European court rejects Irish call to find ‘Hooded Men’ suffered torture
Ireland took legal action following new evidence and amid pressure from Amnesty International and other human rights organisations.
The European Court of Human Rights has rejected a request by Ireland to find that people detained by the UK during the Troubles in the so-called Hooded Men case suffered torture.
Dismissing the request by six votes to one, the ECHR said there was “no justification” to revise a 1978 ruling which found the treatment of the men was inhumane and degrading.
The court said new evidence had not demonstrated the existence of facts that were not known to the court at the time or which could have had a decisive influence on the original judgment.
The so-called Hooded Men were 14 Catholics interned – detained indefinitely without trial – in 1971 who said they were subjected to a number of torture methods.
These included five techniques – hooding, stress positions, white noise, sleep deprivation and deprivation of food and water – along with beatings and death threats.
The men were hooded and flown by helicopter to a secret location, later revealed as a British Army camp at Ballykelly, outside Londonderry.
They were also dangled out of the helicopter and told they were high in the air, although they were close to the ground.
None were ever convicted of wrongdoing.
The Irish Government first took a human rights case against Britain over the alleged torture in 1971.
The European Commission of Human Rights ruled that the mistreatment of the men was torture, but in 1978 the European Court of Human Rights held that the men suffered inhumane and degrading treatment that was not torture.
The UK did not dispute the finding.
But following the discovery of new evidence from the national archives in London and amid pressure from Amnesty International and other human rights organisations, Ireland launched new legal proceedings in December 2014.
It included a letter dated 1977 from then-home secretary Merlyn Rees to then-prime minister James Callaghan in which he stated his view that 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”.
Mr Rees added that “a political decision was taken”.
However, in its latest ruling the ECHR found that the documents did not demonstrate facts which were unknown at the time.
And, even if it could be shown that misleading evidence had been provided about long-term psychiatric effects on the men, the court said it could determine whether such knowledge might have had a decisive influence leading to a finding of torture.
The ruling said: “The original judgment had made no reference to the issue of such long-term effects and it was difficult to argue that the court had attached particular significance to that aspect of the case.”
The original judgment had stated that the difference between “torture” and “inhumane 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”.
The judge elected in respect of Ireland issued a dissenting opinion.