Torture Allegation Case involving Water Boarding listed for Trial in Northern Ireland for June 2021
A civil action involving allegations of torture including waterboarding, hooding and threats to kill at gunpoint, has been listed for trial in the High Court in Belfast for a 1 to 2 week hearing on the 1st June 2021. The Plaintiff, Liam Holden, alleges that he was subjected to the torture technique of waterboarding and also endured hooding, physical assault and threats to kill by gunpoint by members of the Parachute Regiment while in unlawful custody at Blackmountain Barracks in Belfast on the 16th October 1972. Mr Holden was 18 years old at the time of his arrest and had worked full time as a chef at the Chimney Corner in Antrim for 3 years.
Private Frank Bell, an 18 year old member of the 2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment was shot on the 17th September 1972 on the Springfield Avenue by a single sniper shot. He sustained a gunshot wound to the head and died 3 days later in the Royal Victoria Hospital. Liam Holden was arrested 4 weeks later at his home in the Whiterock area of Belfast after midnight by the British army. No RUC police personnel were present at the arrest. He was taken by the army to the Blackmountain military barracks site where he was detained illegally for over 6 hours. During this military detention Mr Holden alleges that members of an army interrogation unit subjected him to physical assault, hooding, the torture technique now globally known as waterboarding thereafter driving him to the Glencairn area of Belfast and threatening to kill him at gunpoint, all with the purpose of coercing a false confession to the murder of Private Frank Bell.
While in Blackmountain Barracks Mr Holden made a false confession to a military Intelligence officer and was then transferred to RUC custody at Castlereagh Holding Center where he repeated the false confession to police officers. The alleged confession to the murder of Private Frank Bell consisted of one paragraph. He was remanded in custody, prosecuted and tried before at jury for the offences of capital murder and possession of a firearm and ammunition at Belfast City Commission from the 15th to the 19th April 1973. He gave evidence to challenge the admissibility of the false confession which he told the court had been coerced by the use of the torture and other techniques. The confession was rendered admissible by the trial judge. He gave evidence a second time during the trial challenging the truth of the confession content and telling the jury of the in depth interrogation techniques. He produced alibi witnesses attesting to his presence at a card game at the time of the shooting of Private Bell.
During the trial neither the court, the defence team nor the jury were advised by the prosecution of the existence of the Blue Card Rules in Northern Ireland at the time of Mr Holden’s arrest in October 1972. The Blue Card Rules were introduced in May 1972 after the banning in March 1972 of the 5 in depth interrogation techniques used on the 14 individuals known as the Hooded Men. The Blue Card Rules prohibited military detention for longer than 4 hours and for any purpose other than identification of the person in army custody.
Mr Holden was convicted by the jury. On the 19th April 1973 he was sentenced to death by hanging for the offence of capital murder. He was detained in the Condemned Man cell at Crumlin Road jail for 4 weeks until May 1973 when the death penalty was commuted to a life sentence. He served 17 years in jail and was subject to licence conditions for 23 years.
He applied to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) in 2002 to review the convictions on the basis that they were unsafe because of new evidence. The wrongful convictions were referred back to the NI Court of Criminal Appeal in 2009 by the CCRC. The NI Court of Criminal Appeal quashed Mr Holden’s convictions on the 21st June 2012. The current High Court action now pursues the claims regarding the alleged use of the torture by the army and the misconduct in public office by the members of the in depth interrogation army team and, potentially, Cabinet Ministers in Westminster who may have approved the use of the torture technique for interrogation in accordance with an MOD Internal Security Operations Directive issued, in contravention of domestic law, on the 6th August 1972. Mr Holden believes that a special forces army unit was used to conduct the in depth interrogation and water boarding on him.
The High Court in Belfast last week fixed the civil action involving the allegations of torture and misconduct in public office for a 1 to 2 weeks trial starting on the 1st June 2021. Lawyers for Mr Holden, Harte Coyle Collins, Solicitors & Advocates, Belfast said today;
“Our client welcomes the opportunity to ask an experienced and objective High Court judge to contemplate and adjudicate on the use of the torture technique of waterboarding, as alleged by my client, and the misconduct in public office by the in depth interrogation army team responsible for it. This will be the first time in Northern Ireland in almost 50 years that a civil court has the opportunity to consider, conclude and make a finding that the British army used torture on a civilian in their sole custody in 1972. The 14 Hooded Men cases were settled by the state so no such finding has ever been made by a domestic court in Northern Ireland. Such a finding in a civil court will be made on the balance of probability, in other words, that it is more likely than not that the torture occurred. We have commenced preparation for the civil trial and our client looks forward to stating his case in court to achieve a judicial finding on the allegations of torture.”
[Photograph of Liam Holden in custody 17th October 1972]
Harte Coyle Collins
Solicitors & Advocates
9-15 Queen Street