“father never recovered from having been a Hooded Man” – Derry family speak out

Posted By: March 24, 2018

   Human rights activist SARA DUDDY talks to the family of the late Derry republican Michael Montgomery whose life was changed by his experience as a ‘Hooded Man’.
Derry Now. Thursday, March 24, 2018
Michael Montgomery was enjoying a night out with his wife Doris in the Argony Bar in Donegal on August 9, 1971. Soon after his life was to change, and he was to become one of the ‘Hooded Men.’

Michael had five children aged from two to nine years old, Deirdre, Fiona, Miceál, Dympna, and Brenda. They were all at home when RUC Special Branch accompanied by the British Army came to arrest their father. This wasn’t unusual. Michael was the first Republican councilor elected in Northern Ireland. He was a threat. His house was constantly being raided and the family harassed.

But this night felt different.

The children describe how Special Branch officers, supported by the British Army, flooded their house. There was squealing, children were crying, their father was thrown down the stairs. The children couldn’t understand why this was happening to their daddy, to their family. Why did these men hate them so much? They were scared. The children remember that feeling. When they talk about it the feeling comes back.

Michael shouted reassurances to his terrified children, “I’ll be alright!”

He wasn’t.

Michael, along with eleven other men that night, and two others later, had been selected for ‘in-depth interrogation’. Over a week he was subjected to what is known as the ‘Five Techniques’ by RUC Special Branch officers under the instruction and direction of Colonel Nicholson from the Joint Services School of Intelligence in Ashford, Kent. The RUC officers had attended the school and received training in these interrogation methods that had been employed previously in Cyprus, Kenya and Aden among other places. They were tried and tested.

Michael was forced to stand for hours in stress positions exerting indescribable pain on his fingers and body. When he fell he was beaten and dragged to his feet again- forced to resume the same position. He was deprived of sleep. He was deprived of food and drink. He was hooded. White noise was played continuously. Michael thought he was going mad.

When Michael eventually was released, he was a changed man. He was edgy. The vacuum cleaner was forbidden when Michael was at home as couldn’t bear the noise. He never talked about what happened to his children or his wife, but they saw the effects.

There were inquiries into what happened. Unsurprisingly the authorities went to great lengths to cover up what happened. Hundreds of declassified British Government show a policy of non-cooperation and plain and simple cover-up.

The Irish Government took the unprecedented step of issuing proceedings in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) against the United Kingdom for violation of Article 3, the prohibition on torture. This is an absolute right meaning that it can NEVER be justified, excused or permitted in any circumstances, including during a war or conflict. The prohibition on torture goes to the heart of any civilized democracy.

Inhuman and degrading

In 1978 the ECHR ruled that the treatment of the “Hooded men” constituted inhuman and degrading treatment but did not meet the threshold for torture as the treatment didn’t, they argued, have the long-term affected necessary for such a ruling.

Around five years ago the Pat Finucane Centre uncovered evidence in declassified British Government documents indicating that the UK Government had withheld information from the ECHR. This included medical reports linking the premature death of one of the men to his treatment following interrogation. PFC worked with investigators at RTE and NUI Galway and found more documents, including evidence that the ‘use of torture’ was ordered by named government ministers.

This evidence persuaded the Irish Government to ask the ECHR to revise the original 1978 judgment with a finding that the treatment was, in fact, torture. This week the ECHR declined to do so (6-1) with the Irish Judge O’Leary dissenting. The Court said that had the information been known at the time it wouldn’t have changed the 1978 decision. The finding that it the treatment was inhuman and degrading, violating Article 3, still stands.

The 1978 judgment has been manipulated to sanction the employment of the Five Techniques in Israel, Brazil, and Guantanamo as an international court had declared they weren’t tortured. However, the UK Supreme Court has held that the use of the Five Techniques in Iraq and Afghanistan WAS torture. This week the ECHR missed the opportunity to right this anomaly.

The surviving ‘Hooded Men’ and families of those who have passed away are hoping to persuade the Irish Government to appeal this decision to the Grand Chamber of ECHR. There is a genuine risk that if this does not happen this judgment will continue to be used to perpetuate one of the gravest abuses of human rights.

Michael died in 1984 having never recovered from what happened. His family feels positive that people now know what happened to these men.

• Sara Duddy is a lawyer who works with the Pat Finucane Centre in Derry