Categorized | UK

NORTHERN IRELAND: U.K ALLEGE POLICE TORTURE

NOVANEWS

These articles are long but well worth the read considering Government denials at the time and the exposures of ill treatment of prisoners in current conflicts. In the late 1970’s, 80% of prisoners in Long Kesh prison Nr. Belfast were convicted solely on confession evidence.

Hundreds of Northern Ireland ‘terrorists’ allege police torture

The Guardian 11/10/10

See also at http://www.troopsoutmovement.com/latestnews.htm

People convicted during the Troubles claim they suffered miscarriages of justice in non-jury Diplock courts

Hundreds of men and women found guilty of terrorism offences in Northern Ireland during the Troubles are attempting to have their cases reopened, alleging that the confessions that led to their convictions were beaten out of them by police.

The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), the body that investigates alleged miscarriages, has received applications from more than 200 people who argue that they fell victim to miscarriages of justice at the province’s non-jury courts.

So far the court of appeal in Belfast has heard 26 cases referred by the commission, and has overturned convictions in 24 of those. Solicitors in Belfast and Derry say they believe many more people will be applying to the commission in the near future.

As the appeals mount, a number of men who served as detectives with the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) have told the Guardian how senior officers encouraged the systematic mistreatment of suspects at Castlereagh interrogation centre in east Belfast, and elsewhere, after the establishment of the Diplock courts in 1973.

They say they took full advantage of the vague wording of emergency legislation in Northern Ireland which allowed the courts to admit confessions as evidence, providing there was no evidence they had been obtained through the use of torture, or inhuman or degrading treatment. One retired detective commented: “Do repeated slaps around the face amount to torture? What about an occasional kick in the balls?” In a sign that the courts are now accepting that such tactics were an integral part of policing during the Troubles, a number of people who pleaded guilty on legal advice after signing so-called confessions have succeeded in having their convictions overturned.

In addition to the 26 cases heard by the court of appeal, a further seven cases are waiting to be heard, and 80-odd are still being considered by the CCRC. These include 47 people who were juveniles at the time of their conviction. A number of those whose convictions have been overturned have been able to establish that there were grounds to suspect that the police officers who they alleged were responsible for their own mistreatment had beaten other suspected paramilitaries.

Two men from Belfast, who were arrested in 1976 as boys aged 14 and 16, served nine years in jail after being advised to plead guilty to the murder of a Catholic accountant who was shot dead in his bed. They were able to show that their confessions did not fit with the crime scene, or the pathologist’s report on the victim’s injuries, or with statements by witnesses who heard the shots.

Another man, from Derry, confessed to a series of terrorism offences after being arrested in 1978 at the age of 16 for questioning about the murder of an RUC officer, and says he was then instructed by his lawyer to plead guilty. He has been able to show that the court ignored alibi evidence that proved he was 75 miles away inside a secure children’s home at the time that most of the crimes were committed. He had also confessed to an attempted hijacking which, a subsequent police reported showed, had never taken place.

At this man’s appeal, the court heard that after he had been sentenced to a period of borstal training his lawyer advised him against lodging an appeal on the grounds that he had received a “good result”.

Among those whose cases have been referred to the appeal court by the CCRC is a man from west Belfast who says he was forced to sign a false confession to murder after being waterboarded by soldiers from the Parachute Regiment. The commission says it has taken up the case because of doubts about “the admissibility and reliability” of the man’s confession, and says it believes “there is a real possibility” his conviction will be quashed. Some of the new evidence unearthed by the CCRC is being withheld from the man and his lawyers, however, at the insistence of the Ministry of Defence.

Almost all the men and women who are appealing were convicted by the controversial no-jury Diplock courts that heard terrorism cases in Northern Ireland between 1973 and 2007. Established after a number of jury members were intimidated and potential witnesses murdered, they could convict on the basis of a confession alone, and defendants were expected to prove any claim that a confession had been coerced.

During the course of the Troubles several police doctors came forward to complain that terrorism suspects were being beaten during interrogation, and that the courts were dismissing their expert evidence.

Eamonn McDermott, who served 16 years in jail after confessing to the murder of a Catholic RUC detective in Derry in 1977 – and whose conviction was overturned 30 years later – said: “What I find interesting is that the first time the Diplock system is scrutinised by any sort of outside agency, it starts crumbling. I think there was quite a lot of surprise at the CCRC at what was acceptable at the time.”

Few people from Northern Ireland approached the CCRC during the early years of its existence, with the result that it staged a conference in the province in 2004 aimed at raising awareness and promoting public confidence in its work. A small trickle of applications followed, but that has recently swollen.

Some of those whose convictions have already been quashed have received substantial sums in compensation. Others, however, have not, with the Northern Ireland Office arguing that there is no obligation for them to be compensated. A number are challenging this refusal through the courts.

Northern Ireland teenagers who told of beatings before murder confessions
The Guardian 11/10/10

Cases of four youths convicted and jailed for killings during the Troubles that an appeal court has since overturned

Charlie McMenamin

McMenamin was 16 when he was arrested at his home in Derry in March 1978 on suspicion of involvement in the murder of a police officer the previous month. After two days of questioning, with neither a solicitor nor another adult present, he had confessed to conspiracy to murder, several firearms offences and membership of the youth wing of the IRA.

What happened next shows the ease with which suspects could fall victim to miscarriages of justice once they were denied access to legal advice before being brought before non-jury courts empowered to convict on the basis of confessions alone. It also appears to show that some defence lawyers appeared to regard the Diplock system as a judicial juggernaut that it was futile to resist.

McMenamin consistently complained that he had been beaten, slapped and threatened, and that at one point he had been slapped to the ground where he was kicked. A medical examination midway through his first day of interrogation showed that some of his hair had been ripped out. The questioning was allowed to continue.

By the time he appeared in court there was clear evidence that he could not have committed two of the offences – including the conspiracy charge – as he was 75 miles away at the time, inside a secure children’s home. The director of public prosecutions recommended that these charges be dropped but, for reasons that remain unclear, the prosecutors pressed ahead. McMenamin had also confessed to an attempted hijacking, although a police report compiled at the time indicated that no such crime had been committed.

The court of appeal heard that his solicitor had possessed “valid evidence that [McMenamin] could not have been present” when some of the offences were committed, yet the youth was persuaded to plead guilty to all the charges he faced. The court also accepted that after McMenamin was sentenced to a period of borstal training, his solicitor advised him against appealing, as he had received a “good result”.

Today, McMenamin recalls how detectives laughed when they saw he had made some attempt to cut his wrist with a screw taken from a radiator, and remains angry that a police doctor could declare him fit enough for questioning to continue. Of one detective who repeatedly assaulted him at Strand Road police station in Derry, he says: “That man was a bully, and he was an abuser, he didn’t seem to care and he wasn’t accountable.” Of his encounter with the legal team who persuaded him to plead guilty, he says: “I found myself in the same position as I had at Strand Road, where I was pressurised into doing something I didn’t want to do.”

Eamonn McDermott

McDermott was arrested in 1977 for questioning about the murder of an RUC detective gunned down in Derry. He was 19, working as a petrol-pump attendant while waiting to go to university, and was accused of tipping off IRA gunmen that the constable, a Catholic with two small children, would be calling at the garage to have his car repaired. McDermott says he was abused and beaten over the next two days while being interrogated by teams of detectives.

He says he eventually agreed to sign a confession – knowing it would probably lead to a long prison sentence – because he was so desperate for the beatings to end. At trial, however, the judge rejected his defence that his confession had been beaten out of him. He was convicted of murder and membership of the IRA solely on the basis of that confession, and jailed for life.

After serving more than 15 years, McDermott was released and began working as a journalist, eventually becoming editor of a Derry newspaper. More than a quarter of a century after he was convicted, the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) took up his case, and unearthed damning new information about one of the detectives who had extracted his confession.

The commission found that a judge had ruled in 1979 that there was evidence that the officer had assaulted another man during an interrogation a month before McDermott was arrested. The CCRC also found that prosecutors had considered bringing a case against this same officer after a third man, questioned at Castlereagh a few days after McDermott’s arrest, was so severely beaten that he needed hospital treatment.

Looking back to the years he spent in prison, McDermott says: “There was obviously major changes. My parents had got much older. You didn’t see it in the visits every month, but when you get out, 15 years is a long time for them too. People laugh when you talk about it because there was the simple things like walking on uneven surfaces: jail’s very flat, it’s all concrete and Tarmac, so walking on surfaces where there was cracks and bumps, I was near breaking my neck.”

McDermott believes people in Northern Ireland were slow to develop confidence in the commission. “Once the CCRC was set up, it took people time to take interest in it,” he says. “There was no seeking redress through legal channels before that. And what I find interesting is that the first time the Diplock system was scrutinised by any outside agency, it started crumbling. I think there was quite a degree of surprise at the CCRC at what acceptable at the time. And I think that shows how rotten the Diplock system was.”

Robert Hindes and Hugh Hanna

One of the most tragic cases to reach the appeal court in Belfast has been that of Hindes and Hanna, who were 14 and 16 when they were arrested in October 1976.

Hindes was arrested first and questioned about the murder six weeks earlier of Peter Johnston, 28, a Catholic accountant who had been shot dead by loyalist gunmen at his home in north Belfast. Within hours he confessed, and named his accomplice as a Robert Hanna. Hanna was arrested and also confessed.

Both boys pleaded guilty and each served a total of nine years behind bars.

When Hanna applied to the commission in 1997 he was rejected on the grounds that he had not appealed against his conviction. Nevertheless, an assistant chief constable of the RUC agreed to examine the case, and told the commission of his concerns. Both boys said they suffered physical and psychological abuse.

In their confessions, they said they forced open Johnston’s front door a little after 11pm, went upstairs and shot him from his bedroom door as he lay on his bed. But they confessed before the pathologist had completed his report, which said Johnston had been beaten for around 30 minutes before he was killed by a shot from a gun held very close to his right eye. The time of death was put at around 3am.

There were suspicions that the killers had actually broken in through a first-floor window, rather than the front door. The fact that soldiers nearby reported hearing the shots at 3am was withheld from the defence.

On the night of the murder, according to Hanna’s father, he was being kept at home to protect him from Protestant youths who had threatened him because of his friendship with Catholics. Three days after the murder, these youths had attacked him, and he spent three weeks in hospital being treated for injuries that proved permanent. While being interrogated he was denied the medication he had been prescribed.

The appeal court also heard evidence that when Hindes “confessed” that his accomplice was a Robert Hanna, he had been referring to a different boy of the same name.

Three decades later, both convictions were overturned. A few hours before their appeal began, Hanna was found hanged at his home in Northamptonshire.

For further information contact:

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Campaigning for British Withdrawal from Ireland
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