RUC 'intimidated teenagers' to obtain murder confessions

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Richard Hanna was 15 years old when he was arrested in 1976 for shooting dead a north Belfast accountant. A younger boy at his school, Robert Hines, 14, had named him as his accomplice in the murder, even though the two barely knew each other.

Richard Hanna was 15 years old when he was arrested in 1976 for shooting dead a north Belfast accountant. A younger boy at his school, Robert Hines, 14, had named him as his accomplice in the murder, even though the two barely knew each other.

Members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary questioned the older boy for three days without allowing him access to a solicitor or legal guardian. On the fourth day Hanna confessed to the murder of Peter Johnston, a Catholic, at his home.

He and Hines were convicted of the murder and served nine years in detention. A fresh investigation has, however, found evidence that the boys signed the confessions under oppressive circumstances. This could lead to the convictions being quashed later this month.

The case is one of a series involving juveniles jailed largely on the basis of disputed confessions and evidence obtained by the RUC during the height of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Lawyers believe that dozens of convictions involving young people will now be challenged at the appeal courts. They argue that members of the RUC, who had to cope with shootings and murders on a daily basis, used a form of "psychological warfare" to obtain confessions. This included holding youngsters for days without access to a solicitor or an adult.

They were sometimes kept in solitary confinement and in underground cells with little light and no clocks. They also had to sleep in the same room in which they were questioned.

Hanna claimed that he had been repeatedly beaten during questioning and that a gun had been pointed at him.

The convictions of Hanna and Hines could be overturned by the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal at a hearing in Belfast this month, while another murder conviction, of a 16-year-old, is due to be heard by the same court in a few months' time.

At least one other murder case involving a teenager is also being sent to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), the organisation that considers alleged miscarriages of justice. Since the CCRC was set up in 1997, it has received 96 applications for suspected miscarriages of justice from Northern Ireland.

A CCRC spokesman said: "We can't discuss individual cases, but historically, there are clearly differences in the number and type of applications made to the commission from Northern Ireland. Further work will be needed to fully understand these trends and to raise wider awareness of the commission's role and remit in Northern Ireland."

When Hanna was released from jail, he became an alcoholic and was forced to flee to England after being threatened by paramilitaries. He died in March this year. He claimed that a senior police officer had told him that he knew he was innocent and that the police knew the identity of the real killer, who was now in prison in Spain for drug smuggling.

The Hanna family's solicitor, John Rice, said: "I believe that his young age, low self-esteem and abnormal suggestibility were taken advantage of by the RUC. Richard Hanna was failed by this criminal justice system."

Comments