‘Hooded men’ were not tortured: ECHR

PACEMAKER BELFAST 17/02/2017 Members of the 'Hooded Men' outside High Court in Belfast last year. The  group of men who claim they were tortured more than 40 years ago. Fourteen men claimed they were subjected to torture techniques after being held without trial in 1971. Picture By: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 17/02/2017 Members of the 'Hooded Men' outside High Court in Belfast last year. The group of men who claim they were tortured more than 40 years ago. Fourteen men claimed they were subjected to torture techniques after being held without trial in 1971. Picture By: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has refused to overturn a 1978 finding that 14 ‘hooded men’, including Derry republican Michael Donnelly, were not tortured by the British authorities while under detention in 1971.

The ECHR has rejected a request by Ireland that it revise the judgment and find the men did suffer torture and not just “inhuman and degrading treatment”.

The case centred on the 14 internees’ subjection to Britain’s so-called ‘five techniques’, spread-eagling, hooding, white noise, food deprivation and sleep deprivation, at secret ‘interrogation’ centres, including at Ballykelly.

In 2014 Dublin said it would challenge the 1978 finding based on ‘new evidence’ presented in an RTÉ 2014 documentary ‘The Torture Files,’ which, it claimed, showed the effects of the “ill-treatment had been long-term and severe”.

But the ECHR has now found that Ireland “had not demonstrated the existence of facts that were unknown to the Court at the time or which would have had a decisive influence on the original judgment. There was therefore no justification to revise the judgment.”

The Court said Ireland’s case was based on ‘new evidence’ showing that “a psychiatrist, Dr L., who had been heard as an expert for the UK Government in the original proceedings, had misled the Commission by saying that the effects of the ill-treatment were short-lived”.

The ECHR stated: “Ireland had argued two grounds for revision and supplied documents in support. It first referred to evidence that Dr L. had expressed opinions in civil compensation proceedings brought by some of the men in Northern Ireland that the interrogation methods had long-term psychiatric effects, whereas in the Strasbourg proceedings he had only referred to short-term and minor effects.

“Secondly, it had submitted documents which allegedly showed the extent to which the UK had aimed at withholding information from the Court about key facts concerning the interrogation methods, including the fact that their use had been authorised at ministerial level.

“However, the Court doubted whether the documents about Dr L. provided sufficient prima facie evidence of his providing misleading evidence.

“In particular, his findings about the long-term effects of the interrogation methods had been related to a man who had not been one of the two cases chosen from a larger group to illustrate the effects of the ill-treatment to the Commission. Other documents submitted by Ireland did not refer to Dr L.’s opinion specifically but to general medical opinion about such long-term health issues. The latter showed that at the time there was no consolidated scientific knowledge on this question.”

The Court further found that British papers showing the interrogation methods were authorised by ministers and that Britain was anxious to conclude compensation proceedings to avoid reputational embarassment did not demonstrate facts which were unknown at the time.

It added: “The original judgment had stated that the difference between ‘torture’ and ‘inhuman and degrading’

treatment depended on the intensity of suffering, which in turn depended on a number of elements.

“It was not clear that the one element of long-term psychiatric suffering would have swayed the Court into a finding of torture.”