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UK Supreme Court examines suitability of PSNI to investigate 'Hooded Men' treatment and killing of Jean Smyth

Lawyers argued those affected were entitled to ‘effective, independent investigation’.

A number of the 'Hooded Men' (front row left right) Michael Donnelly and Liam Shannon, (middle row left- right) Kevin Hannaway, Gerry McKerr, and Jim Auld, (back row left - right) Patrick McNally, Brian Turley, Francis McGuigan, and Joe Clarke, outside Buswell's Hotel in Dublin in 2014.
A number of the 'Hooded Men' (front row left right) Michael Donnelly and Liam Shannon, (middle row left- right) Kevin Hannaway, Gerry McKerr, and Jim Auld, (back row left - right) Patrick McNally, Brian Turley, Francis McGuigan, and Joe Clarke, outside Buswell's Hotel in Dublin in 2014.
Image: PA

Updated Jun 14th 2021, 1:30 PM

SUPREME COURT JUSTICES are considering whether the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) is sufficiently independent to carry out investigations into events during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Seven judges based in London are hearing arguments relating to proposed police investigations into the killing of a Catholic woman in 1972 and the treatment of 12 people, who have become known as the ‘Hooded Men’, detained in 1971, at a remote hearing due to end on Wednesday.

Lord Hodge, Lord Lloyd-Jones, Lord Kitchin, Lord Sales, Lord Hamblen, Lord Leggatt and Lord Burrows, have been asked to consider issues relating to the shooting of 24-year-old Jean Smyth in Belfast and the detention of the ’Hooded Men’ following rulings by judges in Northern Ireland.

A barrister representing Jean Smyth’s sister, Margaret McQuillan, and Francis McGuigan, one of the ‘Hooded Men’, told judges that the cases were of the “utmost seriousness”.

Hugh Southey QC said, in a written case outline, that one case concerned the fatal shooting of an “unarmed young mother”, in circumstances “implicating British Army personnel”.

He said the other concerned “state-sanctioned torture and/or inhuman and degrading treatment”.

Southey said two issues arose in both cases, the “applicability of investigatory obligation” imposed by articles of the European Convention on Human Rights and the independence of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

He argued that Smyth’s sister and Francis McGuigan were entitled to “effective, independent investigation” and told judges that the Police Service of Northern Ireland lacked the “requisite independence to investigate”.

In September 2019, the Court of Appeal in Belfast ruled that interrogation techniques used against the ’Hooded Men’ would be torture if deployed today.

In a majority decision, senior judges also held that the group had a legitimate expectation police would further investigate claims that their treatment was sanctioned by the British government.

The 12 surviving members of the hooded men had brought the original case against the Chief Constable, Secretary of State and the Department of Justice.

Five techniques were used against the men while they were held without trial: being hooded, made to stand spread-eagled in a stress position against a wall and beaten if they fell; forced to listen to constant loud static noise; and deprived of sleep, food and water.

Amnesty International, which has supported a campaign by the “hooded men”, wants independent investigations.

Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland campaign manager, said, before the hearing, that the ’Hooded Men’ case would be “hugely significant” to “torture victims across the world” and to the ongoing “unresolved issue of the legacy of the Troubles”.

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Lawyers representing the Police Service of Northern Ireland asked the Supreme Court to consider the case, following court hearings in Northern Ireland.

Judges are also hearing arguments from lawyers representing Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis.

A Supreme Court spokeswoman said, in a written explanatory note, judges would consider whether the Legacy Investigations Branch of the Police Service of Northern Ireland was “sufficiently independent” to investigate Jean Smyth’s death, or other “such deaths”.

The spokeswoman said an investigation was planned by the Police Service’s Legacy Investigations Branch but, before it began, Smyth’s sister had taken legal action and raised issues relating to independence.

She said judges would also consider whether the Police Service of Northern Ireland was “sufficiently independent” to carry out “any necessary investigation” into the treatment of the ‘Hooded Men’.

- With reporting by Michelle Hennessy.

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