Eight of the remaining ‘Hooded Men’ held a packed Lurgan hall in silence as they recounted harrowing accounts of torture.
United for the first time in Lurgan for a unique event, they each spoke of the horrendous torture they claim was meted out to them by the British army and the RUC.
Each of them spoke of their own memories of local man the late Gerry McKerr who died recently. He also claimed he was tortured during nine days of hell as internment started in August 1971.
Lurgan man Jim McIlmurray who reunited the men together for the first time in many years three years ago has been spearheading a campaign to get justice for the ‘Hooded Men’.
He explained that 542 men were rounded up that morning and some of them were considered for ‘special treatment’ He described the five techniques he claims were used by the army and police including wearing hoods, sleep deprivation, food and water deprivation, being forced to listen to loud static music and standing in a stress position and beaten if they fell.
Mr McIlmurray described it as ‘sheer barbarity and brutality’ and that while the physical brutality is over the mental scars are still with them today.
Clan na Gael clubrooms were packed to capacity as the 500 strong crowd squeezed in to hear then men talk of their ordeal. First to speak was Joe Clarke who won £10m in the Euromillions in 2013. He described how he was arrested at his parents’ home on August 9, 1971 and taken to Girwood Army Base. He spoke of being in a gym hall with Francie McGuigan (another of the Hooded Men). They were handcuffed and thrown into a waggon. Later they were taken to a helicopter. Joe said he was asked if he had seen the people in Vietnam being thrown out of a helicopter. He was put in the helicopter and made to jump out not knowing how high up he was. In transpires he was only a few feet off the ground, but he described it as terrifying.
After being assessed as fit by someone who appeared to be a doctor, he was given the number seven which was written on his hand. “I was put into a room where I was spreadeagled and beaten. I was put up against a wall where I was kicked on the back of my feet and legs. We were beaten until we collapsed,” said Mr Clarke.
He was then taken to Crumlin Road jail and was serviced with a Removal Order. He described the constant ‘white noise’ . “At one stage I lost the plot,” he said describing having hallucinations.
Fellow inmate Francie McGuigan described similar torture and beatings. He said the white noise in what was dubbed ‘The Music Room’ was constant and effected every nerve and sinew in your body. “If you didn’t cooperate in the interrogation you were brought back to the Music Room and kicked senseless.”
When Jim McIlmurray regrouped the men three years ago, the idea was to get justice for the Hooded Men. Now a case at the European Court of Human Rights is the latest step in this plan.
Representing the men is Kevin Winters Solicitors who succeeded last year in forcing the Irish government to refer their treatment back to the judges in Europe. That court ruled 40 years ago that the men had been tortured in British custody, but the verdict was controversially overturned when it was accepted to be degrading and inhumane treatment.
Earlier this year high profile human rights barrister Amal Clooney joined the legal team. The lawyer, who is married to actor George Clooney is expected to visit Ireland in the next few weeks to meet the men and discuss the case.
The Hooded Men are also about to take legal action against Secretary of State Theresa Villiers, PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton and Justice Minister David Forde to demand an independent investigation into the use of torture by security forces in the north during internment.
On Friday night Darragh Mackin of KRW Law said the cases of the Hooded Men was ‘one of the greatest injustices that ever happened internationally’.
“The British government actually misled the European Court and the Irish government was forced to bring the case back to Europe,” said Mr Mackin adding the new evidence had come to light. “Slowly but surely we will get justice for these men,” he said.
The meeting in Clan na Gael was organised by a Facebook group called the Shankill People. A raffle was organised to raise funds to erect a memorial stone in Dougher Cemetery in Lurgan to remember residents from the Shankill area who are buried there in unmarked graves. It had been a project of Gerry McKerr’s before his death. On Friday night £1,000 was collected and one of the Hooded Men Joe Clarke said he would make up the difference to £2.4k to fund the grave stone.