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Significant ruling in Hooded Men case

The soldiers and police officers who inflicted an appalling ordeal on the so-called Hooded Men back in 1971 probably regarded themselves as untouchable.

They obviously felt that the 14 suspects who had already suffered the nightmare experience of internment without trial were entirely at their mercy, and could be subjected to a range of disgraceful abuses in the course of interrogation in a British Army camp at Ballykelly in Co Derry.

What they did not realise was that their targets had exceptional physical and moral courage and would still be prepared to pursue their fight for justice almost a half a century later.

The surviving members of the group had a notable legal victory at the High Court in Belfast yesterday when a judge quashed a previous PSNI decision not to pursue further investigations in the case.

Even after all these years, there can only be a sense of outrage that uniformed individuals who had a responsibility to uphold the rule of law and order could instead repeatedly and deliberately brutalise those in their custody.

In addition to being beaten, evidence was given that the Hooded Men were forced into stress positions, deprived of sleep and food, bombarded with loud static noise and thrown from helicopters which they were told were hundreds of feet in the air but turned out to be just off the ground.

There can be no doubt that it all amounted to torture, and it was significant that for the first time such a description was formally included in yesterday's judgment.

The Hooded Men were all eventually released, and, although four have subsequently died, the others have been determined to establish the full truth behind the scandal, particularly after documentation emerged which suggested links to the highest levels of the British establishment.

What happens next is uncertain, and it is entirely unacceptable that so many innocent people who suffered at the hands of republicans, loyalists and the forces of the state down the years effectively find themselves in the same position.

It remains a tremendous pity that the British government did not seize the opportunity for a wider resolution which was presented through the 2009 Eames Bradley report.

There are few indications that our Stormont parties are capable of reaching agreement on ways of dealing with our troubled past, but the issue cannot be left to the courts and needs to be kept close to the top of the political agenda.

The Hooded Men, and thousands of other victims on all sides down the decades, deserve nothing less.

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