West Belfast man Liam Holden ‘waterboarded by Paras to get false murder confession’

Paratroopers allegedly used waterboarding torture techniques against a west Belfast man in obtaining a false confession to killing a British soldier, the High Court has heard.

Tuesday, 11th January 2022, 6:35 pm
Liam Holden leaves the High Court after the hearing in his claim against the Ministry of Defence

Liam Holden also claimed he was hooded and had a gun pointed at his head before wrongly admitting to shooting Private Frank Bell 50 years ago.

Mr Holden, 68, was the last man in Northern Ireland sentenced to hang.

The death penalty was commuted to life in prison before a 40-year fight to clear his name resulted in his murder conviction being quashed in 2012.

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He has already been awarded £1m for losses suffered due to the miscarriage of justice.

But Mr Holden is now seeking damages from the Ministry of Defence for alleged misfeasance in public office, assault, battery and torture.

In 1972 he was arrested after Private Bell was shot in the Springfield Avenue area of west Belfast.

A teenage chef at the time, he was brought to a military post at Blackmountain school where members of the Parachute Regiment allegedly deployed banned interrogation techniques.

Soldiers pinned him to the floor and placed a folded towel over his face, the court heard.

Mr Holden said: “They started pouring a bucket of water slowly through the towel.

“The first thing I felt was the cold, then trying to breath and then sucking water in through my mouth and up my nose.

“It was like you were just drowning.”

He described being revived and slapped about the face while soldiers held him by the armpits.

Up to four questioning and waterboarding sessions were allegedly carried out.

At that point he was hooded, dragged out to a chair and taken to a loyalist area of Belfast.

“While we were driving one of the soldiers was tapping my knee with a gun, saying ‘This is for you’,” he recalled.

“They took me to Glencairn, a notorious spot for Catholics being found shot dead.

“They took me out of the car and brought me into a field, put a gun to my head and said if I didn’t admit to shooting the soldier they would shoot me.”

Asked by his barrister, Brian Fee QC, how he responded to the alleged threat, Mr Holden replied: “I just said I shot the soldier.”

According to his account he was then driven back to Blackmountain, where the hood was removed and he was offered a cup of tea by a senior officer.

“He basically said to me ‘you realise we have to do these things’,” Mr Holden added.

“After that I gave my statement that I shot the soldier, made a cock and bull story about where I shot him from, where I got the weapon, where I dumped the weapon and how I got away. Just a load of crap.”

The MoD is defending the action by denying liability.

But opening the case, Mr Fee argued that infamous and prohibited interrogation methods were used against his client.

“If the plaintiff’s description of the hooding incident, and the waterboarding are accepted, then torture is the appropriate description,” counsel insisted.

He also alleged that notes made about Mr Holden’s interrogation were burnt before he stood trial as part of efforts to conceal his unlawful arrest.

Dealing with alleged misfeasance in public office, the barrister contended that soldiers had used their powers for wrong and ulterior motives.

“They wanted to get a conviction at all costs, and they knew they needed to conceal the truth from the lawyers and the court to do so,” he submitted.

“The plan which was devised and implemented, was one of considerable cunning, and resulted in a man being sentenced to death.”

The case continues.