The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has issued a formal apology to the 'Hooded Men,' the group of internees who were subject to torture techniques in 1971 during The Troubles.

The PSNI apology says: “The Police Service of Northern Ireland acknowledges the finding of the United Kingdom Supreme Court that it is likely that the treatment to which you and the other Hooded Men were subjected to at the hands of the security forces, including some police officers, would be characterised today as torture.

“We wish to acknowledge that the treatment you received was not acceptable at that time and is not acceptable by modern standards of policing.

"We would like to convey an apology to you for the actions and omissions of police officers at that time.”

Detective Chief Superintendent Ian Saunders, Head of Legacy Investigation & Disclosure Branch, said on Tuesday: “The Police Service recognise the significant step taken today in issuing this apology.

"It is our view that this was the right thing to do to help give the ‘Hooded Men’ and their families recognition about how they were treated.”

The apology was made public the day after Joe Clarke, one of the 'Hooded Men,' died. The PSNI said on Tuesday that it had written to "a number of individuals, including the late Mr. Clarke, and the next of kin of deceased individuals of the ‘Hooded Men.'"

Statement following our apology to the ‘Hooded Men’.

— Police Service NI (@PoliceServiceNI) June 13, 2023

"Too little, too late"

Solicitors acting on behalf of Liam Shannon and Jim Auld, two of the Hooded Men, said in a statement to the PA on Tuesday: “This apology in some ways is too little, too late.

"It ought to have been delivered long before now and is only coming on the back of latest legal challenges against the police over their failure to investigate the criminality of the State.

“We see this as another step on the road to vindication.

“We now call upon the PSNI to remove their objection to our judicial review challenge listed in a few weeks’ time.

“We also now call upon the State to withdraw its insensitive attempt to stop our rightful claims for proper compensation for the horrendous treatment suffered by us.

“This apology must be seen in its proper context. It will only have any real effect if it will be replicated in all outstanding legal cases and leads to the Government apologising as well. Otherwise, it looks like the Government passing the buck and seen as hollow.”

"Seismic development in a seismic case"

Darragh Mackin of Phoenix Law, who represents the majority of the Hooded Men including the recently deceased Clarke, noted on social media that the PSNI apology was hand-delivered to Clarke last week and it was kept confidential until it could be hand delivered to all of the other Hooded Men today, June 13.

Mackin said on Tuesday: “The Hooded Men have fought a 10-year campaign for justice. Since their landmark victory before the Supreme Court in December 2021, we have engaged at the very highest level to try and find a resolution for our clients.

"Today, almost 18 months on, the PSNI have today issued our clients with a formal apology that recognises the torturous treatment to which our clients sustained.

"The publication of this apology comes after weeks of intense negotiation in which drew to a close in the days before Mr. Joe Clarke tragically passed away. In the last days of his life, Mr. Clarke was finally delivered closure in the form of an apology, for which he had long since campaigned. This is a seismic development in a seismic case.

"Most importantly, in times of debate on how the legacy of the past should be addressed, we can and should forever point to the case of the Hooded Men as the pin-up of due process, humanity, and resolution coming together under one umbrella. This case is an example of why the efforts by the British Government to brush the legacy of the past under the carpet will never, and can never, work."

Mackin paid tribute to "those at the upper echelons" of the PSNI, in particular ACC Todd and Head of Legacy Branch Ian Saunders "who despite the sensitivities engaged in an extensive negotiation, and against all odds, ensured the delivery of an apology before the passing of Mr Clarke."

Mackin said Clarke "was a larger-than-life character who had unrivalled generosity and charisma. This apology is a testament to that character and tenacity, in demonstrating that where there is a will; there is always a way."

He continued: "What is notable today is the silence by the British Government. The time is now for the Government and MOD to apologise for their part in these torture techniques.

"Today proves, nobody is above the law."

Who are the Hooded Men?

In the summer of 1971 during The Troubles, the UK government arrested hundreds of people as part of Operation Demetrius. 342 people were interned (imprisoned without trial) as part of the Operation.

14 men - Jim Auld, Pat Shivers, Joe Clarke, Michael Donnelly, Kevin Hannaway, Paddy Joe McLean, Francie McGuigan, Patrick McNally, Sean McKenna, Gerry McKerr, Michael Montgomery, Davy Rodgers, Liam Shannon, and Brian Turley - were chosen for 'special treatment' and were taken to a secret interrogation center at Ballykelly in Co Derry.

The men were forced to wear hoods and thrown to the ground from low-flying helicopters while hooded. On top of brutal beatings and death threats, the men were then subjected to what would become known as the five techniques, authorized at a high level: hooding, stress positions, white noise, sleep deprivation, and deprivation of food and water.

None of the 14 men were ever convicted of any criminal offense.

Amnesty International launched an investigation and said its findings were "shocking" - "The men were severely beaten, and when they collapsed, the beatings would start again. Some were still black and blue with bruises. Some felt they were on the brink of insanity – one alleged he tried to kill himself by banging his head against some metal piping in his cell."

In late 2017, the High Court ruled that the failure by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) to investigate the allegations of torture was unlawful and should be quashed. 

The PSNI sought to appeal this decision to the Court of Appeal, but in September 2019, the Court ruled that the decision should stand. An appeal by the PSNI to the UK Supreme Court was rejected in November 2019.

In December 2021, the UK Supreme Court found that the PSNI acted unlawfully by deciding not to proceed with an investigation into the torture of 14 men in the 1970s.