‘Hooded Man’ Gerry McKerr, who claimed he was tortured by British army, passes away

NewsBy Sunday World
Gerry McKerr in a scene from an RTE documentary
Gerry McKerr in a scene from an RTE documentary

A prisoner detained without trial who was allegedly tortured by British soldiers during the Troubles in Northern Ireland has died aged 71.

Gerry McKerr, from Lurgan in Co Armagh, was among 14 so-called Hooded Men who claimed they were dangled out of helicopters and beaten in August 1971. Amal Clooney, wife of Hollywood star George, has joined the legal team representing the men.

They have campaigned for the UK Government to launch a full, frank and fair investigation. The Irish Government referred the case to the European Court of Human Rights late last year.

Colm O'Gorman, executive director of Amnesty International Ireland, said: "Over 40 years ago Gerry McKerr suffered torture at the hands of UK security forces.

"But, rather than be bowed, alongside the other Hooded Men, he became a tireless campaigner for justice and never gave up, right to his dying day."

The case centres on 14 Catholic men who were interned - detained indefinitely without trial - in 1971 who said they were subjected to torture methods including hooding, being held in stress positions, exposure to white noise, sleep and food deprivation as well as beatings.

The men were hooded and flown by helicopter to a secret location, later revealed as a British Army camp at Ballykelly, outside Londonderry.

They were also allegedly dangled out of the helicopter and told they were high in the air, although they were close to the ground.

None were ever convicted of wrongdoing.

The Irish Government has announced that it would request a revisiting of a 1978 ruling by the Strasbourg court that they were not tortured. New material has emerged suggesting that the UK withheld vital evidence.

Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland programme director of Amnesty, said: "One of Gerry McKerr's greatest regrets was that the flawed judgment in the Hooded Men case was used to pave the way for the torture of other prisoners around the world.

"While Gerry did not live to see justice, he did glimpse it on the horizon.

"We trust that, in due course, the European Court will vindicate the efforts of Gerry and the others to take a stand against state-sanctioned torture."

The Irish government first took a human rights case against Britain in 1971.

The European Commission ruled that the mistreatment of the men was torture, but in 1978 the European Court of Human Rights held that the men suffered inhumane and degrading treatment that was not torture.

The UK did not dispute the finding.

New evidence, uncovered from national archives in London, has thrown doubt over the ruling. It includes a letter dated 1977 from then-home secretary Merlyn Rees to then-prime minister James Callaghan in which he states his view that the decision to use "methods of torture in Northern Ireland in 1971/72 was taken by ministers - in particular Lord Carrington, then secretary of state for defence".