Interview with Senior Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officer on interrogation

Context: Research for Brainwash: The Secret History of Mind Control
Location: Via telephone
Date: 2005
Interviewee: Senior RUC Officer on Interrogation

This brief interview is interesting partly because the officer concerned admits that the Five Techniques were used in Northern Ireland (and adds a new one – pushing suspects out of airborne helicopters as a form of mock execution) and partly because he notes the effect of the withdrawal of those techniques after the 1971 incident was made public: to IRA suspects, Castlereagh became a place ‘without teeth’, As a result, the intelligence take dropped substantially.

He also discusses the techniques terrorist suspects used to stop themselves breaking under interrogation – and tells an extraordinary story about how the simplest of items can be made to force a suspect into a confession – in this case, a pair of Marigold household rubber gloves. Interrogators I have spoken to since this interview invariably laugh when they hear this story – then disagree about whether the technique would be acceptable today.

Download: Download Interview (PDF)

Our techniques of interrogation which we used in the early – the start of the conflict here [in Northern Ireland] – we used the army techniques of sleep deprivation, white noise and the hooding thing that is now very much in vogue in Iraq. It’s funny, the way those things come back around. Those techniques we used here in Internment in 1971 as a way of disorientating a person to make them talk. [It was] just a pressurised interrogation.

Hooding, white noise and wall-standing were used systematically at that point?

After the troops came onto the streets of Derry, the military took primacy over the police. We really had no interrogation: we were just police – well a paramilitary police, an armed police. That’s the only difference and we had a land border to secure, we had big border guards down as well, stationed on the border because of the conflict with the 26 counties. And we had no background at all, and that’s why Internment was so badly handled. We nearly arrested anybody who played for a Gaelic football team! So the military had to teach us how to do interrogation. We did questioning and generally crime was quite low in Northern Ireland and everybody usually did it and there wasn’t much of a chance of interrogation.

So on interrogation and when they were taken to Palace Barracks in Holywood, I think everybody got a claim out of it and it went to the European Court of Human Rights. There certainly was white noise used, there certainly was hoods used, there certainly was standing for a long time. And sometimes we carried those things through to interrogations in Castlereagh. More the standing with your hands against the wall for long, long periods.

But the terrorists soon became very, very good at countering it. We would, at the time, the guys that you were interrogating would not speak if you had them for 7 days. They just would not speak.

Even with no sleep?

No, what came in after the European Convention of Human rights – the whole system was let down quite clearly, and it’s why instead of using interrogation to break the terrorists we started to use intelligence. What happened was the well from the Castlereagh and the holding centres dried up in that you couldn’t use Sleep Deprivation, you could not question between midnight and 8am in the morning unless it was under very specific circumstances – like the ticking bomb scenario. But you couldn’t do it otherwise. There had to be regular meal breaks, they asked to go to the toilet, they had to be allowed to go and there was a form came in for that, and that actually was a forerunner to PACE which came in across the UK.

I’m not saying that some of them didn’t get the odd thump at Castlereagh or the odd slapping, but there wasn’t the systematic beating which they would make you think there was. And there wasn’t the horror stories that came out. … They’d come in, think they were going to be tortured, think there were going to be electrodes attached to their testicles, thinking there were going to be people coming with rubber hoses to beat them up. And all the rough handling at Castlereagh, all the sensory deprivation, and all the naked [stuff], standing – the European Court of Human rights, when they said it was a breach of their human rights, it was all altered in 76, 77, 78. That’s why we moved towards the intelligence-led policing model. We had to because interrogations were not getting the results.

I remember with ****** [a famous IRA suspect] one time, I said ‘Look, we’ll get this sorted out. I don’t want to arrest you and have you taken to Castlereagh’. And he said ‘Castlereagh holds no tigers for me.’ Because all the teeth that Castlereagh had had been systematically pulled. And you know, this is – the Americans seem to have made all the exact same mistakes that the British government made in the early ’70s. They have now made in Guantanamo Bay and these other prisons. Their interrogation: most of the people they’re interrogating are internees, the same as the internees we were interrogating. Then we turned it on because whenever a person was taken to Holywood Palace Barracks, that’s where the holding centre was in internment in 1971. I was only a part time reserve constable then, I was not a full-time member of the police service but from the stories that you hear, and from people who were involved in it, white noise was used. Hooding was used. Long standing was used.

And there was another technique. They used to put them into helicopters and then took them up high. Then they pushed them out when they were only two or three feet above the ground. You know, they disoriented them. They were hooded. They were in a helicopter. The helicopter took off, then bounced about and came down to a couple of feet again, you know, so that the people were so disoriented that they didn’t know where they were. Then they threw them out as if they were throwing them out from a height.

Were these techniques that had come from the British army?

Oh aye. That was a standard military interrogation technique then. It wasn’t – that was the use at the time. And I would say during the second world war, they didn’t have helicopters, but where that developed, whether that developed during the Cold War period, but there were certainly interrogation techniques built up and grew. And sleep deprivation and white noise and disorientation and all those things that confuse a person certainly – it was taught. That’s what the army taught the police.

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