Judges add to demands for interview safeguards: The verdicts yesterday in the UDR Four case are damning for the RUC, David McKittrick argues

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The Independent Online
Attention in the UDR Four case will now centre on the behaviour of RUC detectives in Castlereagh, and on whether the appeal court was correct in rejecting Neil Latimer's appeal.

Yesterday's judgment was particularly damaging for the RUC. The Lord Chief Justice, Sir Brian Hutton, and his two colleagues concluded that Esda tests had shown that some interview notes had been rewritten some time after the interrogations.

Senior policemen had then signed and authenticated the notes, deliberately confirming the wrong dates. Then officers had lied to the court by testifying under oath that the notes were contemporaneous.

Individuals and groups such as the Belfast-based Committee on the Administration of Justice have long argued for additional safeguards for suspects, who can be held for up to seven days at Castlereagh. They have suggested that interviews be video-taped and audio-taped, to ensure against ill- treatment or the extraction of false confessions.

The RUC and the Government have responded by strongly defending the Castlereagh system and arguing that such measures are unnecessary and would unfairly inhibit the police.

The judges yesterday declared that ensuring detectives could not rewrite interview notes or falsely authenticate them were matters 'which the highest authorities must address with urgency and determination'.

The judges have thus made their views known in the clearest possible way; it remains to be seen whether this will finally prompt the Government into action.

As for their decision on Latimer, which was heavily criticised yesterday, Sir Brian took the unusual step of supplying the media with a 14-page summary of the 130-page judgment, saying there had been much public concern about the case.

The summary made the point that the evidence against Latimer was very different from that against the other three, in that he had been identified by a witness and had agreed at his trial that he did make the confessions the police said he did.

Sir Brian said that while the Esda examination had revealed a number of very grave matters, including rewriting and untruthful police evidence in court, it had given no indication that the police had inserted confessions which the appellants had not made. 'In other words, there is no indication from the Esda examination that the police officers concocted false confessions which they wrongfully attributed to the appellants.'

The court was satisfied that a written statement made by Latimer was true in describing his part in the murder plan and how he had shot the victim, Sir Brian said.

As far as the other three were concerned, however, the only admissible evidence against them was their confessions.

If the trial judge had known that the police had given untruthful evidence to him about the writing of the interview notes and the false authentications, he would not have convicted them. Furthermore, if the first appeal had known of the Esda findings, it would have quashed the three convictions. Sir Brian said it was a matter of great regret that the three should have served years in prison.