Hundreds of former internees could get payouts

Posted By: May 14, 2020

Allison Morris.Irish News.Belfast. Thursday, May 14, 2020

HUNDREDS of internment cases are set to be quashed, with millions of pounds in compensation expected to be paid following yesterday’s Supreme Court judgment in favor of Gerry Adams.

Judges ruled that the former Sinn Féin leader’s detention was unlawful, because the interim custody order (ICO) used to detain him in July 1973 was not authorized by Willie Whitelaw, who was Northern Ireland secretary of state at the time.

Announcing the Supreme Court’s judgment at a remote hearing on Wednesday, Lord Kerr – the former Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland – said the court had unanimously allowed Mr Adams’ appeal and had quashed his convictions.

Among those also set to have their convictions quashed is Ivor Bell who was arrested and interned in February 1974.

He briefly managed to escape after swapping places with another prisoner who had been granted parole, but was caught after just two weeks and subsequently had his sentence increased.

He was also convicted in 1975 of trying to help Gerry Adams escape lawful custody. With that conviction now overturned, Bell’s solicitors are to lodge their own challenge to his previous conviction.

His custody order was also not signed by the then Northern Ireland secretary.

In October last year a jury was ordered to return a not guilty verdict against the 82-year-old in connection with soliciting the murder of west Belfast mother-of-ten Jean McConville.

The case collapsed after the trial judge issued his instruction to the jury ruling that evidence from the discredited Boston College tapes featuring Mr Bell was inadmissible.

Mr Bell’s solicitor Peter Corrigan of Phoenix Law, who also represents a number of people known as the Hooded Men, said he was “instructed by in excess of 40” former internees.

He added that proceedings had already been issued in a number of these cases before the High Court for the unlawful deprivation of their liberty and false imprisonment that resulted.

He said some would be “entitled to aggravated and exemplary damages as result of treatment they sustained whilst unlawfully interned”.

There are also 19 cases of loyalist internees, with veteran east Belfast loyalist Jim Wilson among those now set to have their detention overturned.

Kevin Winters of KRW Law represents the ex-loyalist prisoners along with around 20 republican cases involving former internees. He said the ruling was “politically and legally seismic.”

He said it had implications beyond those whose custody orders were not signed by William Whitelaw.

“Lord Kerr’s ruling states that ‘personal consideration’ had to be given by the then minister. We will be asking for further disclosure from the Crown solicitors in relation to evidence of that consideration.

“These proceedings could have implications for hundreds of other people who were deprived of their liberty unlawfully.”

Madden and Finucane Solicitors also has more than 20 cases either before the High Court or expected to be lodged as a result of the ruling.

Across Northern Ireland it is estimated that more than 200 cases could end up being quashed with substantial compensation in some cases reaching six figures.