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13 March 1997 Edition

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Graphic account of prisoners' torture

Since the collapse of the Whitemoor escape trial in January, only two of the five Irish prisoners involved have been decategorised. Peter Sherry and Liam McCotter have been reduced from `Exceptionally High Risk Category A' to `High Risk Category A', an important distinction in that they are no longer confined in the cramped conditions of Special Secure Units. Sherry is on a wing in Full Sutton Prison while McCotter is held in Frankland.

But Liam O'Duibhir, Paul `Dingus' Magee and miscarriage of justice victim Danny McNamee are all still held as Exceptional High Risk prisoners in the Special Secure Unit at Full Sutton.

Solicitor for some of the men, Gareth Peirce, has described the effect the appalling conditions have had on the men. She was speaking at a Fuaiscailt public meeting in London on Friday 7 March.

Peirce explained that when the six men charged were waiting for the January trial ``anything that could be raised about what was happening to them would have been a potential contempt of court. ``So very privately, very secretly, they were tortured, in every single way. They were beaten by prison officers when they were captured. Parts of the videos that showed these assaults disappeared. Their injuries were very clear though. I called the police the next day and said, please investigate these assaults and every single prison officer exercised his right to silence during that investigation and refused to answer questions.''

Peirce said that what happened afterwards was ``vicious revenge'' for the embarrassment they had caused ``but not like the revenge that Michael Howard has taken since.

``He has imposed closed visits between prisoners and their families, but the only people this applies to are Irish prisoners. Two of the Whitemoor escapees have been put on punishment for trying to continue their education. There is no other stimulation, no other distraction. They are deprived of natural light, their eyes are gone. They are young men, young men who have been driven close to the brink of madness. They have never seen the clear sky since they have been in prison. There are three layers of metal grid and mesh over their hideous exercise yard, which is like the one that Oscar Wilde described in the Ballad of Reading Gaol - it's worse, it's worse.

``Their joints are going because of lack of proper exercise, they are in a tiny cell with fixed table and chair. Medical reports since the breakout in September 1994 have stated that a substantial number of these men have developed severe mental illnesses including depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder during the period since.''

A report from three psychiatrists compiled before the trial in January stated: ``Their mental capacities to fully engage with and participate in the preparation of their defence in connection with the forthcoming trial has been impaired in these prisoners to an extent greater than would be normally produced by conditions of imprisonment. Their long term mental health is also likely to have been adversely affected.''

Gareth Peirce reminded her audience that ``every single potential juror knew about these men and their alleged terrorist involvement but it was considered contempt to inform jurors about the torture these men had been through.

``Yet in the end the judge said that what swayed him in not ordering a retrial was the mental state of the defendants.''

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