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PSNI cleared by Supreme Court to investigate 'hooded men' case

Northern Ireland’s police service must investigate a controversial historic case the Supreme Court has ordered.

The PSNI has the independence and capacity to investigate the historic case of the “hooded men”, the Supreme Court has ruled.

The UK’s top court has rejected a High Court decision on a case brought by campaigners who had argued the force was too biased to review a case involving claims of torture.

The PSNI had appealed the verdict in the Supreme Court.

And the court also quashed a 2014 decision by the force to discontinue an investigation into allegations of controversial interrogation techniques on 14 men in 1971.

The ruling means the force’s Legacy Investigations Branch will now also come under pressure to step up work on dozens of other cases linked to the Troubles and put pressure on the government to abandon plans to halt prosecutions.

Earlier this year, the government announced it wanted to place a time limit on prosecutions, a move that was criticised by both sides of the sectarian divide.

The case had originally been brought by Amnesty International on behalf of the families of the men who were tortured after they were arrested.

The men were detained in the custody of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, with support provided by military personnel. During their detention, Francis McGuigan, Sean McKenna) and others were subjected to treatment which was later found by the European Court of Human Right to have been in breach of article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

They were subjected to interrogation with hoods over their heads and subjected to sleep, food and water deprivation and being taken to a helicopter in the belief that they would be thrown to their deaths.

One of the men later had a mental breakdown and died as a result of his treatment.

The Supreme Court rejected the Amnesty claim that the Police Service of Northern Ireland is not sufficiently independent to carry out a new investigation.

Lord Hodge said: “In our view, it has not been established that the LIB (Legacy Investigations Branch) is not capable of carrying out an effective investigation on the basis either of institutional or hierarchical connection or that it is not capable of conducting an investigation with practical independence.

“There is nothing to suggest that it would not be possible to assign appropriate officers of the PSNI to carry out any further investigations to a proper standard.”

The PSNI had taken its 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.

The court said that decision was irrational.

Grainne Teggart, from Amnesty International, said the government should now abandon its plans to end prosecutions relating to the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

She said: “Today’s ruling is a victory for justice. The Supreme Court were very clear that the PSNI acted unlawfully by not proceeding with an investigation into this torture. That investigation must now get under way with urgency.

“The significance of today is all the greater when we consider what the UK Government’s plans are with regard to legacy.”

The solicitor for the majority of the “hooded men” said the Supreme Court ruling was a “landmark victory”.

Darragh Mackin said: “Since 2014 they have actively contested the decision by the PSNI not to investigate the allegations of torture. It was always clear that the initial investigation by the PSNI was nothing more than a window dressing exercise.”

The force said it would study the judgement and added the cases dating back to the Troubles needed to be solved.

Assistant Chief Constable Jonathan Roberts said: “We recognise the difficult realities that victims, families and broader society continue to deal with as a result of our troubled past.

“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.”

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