Hooded Men, added: "Please God, our small triumph for today will echo throughout the rest of the campaign groups."

Asked if he hoped to see justice in his lifetime, Mr Shannon said: "We hope so. None of us are getting any younger, but we're still actively campaigning, and we will still actively campaign."

The case is due to return to court on 6 April.

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