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Monday 20 November 2017

Last man sentenced to hang for murder in NI has conviction quashed

Michael McHugh

THE last man to be handed the death sentence in Northern Ireland has had his conviction for murder quashed.

Liam Holden, 58, was sentenced to hang for the killing of a British soldier in 1972. He said he was water tortured, hooded and had a gun put to his head by soldiers to extract a confession.

The Court of Appeal in Belfast made the ruling today.

Outside court Mr Holden said: "I am delighted after 40 years that the conviction has been quashed, I am just sorry the parents are not alive to witness it."

Today's appeal was held against his conviction for the murder of Private Frank Bell, 18, who was shot dead on foot patrol in Springfield Avenue in West Belfast on September 17, 1972.

Mr Holden was found guilty on the basis of a confession that he maintains was made under duress after being subjected to waterboarding. He claimed he was pinned to the floor, a thick towel was held over his face and the soldiers started pouring water on it.

The widowed father-of-two said he was also taken to another part of Belfast and a gun was put to his head, at which point he agreed to sign the confession.

Mr Holden's sentence had been commuted to life in prison by then Northern Ireland Secretary William Whitelaw. He served 17 years behind bars before being released on licence in 1989.

Today he said: "What the soldiers did to me ... water torture, hooding, putting the gun to my head, no one will ever get a real feeling of what it is like, it is like a slow drowning sensation."

He said he was delighted with today's outcome.

"I am not going to go do somersaults down the streets because it is 40 years on and I am an awful lot older," he added.

"I am delighted that it is over and I will melt back into the background and get on with it."

He said other people went through similar ordeals, adding he hoped the publicity would help bring those matters, including the Army's alleged use of water torture, into the public domain.

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