IRA men tortured by British officers

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Military Intelligence papers released yesterday at the Public Records Office provide evidence that British officers tortured IRA men at the height of the Irish `"Troubles" in 1920.

Sean Hales, from West Cork, who was shot in reprisal during the Civil War of 1922 which followed independence, and a man named Harte, were taken into a room at the British Army garrison in Bandon, where "six officers cross questioned them. It was alleged their fingers were broken and crushed with pliers and threats made to shoot them."

A card index kept by the Army's counter-insurgency branch at Dublin Castle includes a terse note on the torture of the two IRA's leading figures after they were picked up in a "sweep" of Cork by the security forces in July 1920.

An official inquiry showed that Hales attempted to escape and was hit in the mouth by a sentry. Later, both men were recognised by soldiers as being "concerned in the murder of a sergeant and a corporal of their own regiment, were roughly handled and placed under special guard. No other ill-treatment was afforded them," the paper noted.

They were fortunate. A Captain J. Hinkey of the IRA was "killed in a struggle in the guard room in Tipperary", the improbable excuse being "that he was suffering from DTs". The report reads: "Harte had been under observation for two days and was ordered to hospital. When returned to the guard room he rushed at the escorting sergeant". Business premises in the town were burned down in reprisal and the file carries a suspicious question mark after a "troops not involved" annotation.

These files give for the first time official details of the savage guerrilla war which finally forced the British Government's hand in southern Ireland.

At New Year 1920, troops ran amok in Tipperary in revenge for an ambush, as a result of which 18-month sentences were handed down to soldiers of the Lincolnshire regiment.

On 1 September 1921, in an ambush reminiscent of John Wayne's cavalry attack in John Ford's The Horse Soldiers, 40 IRA men seized the railway station at Upton, cut the telephone lines, kept the staff of the adjacent post office telegraph station hostage and when the train steamed in with a party of the King's Regiment, opened up with a rifle volley. The troops returned the fire and the rebels fled.

Houses were regularly burned down and fines of pounds 100 levied by the military authorities as reprisal for ambushes.