Monday 19 March 2018

Amal Clooney to accuse Heath in '70s torture case

Wife of Hollywood star due in Belfast next month to meet 'hooded men' over army abuse claims

George and Amal Clooney, coming to Ireland for holidays - and a bit of legal work
George and Amal Clooney, coming to Ireland for holidays - and a bit of legal work

Robert Mendick and Robert Verkaik

Amal Clooney, the lawyer wife of George Clooney, will accuse a former Conservative prime minister of authorising the torture of detainees in Northern Ireland in a controversial case being brought against the UK government.

She will travel to Belfast next month for a meeting with nine survivors, known collectively as "the hooded men", who claim they were tortured by the British Army - and that Sir Edward Heath knew there was a policy of torture.

It is understood the Hollywood star will accompany her on the trip, ensuring the case attracts interest both in the UK and abroad.

Mrs Clooney's latest case confirms her status as one of the UK's most prominent human rights lawyers. Not only is the 37-year-old Oxford graduate representing Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder who is fighting against extradition from the UK to Sweden, she is also acting for the Greek government in a campaign to secure the return of the Elgin Marbles from the British Museum.

The latter case has attracted worldwide publicity almost entirely because of Mrs Clooney's involvement in it. Now she is part of a legal team representing men who are seeking to take the UK to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. She has been brought on to the case by the men's solicitors, Belfast-based Kevin R Winters and Co.

William Frazer, an Ulster unionist and leader of Families Acting for Innocent Relatives, which campaigns for victims of IRA violence, criticised Mrs Clooney for taking the case.

"I am very disappointed in Amal Clooney," he said, "I wish she was acting on a case for victims of IRA terrorism instead of this."

The "hooded men" allege they were tortured when they were held without trial in Northern Ireland after the Government introduced internment in August 1971 following repeated outbreaks of serious disorder in the North.

The men's claims are being backed by the Government here in Dublin.

Jim McIlmurray, an historian who is coordinating the legal action, said important documents had been uncovered which showed that then UK Prime Minister Edward Heath had full knowledge of the torture policy employed against the detainees.

He said that the legal team, including Mrs Clooney, was now analysing the documents which had been mis-filed with the Ulster Defence Regiment by the UK Government. They had recently been uncovered.

He claimed: "These documents show that torture was discussed at the highest level with the knowledge of Heath.

"Because of this documentation, the case is very much black and white.

"The UK Government had lied about its knowledge and six months prior to internment had ordered a special unit to carry out torture."

Mr McIlmurray said that Mrs Clooney was an excellent lawyer who is a "great addition" to the team but he hoped that her presence won't "turn the case into a circus".

He added: "Unnamed sources tell me that Mr Clooney has rediscovered his Irish roots and is embracing them. But I couldn't tell you if this has influenced Mrs Clooney...and I don't know whether he is coming to Belfast as well.

"We have to be careful to keep this professional."

Mrs Clooney is to meet the nine men for the first time in Belfast next month. She is currently based in New York, where she is Visiting Professor and Senior Fellow in the Human Rights Institute at Columbia Law School.

Darragh Mackin, of Kevin R Winters, said they were awaiting a response from the UK Government to their application to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg but he expected the case to be given the go-ahead later in the year.

He said the firm was also involved in a judicial review in Belfast which would challenge the failure to properly investigate the torture claims.

The men claim they were thrown from helicopters they had been told were in mid-flight but were actually just a few feet above the ground. None of the men was ever convicted.

It is claimed that when the UK authorities arrested and interned hundreds of men in August 1971, 14 of them were selected for 'special treatment' - torture in a specially built interrogation centre at a British Army camp.

They were allegedly subjected to the soon-to-be infamous 'five techniques' of hooding, stress positions, white noise, sleep deprivation and deprivation of food and water - combined with beatings and death threats.

Families of several of the men who have since died are also involved in the legal action while one is not taking part.

Last month Mr and Mrs Clooney were classed for the first time as among Britain's super-rich. The couple, who own a home in Sonning, Berkshire, are worth €167m.

The film star has a number of links with Ireland.

His great, great-grandfather, Nicholas Clooney, came from Kilkenny and his paternal grandmother's maiden name was Guilfoyle.

Earlier this year, he told the Sunday Independent about his plans to travel to Ireland.

He said: "I'm embarrassed that I've never been properly there before now. I've been talking about going there for years and Bono has been trying to get me to do a bike ride around Ireland with him.

"I'm definitely going to make a visit happen this summer. Amal has been several times, so she can show me around."


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