The UK supreme court has ruled that a Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) decision in 2014 to discontinue an investigation into allegations of controversial interrogation techniques against the "hooded men" was unlawful.
The 14 hooded men were subjected to a series of controversial interrogation techniques when they were interned without trial by the Army 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 PSNI took the case to the UK’s highest court having failed 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.
Delivering his judgment on Wednesday, Lord Hodge referred to a 2014 RTÉ documentary about the hooded men case which referred to 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 that there was not.
Lord Hodge said: “The court finds that the PSNI’s decision taken on October 17th, 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 men”, Francis McGuigan, said he was “relieved” at the outcome and called for an immediate investigation.
“Fifty years is a long time to wait for justice. That changes today”, he said. “The investigation into torture must now immediately get underway.
“The investigation previously started with Jon Boutcher before the PSNI’s decision to stop it. It must begin again with urgency.”
He also said the UK government’s proposals to introduce a statute of limitations for Troubles-era crimes “must not become law and interfere with long overdue truth and accountability in my or any other case. “My message to other victims is take hope from today and keep fighting,” he said.
Amnesty International’s Campaigns Manager, Grainne Teggart, said the supreme court’s decision was a “victory for justice.
“The message is clear, the PSNI acted unlawfully by refusing to proceed with an investigation into state-sanctioned torture.
“In doing so it shamefully added to the trauma already inflicted and has delayed the truth, justice, and accountability to which these men are entitled.
“The ruling today comes at a critical time when the stakes for victims’ rights could not be higher,” she said.
The UK government’s proposals on legacy, she said, “cannot happen” and the finding “should stop the Government in its tracks.
“Justice delayed is still better than justice denied and it’s completely wrong for people in authority to try and put themselves above the law,” she said.
Mary McKenna, the daughter of one of the ‘hooded men’, Sean McKenna, said it was “over 50 years since my father and the other men were tortured and it is time now for the truth to come out through a proper investigation.”
The Supreme Court judgement followed a judicial review challenge which was taken by the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) on behalf of Ms McKenna and another of the "hooded men", Francie McGuigan.
CAJ solicitor Gemma McKeown said they would now urge the Chief Constable to “fully and impartially investigate whether torture was authorised by senior government ministers.”
In a statement on Wednesday Assistant Chief Constable Jonathan Roberts said the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) acknowledged the supreme court judgement and “welcomes the clarity it brings to some complex legal issues” and would “take time” to study it and its implications.
“We recognise the difficult realities that victims, families, friends and broader society continue to deal with as a result of our troubled past,” Assistant Chief Constable Roberts said.
“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,” he said.
– Additional reporting from PA