‘Hooded man’ Gerry McKerr dies

Gerry McKerr, one of the 'hooded-men'
Gerry McKerr, one of the 'hooded-men'

One of the “hooded-men” Gerry McKerr from Lurgan has died.

Mr McKerr was one of 14 men who claimed they were tortured and held without trial in August 1971.

He died in the early hours of this morning (March 19).

Their case against the government is being taken to the European Court of Human Rights.

International human rights lawyer Amal Clooney - the wife of Hollywood star George Clooney - is part of the legal team representing the “hooded men”.

A statement released today by Jim McIlmurray, who is Case Coordinator for ‘The Hooded Men’, said: “I was with Gerry the moment we received the news the Irish government would request the European courts reopen the case of the Hooded Men.

“He was delighted and said “Justice, finally we will get justice”.

“I will ensure that Gerry will receive justice. The case will continue in his honour.

“Our thoughts are with his wife Eileen and children at this sad time.”

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”.