Files on final death-penalty man “show high-level acceptance of misconduct in public office”

Posted By: October 26, 2017

Allison Morris. Irish News. Belfast. Thursday, October 26, 2017

Confidential documents linked to the conviction of the last man to be sentenced to the death penalty in Northern Ireland show a high-level acceptance of “misconduct in public office” when it came to British army arrest and torture of suspects, it has been claimed.

The papers, linked to the case of west Belfast man Liam Holden, arrested in September 1972, aged 18, by members of the Parachute Regiment who took him to the Black Mountain army base.

The soldiers subjected him to the illegal interrogation technique known as waterboarding, the first time the torture technique had been used in Northern Ireland.

After seven hours of torture, including holding a gun to his head, he signed a forced confession to the murder of a soldier, Private Frank Bell, who had been shot while on foot patrol in Springhill Avenue a month previously.

He was sentenced to death by hanging, which was later commuted to life in prison, where he served 17 years behind bars.

The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) referred the unsafe convictions back to the Court of Criminal Appeal in 2009, on the basis of new evidence. His conviction was quashed in June 2012 in what was deemed at the time a landmark ruling.

However, the CCRC did not reveal the details of a confidential annex of documents to Mr. Holden’s defense lawyer Patricia Coyle of Harte Coyle Collins, Solicitors.

Earlier this week, following a lengthy legal battle, the CCRC complied with a discovery order from the High Court and released the confidential papers.

The documents, labeled “secret” include minutes of a meeting in July 1972 involving then Secretary of State, William Whitelaw; Michael Carver, the Chief of General Staff of the Army and the then Attorney General for Northern Ireland, Peter Rawlinson.

One of the documents states “the Army entirely understood the distinction between having evidence against a person which would lead to his conviction, and not having sufficient evidence to obtain a conviction but nonetheless holding him under the Special Powers Act by either detaining or interning him.

“From a military operational standpoint the distinction was not significant; if the army knew someone to be a terrorist, they wanted to either shot him or arrest him, and if they arrested him they wanted to put him away”.

The documents relate to the period of time after the claim by the Irish government against the British government in the case known as the Hooded Men.

Patricia Coyle said the freshly released documents “show the extent of the misconduct in public office in our client’s case.”

“They demonstrate that from May 1972 the military was well aware of the restrictions on their powers to arrest and interrogate citizens in Northern Ireland. Yet despite this, they flagrantly breached the law in this case in order to secure a false confession.

“The minutes of the political meeting from July 1972, that the army wanted to either shoot or arrest suspects, and if they arrested them they wanted to lock them up, is manifestly demonstrated in our client’s, and other, cases.

“Our client will continue to pursue the MoD and PSNI for accountability for their actions,” Ms. Coyle added.