The Court of Appeal in Belfast has dismissed an appeal by the Police Service of Northern Ireland against a ruling that detectives should investigate allegations that 14 internees were tortured.
The internees, known as the Hooded Men, say they were subjected to five techniques including hooding, being put in stress positions, forced to listen to white noise and deprived of sleep, food and water.
It came following the introduction of the controversial policy of internment without trial by Stormont on August 9 1971 when hundreds of suspects were detained.
The European Court of Human Rights previously ruled that while the men suffered inhumane and degrading treatment, it fell short of torture.
Delivering the ruling at the Court of Appeal in Belfast on Friday, Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan said the treatment of the men “would, if it occurred today, properly be characterised as torture”.
One of the three judges dissented with that conclusion.
The ruling goes on to agree with a previous ruling that an investigation carried out by the Historical Enquiries Team was “irrational and did not honour the undertaking given by the Chief Constable”, and added: “In light of the manner in which the investigation was pursued it seems unlikely that an investigation by the Legacy Investigation Branch of the PSNI or its successor is likely to engender public confidence”.
However Sir Donnell Deeny was not in agreement with the Lord Chief Justice and Lord Justice Stephens on two matters.
Sir Donnell said he could not agree that it is appropriate for the court to make a finding that the treatment is to be re-labelled as torture 48 years after the events.
He also said he would find in favour of the PSNI Chief Constable, saying his decision not to investigate further was one the Chief Constable was entitled in law to make.
The ruling follows an appeal brought by the PSNI against a previous ruling that its decision to end preliminary inquiries into the methods deployed against the 14 men was seriously flawed and should be quashed.
Speaking outside court, Francis McGuigan, one of the Hooded Men, welcomed the ruling.
“We are delighted with the result we got this morning, Justice Morgan confirmed Justice Maguire’s decision that if this happened today it would be torture, I would just like to know how they differ between today and 48 years ago when they use the word torture,” he said.
“It’s a small word but let me just give you some of the impact it had on me as a 23-year-old of average intelligence, what they had done to my brain and my body, I finished up that I couldn’t spell my own name, they asked me to spell my own name and I couldn’t spell my own name.
“I think Europe made a mistake then, and I want to stand in front of the judges in Europe and tell them what happened to me and the rest of us.
“There were 14 of us, over a third of us are now dead, since we initiated this case, two men have died, since Justice Morgan heard the appeal one man has died, there are nine of us left, each one of us have been in hospital for different treatments and this must be done before we all pass away.”
Commenting on the judgment, PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne said: “Firstly I wish to acknowledge the distress this case has caused to many people over many years.
“I note today’s judgment and we will take time to consider the fullness of its implications and our next steps.
“We will now determine how best to progress this matter and meet our legal obligations. This case again brings into focus the need for a societal response to issues of legacy.
“We will study this judgment carefully before making any further public commentary.”