PSNI wrong not to investigate ‘hooded men’ torture allegations, court rules

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The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) was wrong not to investigate allegations of torture in the case of the “hooded men”, the Supreme Court has ruled.

Delivering the judgment on Wednesday, Lord Hodge said the police decision taken after allegations were broadcast in an RTE documentary was “irrational” and should be quashed.

A senior PSNI officer said the force will study the judgment.

The 14 hooded men were subjected to a series of controversial interrogation techniques by the Army and police when they were interned without trial in Northern Ireland in 1971.

The techniques included hooding and being put in stress positions, forced to listen to white noise and deprived of sleep, food and water.

The European Court of Human Rights previously ruled that while the men suffered inhumane and degrading treatment, it fell short of torture.

The PSNI took the case to the UK’s highest court after failing in Belfast’s Court of Appeal to overturn a High Court ruling that found the police should revisit its decision to end its investigation into the treatment of the men.

Lord Hodge said: “There is no evidence that anyone involved in the authorisation or operation of the hooded men’s ill-treatment has ever been the subject of criminal charges.”

Delivering his judgment, he referred to a 2014 RTE documentary about the hooded men case which included a British government memorandum, known as the “Rees Memo”, which “referred to the use of torture and to its approval by UK ministers”.

Following the broadcast, the PSNI considered whether there was sufficient evidence to warrant a new investigation, but concluded there was not.

Lord Hodge said: “The court finds that the PSNI’s decision taken on 17 October 2014 not to investigate further the allegation in the Rees Memo was based on a seriously flawed report, was therefore irrational, and falls to be quashed.”

One of the hooded man said the PSNI cannot now carry out any new investigation into the case.

Northern Ireland Troubles legacy
Francis McGuigan said he is ‘delighted’ at the ruling (Brian Lawless/PA)

“I think the PSNI have to realise that with these judgments against them, they are not the people to investigate it.

“I have no faith in the PSNI doing it. The RUC were the people who did the torture, the interrogation.

“I don’t see how the PSNI can go in and investigate the RUC.

Darragh Mackin, a solicitor for the majority of the “hooded men”, said: “Today’s decision is a landmark victory for the hooded men.

“Since 2014 they have actively contested the decision by the PSNI not to investigate the allegations of torture.

“It was always clear that the initial investigation by the PSNI was nothing more than a window dressing exercise.”

Grainne Teggart, from Amnesty International, said the UK Government should now abandon its plans to end prosecutions relating to the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

She said: “The significance of today is all the greater when we consider what the UK Government’s plans are with regard to legacy.

“The UK Government is planning to close down all investigations and paths to justice for torture victims and for other victims as well.

PSNI ANPR Intercept Team launch
Assistant Chief Constable Jonathan Roberts said the PSNI will study the Supreme Court judgment (Liam McBurney/PA)

However, the Supreme Court did not accept that the PSNI is not sufficiently independent to carry out a new investigation into the hooded men case.

Lord Hodge said: “In our view, it has not been established that the LIB (Legacy Investigations Branch) is not capable of carrying out an effective investigation on the basis either of institutional or hierarchical connection or that it is not capable of conducting an investigation with practical independence.

“There is nothing to suggest that it would not be possible to assign appropriate officers of the PSNI to carry out any further investigations to a proper standard.”

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Jonathan Roberts said: “The Police Service of Northern Ireland acknowledges today’s judgment of the UK Supreme Court and welcomes the clarity it brings to some complex legal issues.

“We recognise the difficult realities that victims, families, friends and broader society continue to deal with as a result of our troubled past.

“We will now take time to study today’s judgment around these complex legacy issues in detail and we will carefully consider its implications for future legacy investigations.

“If we are to build a safe, confident and peaceful society, then we must find a way of dealing with our past and we are committed to playing our part in that process.”

The Supreme Court judgment also ruled on another Troubles incident.

That related to the 1972 fatal shooting of Jean Smyth, 24, on the Glen Road in Belfast.

The Army’s Military Reaction Force unit has been suspected of involvement in the killing.

The Supreme Court backed a Court of Appeal ruling from 2019 that the Chief Constable had not shown that a legacy unit within his force had the practical independence for a new probe into the killing.

Lord Hodge said: “The Court of Appeal would have been entitled to conclude that the then proposed investigation into Ms Smyth’s death would not have been effective in the particular circumstances of that case because the Chief Constable of the PSNI had failed to explain to her family and the public, and when faced with the judicial review challenge, the court, how he proposed to secure the practical independence of that investigation.”

Stormont First Minister Paul Givan said the hooded men case highlighted the need to find a way to resolve outstanding issues from the legacy of the Troubles.

“Whether it’s this case or whether it’s other cases that happened within Northern Ireland, dealing with the past is something that needs to be resolved because it continues to have implications for the present and for future generations,” he said.

“So, whether it’s for the hooded men or whether it’s for other cases that happened in the past we need to find a way forward that allows us to provide that truth and also that justice, and make sure we can move into the future.”

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said she welcomed the findings and called on the PSNI to act.

“I very much welcome the judgment today,” she said.

“These men have been tortured and I think the Supreme Court has been very clear in recognising that’s the case.

“I very much will stand with the hooded men in their campaign but it’s now over to the PSNI. They have been deemed to be found failing these men and I think now is the time for the Chief Constable to act to reopen the investigation.

“These men have been tortured, it’s been recognised internationally – it’s now time for the PSNI to do their job.”

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