Judgement reserved in ‘torture’ hearing involving Magherafelt civil rights activist

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A former British government minister who alleged predecessors had authorised torture in Northern Ireland later corrected his assessment, the High Court has heard.

The claim made by Merlyn Rees in a newly discovered memo is at the centre of a legal case taken on behalf of 14 men interned in 1971, one of whom was Pat Shivers, a civil rights activist from Magherafelt.

Known as the ‘hooded men’, they were stripped naked, dressed in boiler suits, forced to stand in a search position, beaten, subjected to white noise, and deprived of food, water and sleep for eight days.

In a case supported by the Irish government, the European Court of Human Rights found the British government guilty of “inhuman and degrading treatment”.

But counsel for the government said that within weeks his assessment of their treatment was “modified” to having faced deep interrogation.

The group allege they were subjected to five torture techniques sanctioned by the British state.

Surviving members are taking action in a bid to secure an independent and human rights-compliant investigation into their treatment.

Judgment was reserved following a four-day hearing in Belfast.

Proceedings have been issued against the chief constable, secretary of state and the Department of Justice.

The court heard that in 1977 Mr Rees, then home secretary, sent a letter to Prime Minister James Callaghan setting out his views on procedures deployed against the men.

In the memo he stated it was his view that “the decision to use methods of torture in Northern Ireland in 1971/72 was taken by ministers - in particular Lord Carrington, then secretary of state for defence”.

The document, uncovered from the national archives in London, featured in an RTE documentary in 2014 and led to questions being raised at the Northern Ireland Policing Board.

Following closing submissions, Mr Justice Maguire pledged to consider all issues raised before giving judgment at a later stage.

Mr Shivers died of stomach cancer in 1985 at the age of 54.