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Hooded Men deserve full investigation

The BBC Spotlight programme on the history of the Troubles has served to remind us of the disturbing, shocking and horrifying events that took place over many years in Northern Ireland.

They were dark and extraordinary times - grim, frightening, brutal and bloody - that left thousands of people traumatised to this day by what they experienced, through the murder of a loved one, the injury they suffered or the terror they endured.

It is 50 years since the Troubles as we know them began. Many people watching the programme were not born and would have little concept of what life was like during the early years of violence and mayhem.

But for many others, it was a reality that resonates to this day.

One of the participants in the programme was Joe Clarke, who told of the horrendous brutality he endured after being arrested during internment in August 1971.

He and 13 fellow internees who became known as the Hooded Men were subjected to beatings, sleep and food deprivation and bombarded with white noise, treatment that the European Court of Human Rights ruled was inhumane and degrading. However, the court said the treatment fell short of torture.

Their quest to have the police investigate the allegations of torture took a step forward at the Court of Appeal in Belfast yesterday.

The Lord Chief Justice, Sir Declan Morgan, said the treatment of the men 'would, if it occurred today, properly be characterised as torture.'

The court agreed with a previous ruling that an investigation carried out by the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) was 'irrational', adding it was unlikely a probe by the Legacy Investigation Branch of the PSNI or its successor would be likely to engender public confidence.

As another of the Hooded Men, Francis McGuigan, put it yesterday, torture is a 'small word' but it his case it left him unable to even spell his name after what was done to his brain and body.

After the judgment, Chief Constable Simon Byrne acknowledged the distress caused by this case adding that it underlined the need for a societal response to issues of legacy.

It is 48 years since these men were put through a nightmare. The nine surviving Hooded Men deserve a thorough investigation into their treatment.

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