Editorial: Apology to Hooded Men a landmark moment

The issuing of an apology by police to the 'Hooded Men' over their horrific treatment more than half a century ago marks a significant moment not only in their long campaign but for the wider legacy debate.

The sense of shock at the indignity and suffering inflicted on the 14 young Catholic men while being interned without charge has not diminished with the passing of time.

During their detention they were stripped, beaten, deprived of sleep, food and water, made to stand in stress positions, forced to listen to constant static noise and even hooded and thrown from helicopters a short distance from the ground, believing they were high up in the air.

None of the men were convicted of any wrongdoing and they have long made the case they were subjected to state-sanctioned torture by soldiers and police.

More than 50 years on, surviving members of the group have finally received an apology for the "actions and omissions of police officers involved in their treatment whilst in police custody in 1971".

A letter from the PSNI said it acknowledged a Supreme Court ruling in 2001 that it is likely the treatment would now be characterised as torture – and that it was not acceptable either at the time or today.

The declining health of one of the men, Joe Clarke, appeared to be a catalyst for negotiations around the apology to conclude and he received his letter just days before his death at his south Belfast home on Monday afternoon.

The statement was welcomed by the 71-year-old, providing some measure of closure at the end of a long personal campaign for recognition of the injustice he endured.

However, it came too late for five of the Hooded Men who had already passed away; the letter was poignantly placed at the grave of Co Antrim man Pat Shivers, who died in 1985.

Survivors have also spoken of their determination to continue their battle to ensure the British army and government are held accountable for their actions.

The prime minister must now follow the example of police and 'do the right thing' by formally accepting responsibility for an episode which continues to brings shame on the state.

The courage and determination shown by the Hooded Men should also finally convince him of the need to halt planned legislation which would shut down avenues to truth and justice in legacy cases and is firmly opposed by victims and politicians across society.