Northern Ireland

Paddy Ashdown calls for Troubles torture inquiry

The allegations concern members of the parachute regiment Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption The allegations concern members of the parachute regiment

The former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Ashdown has called for an inquiry into claims of torture by the Army during the Northern Ireland Troubles.

A human rights organisation said it had uncovered documents which revealed waterboarding and electric shocks were used in Northern Ireland in the 1970s.

The Pat Finucane Centre (PFC) said the allegations of torture were known at the highest political levels.

The government said it would not comment on specific allegations.

It added that it viewed torture as "abhorrent".

Waterboarding is an interrogation process that causes the subject to experience the sensation of drowning.

In 2012, a BBC documentary, Inside the Torture Chamber, broadcast claims that the practice was used 40 years ago.

On Wednesday night, Channel Four broadcast similar allegations in relation to the Parachute Regiment in the 1970s.

Documents uncovered by the Pat Finucane Centre (PFC) are said to include the minutes of a meeting between the then Prime Minister Edward Heath and the Irish Taoiseach (PM) Jack Lynch.

'Utterly destructive'

In the meeting, Mr Lynch raised concerns to the prime minister about the treatment of an epileptic prisoner who had been interrogated five times.

"He was forced to lie on his back on the floor, a wet towel was then placed over his head and water poured over it to give him the impression that he would be suffocated," Mr Lynch is reported as saying.

Lord Ashdown, who commanded troops in Belfast in the 1970s, said he was not surprised by the allegations.

Image caption Liam Holden said he was 'tortured into a false confession'

"I think it is utterly destructive, it corrupts and invades the whole of society and I don't think the intelligence is at all useful either," Lord Ashdown told BBC Radio Foyle.

"I strongly suspect that not every unit in Belfast would have observed the same principles and it does not surprise me that this did go on."

In 2012, Liam Holden told the BBC about his experience of waterboarding.

He was 19 at the time and was being questioned by members of the Parachute Regiment about the murder of a soldier, Private Frank Bell.

Mr Holden said he was taken from his home and brought to an Army post at a school, where he was held for almost five hours.

'Wrong, immoral, illegal'

When asked if there should be an inquiry into allegations of army torture, Lord Ashdown said: "The blunt answer is yes."

"If it is the case that these forms of torture were used, if there is documentary evidence to prove it, and if there is a case that the government was aware of it and hid it, then it is important those facts come out," he said.

"I do not believe that the government would have sanctioned these at a high level but it does appear to be the case that they certainly hid the facts and I find that unacceptable.

"This must now come out in detail and I hope the secretary of state makes the appropriate response."

Image caption Paddy Ashdown said torture 'corrupts and invades the whole of society'

The Pat Finucane Centre welcomed Lord Ashdown's comments.

"His immediate response is to say we must look at this, if it happened it must be investigated and I would hope that would be the response of others," said the centre's Paul O'Connor.

"I suppose the challenge now is to the secretary of state. What is he going to do about this new evidence?

"What we do know is that if methods are used that are entirely wrong, immoral, illegal and if nothing is done about it, they will be used again."

'Cover-up' accusation

Sinn Féin's Pat Sheehan said: "The British state has done all in its power to cover up the extent of the role its forces played in the conflict including torture and the murder of Irish citizens.

"The British Secretary of State is attempting to legalise the policy of impunity enjoyed by British soldiers and state forces during the conflict.

"No party to the conflict should be above the law and the British government needs to end the cover ups and delays which have halted the implementation of the legacy mechanisms agreed in the Stormont House talks to deal with the legacy of the past," he added.

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