THE HIGH COURT in Belfast has quashed the PSNI’s decision not to take further steps to identify and prosecuted those responsible for the alleged torture of the Hooded Men.
The group of 14 men claimed that while interned in 1971, they were subjected to torture techniques including hooding, stress positions, white noise, sleep deprivation and deprivation of food and water.
The PSNI looked into the case in 2014 but decided there was no evidence to support the allegation that the British Government authorised the use of torture in Northern Ireland.
The written High Court judgment however said the decision to end the inquiry at that stage was “seriously flawed” and held that “a completely fresh decision process should begin”.
The PSNI looked into the case in 2014 following an RTÉ documentary that asserted that torture had been authorised by a British Government minister.
This was based on the discovery of a 1977 memo from then Home Secretary Merlyn Rees that claimed: “The decision to use methods of torture in Northern Ireland in 1971/72 was taken by Ministers – in particular Lord Carrington, then Secretary of State for Defence.”
In a letter a few weeks later however, Mr Rees said 'interrogation in depth' would have been a better way to describe the methods used.
In 1978, the European Court of Human Rights held that the British Government carried out ‘inhuman and degrading treatment’, but said it fell short of torture.
A researcher deployed by the PSNI to review documents at the National Archives concluded that the Rees memo, when read in context, did not substantiate any allegation that Lord Carrington had authorised torture.
The researcher decided no useful purpose would be served by taking the matter further.
Friday's High Court judgment however said the ‘narrowly based inquiry’ placed too much emphasis on the use of the word ‘torture’ as its guiding light.
Instead, it should have examined the more general issue of the official authorisation of unlawful methods of deep interrogation, "which were capable, in many instances, of being regarded as criminal assaults".
“Such an investigation would, in the circumstances, have involved the question of the involvement of Lord Carrington, but it would also have involved the role of others as well,” read the judgment.
“An investigation which was much more widely drawn, in line with known information at the time, would have been the more obvious step for the PSNI to have initiated, rather than such a narrowly based inquiry as that which occurred.”
It added that it was difficult to see why the PSNI ended the investigation, “given that it was plain that the methods used were unlawful and were capable of being viewed as criminal and given that no-one heretofore had been identified for potential prosecution in respect of this matter”.
Quashing the decision, the court did not prescribe how the issue should be taken forward and dismissed all other grounds of judicial review against the respondents.