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Extracts from 'The Guineapigs' by John McGuffin (1974)

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Text: John McGuffin ... Page Compiled: Fionnuala McKenna
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The following extracts have been contributed by permission of the author John McGuffin. The views expressed in this book do not necessarily reflect the views of the members of the CAIN Project. The CAIN Project would welcome other material which meets our guidelines for contributions.

book cover These extracts are taken from the book:
The Guineapigs
by John McGuffin (1974)
Paperback 75pp Out of Print

Originally published in London by Penguin Books, 1974

These extracts are copyright John McGuffin and are included on the CAIN site by permission of the author (contact: You may not edit, adapt, or redistribute changed versions of this for other than your personal use without the express written permission of the author. Redistribution for commercial purposes is not permitted.

Full text from the book is now available at John McGuffin's website {external_link}.

From the back cover:

The Guineapigs in the title were fourteen Irish political prisoners on whom the British Army experimented with sensory deprivation torture in 1971. These 'techniques' are now outlawed, following Britain's conviction at the International Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg, but have been exported and used by Britain's allies throughout the world. This book first appeared in 1974, published by Penguin Books in London. It sold out on its first print run and was then abruptly taken off the market following pressure from the British Government.

In Ireland in 1971 there was deliberate and careful use of modern torture techniques, not merely to get information but to perfect the system of Sensory Deprivation for use against civilians. The author, an ex-internee himself spent two years researching the book following his release from Crumlin Road jail where he had been held without charge or trial. In this new edition he is at last able to name the torturers and those responsible for this sordid episode in British Imperial history. No member of the British Army or the Royal Ulster Constabulary has ever been convicted of torture or brutality to prisoners, although the Government has been forced to pay out over $5 million in compensation to torture victims.

This reissue of 'The Guineapigs' is dedicated to the blanket men in Long Kesh concentration camp and the women political prisoners in Armagh jail. 'Na reabhloidi Abu.'

This book could not have been written without the active help and advice of many people. Firstly I must thank the 'guineapigs' themselves, and in particular Jim Auld, Pat Shivers and Paddy Joe Mc Clean. A large debt is also owed to the Association for Legal Justice, Amnesty International (and in particular Richard Reoch) and the British Society for Social Responsibility in the Sciences. For help on the medical and psychological aspects of SD I am particularly indebted to Dr. Tim Shallice of the National Hospital and Dr. Pearse O'Malley of Belfast.

As for the rest, many have preferred that they remain anonymous, but special thanks must go to Judy Smith, Frank Doherty, Johnathan Rosenhead, Kevin Boyle, Hurst Hannum, Father Denis Faul, Margaret Gatt, Ian Franklin, Eamonn Kerr, Billy Close, Joe Quigley, Noelle, Hugh, Judith and, of course, R. W. Grimshaw. I am grateful to Gil Boehringer for permission to use part of his work for Appendix I.

Finally, I must thank Marie for her typing and Fra for putting up with it all.

Belfast, February 1974

Torture and brutality — or 'ill-treatment' as Sir Edmund Compton would prefer to call it — are as old as war itself. Mankind has expended centuries of research in trying to devise newer and more bestial ways of extracting information from reluctant witnesses or causing lingering and painful deaths.

The purpose of this book, however, is not to deal with torture in general. It is specific. It deals with the treatment meted out to fourteen Irishmen by the British 'security forces' in the period from August to October 1971. It is not written to show that this treatment was more barbaric than that practised by the British Army upon hundreds of other Irish internees/detainees/political prisoners since 1969 nor upon the victims of the ten colonial actions undertaken by the British since the Second World War. Instead it is an attempt to show how these men were selected as unwilling and unwitting subjects upon whom Army psychiatrists, psychologists and 'counter-terrorist strategists' could experiment in that particular field known as 'SD' — Sensory Deprivation. That the experiment was a dismal failure, both from a military and a propaganda point of view, mattered little to the men in the War Office. Worse still, the fact that several of the men used were literally driven out of their minds and still today, over two years later, suffer from severe mental traumas which they will carry with them to the grave has evoked not a shred of remorse, admission of guilt, or apology, let alone an attempt at recompense — though how do you give a man back his mental health? — from the 'mother of parliaments'. This book is an attempt to tell these men's story, the story of the 'guineapigs'.

Table of Contents

Chapter I

  'Ill-Treatment' — A Brief History
Chapter 2
  What is Sensory Deprivation?
Chapter 3
  The Swoop — The First Forty-eight Hours
Chapter 4
  The Experiment
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
  The After-effects
Chapter 7
  Down on the Killing Floor
Chapter 8
  Postscript — Torture in the World Today
  Proposed Draft for a UN Resolution on a
Convention on Torture and the Treatment of Prisoners

Chapter 2
What is Sensory Deprivation?

Sensory deprivation (SD) refers literally to the artificial deprivation of the senses — auditory, visual, tactile and kinesthetic. In connection with the Northern Ireland 'guineapigs' it meant (1) hooding prisoners prior to their interrogation; (2) constant use of a sound machine which produces white noise', a high pitched hissing, mushy sound; (3) long periods of immobilization, being forced to lean against a wall, legs wide apart with only the fingertips touching the wall; (4) little or no food or drink; and (5) being forced to wear loose overalls, several sizes too big. In addition, (6) prisoners were deprived of sleep for days on end; while not technically SD this accentuates the process. There is a purpose behind all these actions. Measures (1), (2), (3) and (5) cause visual, auditory, kinesthetic and tactile deprivation while measures (4) and (6) deprive the brain of oxygen and sugar necessary for normal functioning. In addition, measures (1), (4) and (6) may disturb the normal body metabolism.

Since the l950s there have been many experiments into SD but the pace particularly accelerated after the Korean War. In 1958 at McGill University, Montreal, Hebb conducted the most detailed experiments up to that date.[1] Volunteer students were isolated in an air-conditioned room. They wore translucent goggles so that they could only see a blur of light. They could hear nothing but a constant buzzing noise and they had to wear long cuffs which meant that they couldn't touch anything. As incentive they were offered $20 for every day they could stay in the room, and each had a 'panic button' which they had only to press to obtain instant relief. They were provided with a comfortable bed and good food.

To start with, the volunteers tended to sleep, but soon they found that it was becoming increasingly difficult to concentrate and they developed an acute desire for any kind of stimulation to break the monotony. Many then began to experience startling visual and auditory hallucinations and after a while were unable to distinguish waking from sleeping. Despite the high pay for just lying on their backs, few could last more than two days and the most anyone lasted was five days. Upon release they were given simple psychological tests which showed that their perceptions had become very disorientated — objects became blurred and fuzzy. More important from the investigators' point of view, while under the SD, they were found to be much more susceptible to any type of propaganda — a finding which Bexton et al. had indicated four years previously.[2]

Another psychologist, J. C. Lilly, had studied sensory isolation in 1956 by immersing volunteers in a tank of lukewarm water.[3] They had face-masks through which to breathe but these also prevented any patterned light from penetrating through. Thus there was little stimulation from light, noise or clothing. Under these conditions subjects became bored and were unable to concentrate, leading in some cases to mental disturbance. The maximum time that any volunteer could last under these conditions was only three hours. Subjects reported feelings of unreality, with a profound loss of identification. They didn't know who they were, where they were, or what was happening to them, and the ensuing feelings of panic forced them all to abandon the experiment.

In 1959 Smith and Lewty confined volunteer nurses in a silent room to see how long they could stick it.[4] The incentive offered was an equal amount of paid leave for each day they lasted. They were given a comfortable bed and were even allowed to walk about the room. All volunteers who lasted for more than ten hours reported disordered thinking, and two thirds of them reported fear and panic. Some reported body-image distortions such as 'my head was like a spinning cone going away from my body'. Some experienced violent nightmares and fairly acute paranoia.*
[* Nightmares are commonly experienced during bouts of SD; see Zubek et al. [5] and Freedman et al. [6]]

During the l960s experiments into SD proliferated. But why did so many psychologists and physiologists want to conduct this research? What practical or medical use was it? And where did all the money come from? In fact, justification for any use of SD outside of interrogation techniques or torture is slight. Back in 1959 Smith and Lewty claimed that SD 'is an important psychiatric tool. It has been used to explain mental abnormalities in various types of illness. Senile nocturnal delirium has also been ascribed to a diminished efficiency of the sensory apparatus and impaired ability to adapt to new sensory stimuli.' By and large this is nonsense. Apart from some limited application in the clinical field of eye surgery, what relevance does this research have? As Dr. Tim Shallice says, 'since the initial Montreal experiments an enormous amount of research has been done but it seems to have contributed little of general theoretic interest to the rest of psychology with the exception of its impetus for arousal theory in the 1950s (eg. Hebb, 1955)' [7] Zubek and Bross's 1972 work may be another exception, but there are not many.

Why then has all this work been done? One important cause is that military agencies have pumped a considerable amount of money into the research, for obvious reasons.

Another vital reason seems to be the sociological phenomenon first discussed by Tulving and Madigan (1970) in the context of verbal learning research: the functional autonomy of methods' describing it by. yesterday's methods have become today's objects of study'.[8] A research field develops whose methods and problems are internally generated. For workers within it. its relevance to other fields of science or its applications become of secondary interest. It becomes self-perpetuating and semi-autonomous, dependent only on external agencies for financial support and psychology as a whole for its academic respectability.

And the 'external agencies who provide the finance? Some of the more blatant examples are the book by Biderman and Zimmer (1961) devoted to research on interrogation methods which was sponsored by the US Air Force,[9] and Vernon's Inside the Black Room, whose acknowledgement states: 'The entire project was made possible by a generous grant-in-aid of research given by the Office of the Surgeon General of the Army, and by the National Science Foundation.' On p.16 of his book Vernon adds that 'while our goal is pure knowledge for its own sake, we have no objection to someone's use of that knowledge'.[10] That Vernon isn't quite as naive as the previous statement would appear to indicate is soon seen on the next page where he admits that the Hebb experiments at McGill University, while ostensibly devised because of problems of people doing boring jobs suffering from visual hallucinations, were sponsored by the Canadian Defence Research Board, and conducted because of brainwashing techniques used on American POWs in Korea. As Vernon further admits, however, 'the researchers were not permitted to say so in their first publications'. Apart from these two books there are numerous articles and papers,[11] but more insidious perhaps is the funding of research programmes into SD at various colleges. institutes and universities by large corporations, 'charitable societies' and 'private benefactors' etc. all part of the sinister and at times as in the case of Vietnam, genocidal, military-industrial complex.

The experiments have been going on. What have they proved? Firstly, that SD in its various forms produces very severe effects, both mental and physical. The effects include inability to concentrate, disintegration of logical thought-patterns leading to severe hallucinations — hearing, seeing and feeling things that do not exist.* (*Examples of these are given in the 'guineapigs" own stories later in the book.) Hooding causes an imbalance in the ratio of oxygen to carbon dioxide in the air breathed and this causes mental confusion. The wall-standing, which is deliberately made to sound so innocuous by apologists like Sir Edmund Compton. is extremely painful — especially when accompanied by beatings — and causes, in addition to fatigue and swollen wrists and ankles, poor circulation of the blood which leads to a reduced supply of oxygen and sugar to the brain. The restricted and in some cases almost non-existent diet was also sugar-free (Storr has pointed out that the brain needs three things if it is to function efficiently; sensory stimulation, sugar and oxygen.'[12]) Experiments into the effects of semi-starvation and excessive dieting by various psychologists have consistently shown that the subject's thinking ability was impaired as the effects of the food deprivation increased.[13] Perceptual judgement is also impaired and the subject becomes apathetic and unresponsive. Lack of exercise increases the bad effects. Prolonged sleep deprivation ensures a progressive disintegration of personality and rational behaviour. Paranoid symptoms emerge, and at the same time powers of rational perception appear to be disturbed. Zubek suggests that susceptibility to pain increases, too.[14]

Here we come to the real root of the trouble from an army s point of view. 'Civilian' research may tell you something about how SD works; it may add to your knowledge of how interrogation methods may be made more effective; it may provide academic kudos and sinecures for army-paid hacks, but it still doesn't go far enough. The reasons are simple. The basic one is that the necessary stress is absent with volunteer subjects. Sargant and others have pointed out that the breakdown process in the individual is almost inevitably accelerated when additional stress is introduced. [15] As Swank and Marchland recorded in their investigations into battle fatigue and crack-ups amongst Allied soldiers in the Second World War, after an average of fifty days' severe combat the great majority of soldiers lost their ability to distinguish the different noises of combat. . They became easily startled and confused and became tense. They were irritable, frequently 'blew their tops', over-responded to all stimuli . . . This state of hyperreactivity was followed insidiously by another group of symptoms referred to as 'emotional exhaustion'. The men became dull and listless, mentally and physically retarded, pre-occupied and unable to remember details. This was accompanied by indifference and apathy . . . In such cases bizarre contradictory behaviour could occur.[16]

This is similar to the state of mind the Chinese and Koreans were able to induce in American and British POWs, which Hinkle and Wolff called 'emotional bankruptcy'.[17] The more stress, the sooner the crack-up.

This is where the experiments with volunteers prove inadequate. In most of the experiments the volunteers' motivation for putting up with SD has been money — often not all that much, either. In some cases psychology students who volunteer may have had added motivation in the form of scientific curiosity, but in all cases their surroundings were comfortable, they were well fed, could sleep if they wanted to, knew deep down that they really had little or nothing to be frightened about and, most important of all, had a panic button. They could quit whenever things started to get rough.

In some experiments the Army have doubtless used their own soldiers — though they have not unnaturally been reticent about publishing their findings — and it is known that the 'guards', the men who continually kicked and beat the 'guineapigs' up off the floor and made them lean against the wall each time they collapsed, have had themselves during their training at the several Psychological Warfare Units in England to experience some facets of SD*. [*There are Psychological Warfare Units at Catterick, Warminster and Maresfield, for example. Also, see the Parker Report, para. 13. Lord Gardiner, in his minority report to the Parker Report, admits (para. 6) that in April 1971 'officers and men of the English Intelligence Centre held a seminar on the procedures in Northern Ireland to teach orally the procedures to the Royal Ulster Constabulary'.]
But even this isn't enough for the ardent researcher or interrogator. The soldiers know that they're going to be rewarded for putting up with the SD. They don't have any information to conceal, they know where they are, who is experimenting on them, that an experiment is going on, that they won't actually be killed or beaten too badly. They cannot be made to experience the blind terror and panic of the 4 a.m. 'knock on the door', the savage beatings, the horror of having not the slightest idea where you are, the knowledge that you can easily be shot dead for 'trying to escape' — the old Spanish 'ley des fuegos' — the knowledge that your family is totally ignorant of your whereabouts. Civilian volunteer experiments into SD often produced feelings of paranoia amongst the subjects; with the Irish victims it was not paranoia, it was very real, genuine fear.

Civilian experiments have provided some 'useful' data. The military experiments into interrogation techniques in Britain's sordid little colonial wars, especially in Aden, had produced more experience. Northern Ireland, already a testing-ground for the latest military hardware from CS gas to remote-controlled bomb-disposal gadgetry, was to be the scene for one of the evilest experiments yet.



D. O. Hebb, Textbook of Psychology (Saunders, 1958).


Bexton, Herron and Scott, Effects of Decreased Variation in Sensory Environment', in Canadian Journal of Psychology, 8 (1954), PP. 70-76.


J. C. Lilly, 'Mental Effects of Reduction of Ordinary Levels of Physical Stimuli on Intact Healthy Persons,' in Psychological Research Reports, 5 (1956), pp. 1-9.


Smith and Lewty, 'Perceptual Isolation Using a Silent Room', in Lancet. 12 September 1959, pp. 342-5.


J. P. Zubek (ed.), Sensory Deprivation: Fifteen Years of Research (Appleton-Century-Croft, New York, 1969).


Freedman et al., Perceptual Cognitive Changes in SD', in P. Solomon, et al. (eds), Sensory Deprivation (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1961).


Article in Cognition, Vol. 1, No. 4 (1973), pp. 385-405.


Tulving and Madigan, 'Memory and Verbal Learning', in Annual Review of Psychology, 21(1970), pp. 437-84.


Biderman and Zimmer, The Manipulation of Human Behaviour (Wiley, New York, 1961).


J. Vernon, Inside the Black Room: Studies of Sensory Deprivation (Penguin, 1966).


For example: Myers et al., Experimental Assessment of Limited Sensory and Social Environment. Summary Results of the HumRRO Program of the Army Leadership Research Unit'. Monterey, February 1962.


Storr. 'Why Hooding is Mental Torture', in the Sunday Times, 21 November 1971.


Including Sanford (1937), McClelland and Atkinson (1948), and Gilchrist and Nesberg (1952).


J. P. Zubek, 'Prolonged Sensory and Perceptual Deprivation', in British Medical Bulletin, 20, pp. 38-42.


W. Sargant, Battle for the Mind (Pan, Revised Edition 1959).


R. L. Swank and E. Marchand, 'Combat Neurosis', in American Medical Association Archive of Neurological Psychiatry, 55 (1946), pp. 236-47.


Hinkle and Wolff, 'Communist Interrogation', in ibid., 76 (1956).

Return to Publication Contents

Chapter 3
The Swoop — The First Forty-eight Hours

When Brian Faulkner took over as Prime
Minister on 23 March 1971 the issue was not
whether internment was to come but when
and on what scale.[1]

Brian Arthur Deane Faulkner has been described as many things. Former Unionist Cabinet ministers, including the former Unionist Prime Minister Terence O'Neill, have described him as 'devious', 'treacherous', 'scheming' and 'totally untrustworthy'. No one has doubted his overweening ambition, which for years has caused him to wheel and deal, stab his colleagues in the back and fight tooth and nail for power. At last, after almost a quarter of a century of Unionist politics, he 'made it', to become Stormont's last Prime Minister. His premiership was to be the shortest in Northern Ireland's chequered history — twelve months to the day — and he was to preside over the ruin of Stormont which, ironically enough, he was to do more to destroy than any other single man with his introduction, yet again, of internment.

As a former Minister of Home Affairs in 1959 Faulkner had been responsible for the implementation of internment before, aided and abetted by the trusty William Stout. He became convinced that internment in itself was a cast-iron recipe for success. This was to be his greatest mistake. During the IRA's abortive border campaign which commenced on 11 December 1956 there was little or no popular support for the movement from the Catholic section of the population, upon whom the men on the run had to rely heavily. The campaign was therefore limited to the border areas and soon proved to be a failure. Nonetheless it was sporadically continued for several years, with the only result that those interned had to rot away behind bars for even longer. Internment in the Republic ended in March 1959, but it was not until April 1961 that the last internees from Crumlin Road jail in Belfast were released. Even then, the IRA did not make its 'Statement to the Irish People' formally announcing the abandonment of the campaign until February 1962. [2] It is important to study history, but it is even more important to draw the correct lessons from it. That Brian Faulkner did not do so even he has had half-heartedly to admit. But it matters not whether he now realizes his mistakes or not; everyone else has.

The Army was generally opposed to internment, not on moral grounds, but on expedient ones. General Sir Henry Tuzo consistently stated, whenever the subject was brought up, that they simply did not have enough concrete information to be sure of getting the right men. Moreover he felt that selective internment only of Catholics would unite the minority and make the Army's task more difficult. He was right. But Faulkner was not to be denied. Less than three weeks after becoming Prime Minister he had insisted that, despite Army scepticism, the Director of Military Intelligence at Lisburn was to coordinate matters with the RUC on an 'internment working party'. Lists of names and addresses were to be drawn up. The Army actually went a stage further. Officially they may have regarded internment as a waste of time, but the Intelligence section at least felt that it would provide them with a golden opportunity to experiment with new SD techniques. Consequently, in April, special instructors from one of the Joint Services' Interrogation Centres, probably the one at Ashford in Kent but possibly from Maresfield or Warminster, were sent over to instruct the RUC in SD techniques and to set up the 'interrogation centre'. Sources claim that they were led by two Army Intelligence Operatives, Lieutenants Alan Horner and Timothy Goulding.[3]

Several months passed and there was no sign of the violence waning. The Provisional IRA intensified its bombing campaign; the Army shot the unarmed Cussack and Beattie in Derry and forced the SDLP, albeit reluctantly, to walk out of Stormont; and Brian Faulkner continued to insist on internment. The Army still said that they hadn't enough information, but on 23 July, using 1,800 troops plus RUC men, they mounted a series of raids on houses throughout the province. The purpose was not arrests, but documents and address books. In the event it was to be a dry run for internment day, which was set for 10 August. Within a week their lists were as complete as they could hope for, given the limited amount of time at their disposal. The Sunday Times claims that the list had just over 500 names on it. 'They fell into three categories. No more than 120-130 were gunmen or officers in either wing of the IRA. A further 350 were regarded by the police as "IRA sympathisers", weeded out of a list of about 1,200 names . . . A further police contribution was a list of some 50 or more old men whose interest was solely that they had been interned before.' (One of them, Liam Mulholland, was 78.) Finally there was a special group, the left-wing socialists of the People's Democracy plus a couple of people from the NI Civil Rights Association.[4] As Faulkner was later to admit to Heath when questioned about this group, 'they weren't gunmen or IRA men but they would have called meetings to protest against internment'.

As the Sunday Times put it,

The problem was how many of these 500 to intern. No answer was ever agreed. The Army and police mistrusted each other: the Army believed that the police list was politically motivated, and the police believed that the Army list showed inadequate local knowledge. Further, the Army was divided between those who wanted to do the job quickly before Provisional strength grew any more, and those who urged waiting till more was known about that growth. One school of thought inside the Army had favoured internment back in the spring, when no more than 50 to 60 people would have been 'lifted', they reckoned. The perfectionists now wanted another three months to prepare really accurate lists — they were ignored as being quite unrealistic.[5]

On 5 August, following an inconclusive meeting of the Joint Security Committee at Stormont, Faulkner and Tuzo flew secretly to London. There Faulkner sold internment to a Cabinet (including William Whitelaw) who, although sceptical about its efficacy, could come up with no other dramatic alternatives. Tuzo was overruled. All was set for the night of 10 August.

Enter Harry Thornton. An inoffensive, hard-working man, he was travelling home from work in his van along the Springfield Road in Belfast. His van backfired. A soldier ran out of Springfield barracks and shot Thornton dead. His passenger, Arthur Murphy was dragged from the van and savagely assaulted, as an Army doctor later testified. Crowds gathered round. Some women erected a small shrine on the bloodstained pavement. That night there was severe rioting against the Army in the Springfield area. The Army decided to alter its timetable. Internment was brought forward by one day. All was now set for 9 August.

They still weren't circumspect enough. That internment was coming was almost an open secret. Few leading Provos were sleeping at home. The Army tried again to get the 'lifting' restricted to 150 people. Faulkner still disagreed. 450 was now his figure. And so, at 4 am, on 9 August the internment swoop swung into operation. 342 were taken from their beds — the others on the list being 'unavailable' — and dragged into waiting trucks to be taken to the holding centres. In all the excitement everyone overlooked one thing — all the arrest were completely illegal, since no police accompanied the soldiers who, even under the Special Powers Acts, had neither the authority nor the legal power to make the arrests.[6]

Amongst the 342 arrested were the first twelve 'guineapigs'.

The 'guineapigs' can be split into three groups. Four from Belfast — Kevin Hannaway, Joe Clarke, Francis McGuigan, and Jim Auld — were taken to Girdwood barracks, behind Crumlin Road jail, along with 181 other men. The next four men came from County Armagh and County Down — Brian Turley and Pat McNally from Armagh City, Gerry McKerr from Lurgan and Sean McKenna from Newry. After brief stops at subsidiary holding centres they were taken to Ballykinler where they were held for the first forty-eight hours along with eighty-five other men. The third group came from County Derry and County Tyrone and consisted of Mickey Montgomery and Mickey Donnelly from Derry City, Paddy Joe McClean from Beragh and Pat Shivers from Toomebridge. After brief stops at either Ebrington or Ballykelly barracks they were transported to Magilligan camp where another sixty-four men were being held. Treatment at the holding centres during the first forty-eight hours varied.


Sixty-eight men were brought to Magilligan camp on the morning of 9 August. They arrived in a variety of vehicles, from Army 'pigs' to furniture vans. At Magilligan there was little physical brutality per se. The men were forced to squat on the floor of the huts in small groups while they awaited interrogation. Toilet facilities were frequently denied and the food was inadequate (one small bowl of watery stew on the first day, porridge, two sausages and beans, described by several people as 'cold and inedible', and finally, for 'tea' on the second day, more cold beans and a fish roll). The worst deprivation was the lack of sleep. All the men had been dragged out of their beds at about 4 am. on Monday morning. The first evening they were given camp beds and two Army blankets, but despite their fatigue, sleep was almost impossible since the soldiers on guard duty continually rattled their batons along the sides of the corrugated iron huts, threw stones at it and kept up a string of shouted obscenities all night. This policy, at first believed by the detainees to be merely the sadism of the few, turns out to have been a deliberate tactical policy, as we shall see later. The second day passed as boringly as the first. Twenty men were weeded out and released as the rest were sporadically and desultorily interrogated. The four 'guineapigs' had by now been selected and put together in one hut. Unknown to them, their fate had already been decided. The noise continued during the second night and then, at 4a.m. they were roused. Thirty-six men were transferred to the prison ship HMS Maidstone. A different fate awaited the four 'guineapigs'. They were handcuffed, thick, stifling hoods were put over their heads and tightened, and they were forced into helicopters. The first stage of their nightmare proper had begun.


At Ballykinler conditions were worse than at Magilligan. On their way to the camp in the Army 'pigs' many of the men were badly assaulted by the soldiers escorting them. Several extracts from some of the men's personal accounts follow.

Sean McKenna, aged 42, of Newry:

When we arrived at Ballykinler camp we were hauled out by the feet onto the ground. The soldier who had threatened me on the journey took me into the compound on the way there and stood in front of me. Pat White from Newry fell, and two soldiers gave him an awful beating with batons while he was on the ground. and hauled him to his feet: it was really terrible. The soldier with me had my left arm in an arm-lock grip and he was running me forward at great speed. As we approached the corner post of the compound — it was concrete with wire netting on it — he went to the side of it and rammed me into the post as hard as he could. I was not expecting this as I thought we were going past it. I tried to save myself but the wrist and my right side took most of the blow. They are still very sore. The soldier still held on to me. The crowd of Army personnel thought this was very funny. I didn't. One heard screams of the men caught and the vile unchristian language will live with me until I die. I didn't think man could be so cruel to his fellow man. We had to give our names etc. at the hut we were taken to. Then we were made to sit with our hands behind our heads, up against a wall and looking at the yellow paint about six feet from the floor. There were approximately forty to fifty men in the hut. This sitting went on all Monday and well into the night. We were taken out occasionally but most of the time we were given exercises to do. which were enough. All the time they seemed lobe grading the men in the hut as they brought men out and others in. About 3 a.m.. Tuesday. the exercises' etc. stopped and we were allowed to lie flat on the floor and sleep as we were, if we could. I slept, as I was exhausted. It only lasted for an hour or even less. Tuesday brought the same routine. Every position was a torture to me. Time is hard to remember but I think it was about 11 a.m. when we were taken out for a walk to a washroom. The distance from the hut to the washroom was about fifty yards and along this road we were ordered by soldiers with stripes to double our steps, run on the spot etc. We had about two minutes in the washroom, had to dry our faces with a filthy towel and then were dashed out again and the performance was repeated on the way back to the hut. The shouting at us was outrageous. During Monday and Tuesday we had any amount of water to drink on request and half a mug of rather nasty stew was served to us on Monday night and on Tuesday we got tea some time in the morning. I'm pretty vague about what we had after that.

Brian Turley of Armagh:

We arrived at between 8 a.m. and 9 am. in the camp. We were forced to sit with our feet against the wall, our hands behind our heads, and look at the ceiling for approximately fifteen minutes at a time. This and various other 'exercises' went on well into Tuesday morning, approximately 3 am. We were allowed to lie on the floor for two hours without any covering of any kind. We had a half a mug of stew on Monday at noon and a cup of tea between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. That was all we had to eat. We had been searched and all our personal belongings removed. On arrival we were examined by the Army Medical Officer. An egg sandwich and a cup of tea sometime on Tuesday morning and we were left alone until about noon. The physical tortures started again and lasted much longer. They were also much tougher to do. This included running on the spot. If you wanted to go to the toilet you asked the NCO in charge and when he felt like it he let you go. For the first day there was no tissue in the toilets. At about 7 p.m. on the second day they took me to another hut and we sat about for an hour or so. The 'exercises' started again and went on until after midnight. After protest the four of us left in the billet were issued with one blanket, one mattress and were promised a peaceful night's sleep. We were told that if there was any bother they would take away the bedding. Half an hour later we were wakened and told to go to the toilet. We had just settled down again when we were ordered to go again on the double outside to a hole in the ground. I protested that I didn't want to go and they said 'get up you bastard and go'. Outside they made us turn round in circles and relieve ourselves while we were running. This went on at half-hour intervals all during the night. By this time I had no idea of the time but sometime in the morning it ceased. At times after we returned from the toilets we were allowed to settle down and were then made to change beds with each other. On Wednesday morning a policeman came over with a hood and handcuffs.

Gerry McKerr, aged 27, from Lurgan confirms Turley's account of 'the running urination exercise'. He also adds to the general account of the men who had to do the earlier 'exercises':

I was given a medical examination and interrogated. On returning from the interrogation I was put in another hut and made to do exercises constantly. During this period one of the men in the hut, Brian Morgan from Lurgan, had a heart attack and was taken to hospital. One of the soldiers remarked, 'Has the bastard snuffed it?' We were made to sleep on the floor without blankets. Our clothes were damp with sweat and we became very cold . . . After each period of running around the hole and urinating we were ordered back to the huts and made to say, 'Goodnight, Sergeant. Goodnight, Corporal.' [7]

Turley, McKerr, McKenna and McNally were the last four left in the huts. Of the other eighty-five men brought to Ballykinler, nine had been released and the remaining seventy-six transferred to HMS Maidstone.

Subsequently, Sir Edmund Compton was to 'investigate' the treatment meted out to detainees at Bellykinler. He did not interview any of the detainees but 'considered' newspaper reports and statements from the Association for Legal Justice. However, he did speak, he says, to the senior officer of the Royal Military Police at Ballykinler, two staff sergeants and two NCOs as well as visiting the camp.[8] Other parts of the Compton Report will be dealt with later, but it is instructive to look briefly at the Compton Committee's description of what they claim took place at the camp. In their conclusions (paras. 159-60) the committee found:

The evidence we took from the military police in charge of the Ballykinler huts confirms that the exercises took place, that their nature and duration was much as described in the allegations and that they were done under some degree of compulsion. We noted the inconsistency in this evidence as to the degree of compulsion. On balance we have formed the view that while the supervisory staff believed that compulsion was limited to securing a simultaneous change of position, the choice of position being left to the arrested person, in practice the man in charge kept control by selecting positions and ordering all the persons in the hut to take up a given position from time to time. There is conflict of evidence on the action taken in the case of disobedience. The allegation is that those who refused or failed to carry out an exercise were assaulted. Against this, we record the evidence of the military police that such assault did not take place, that generally speaking orders were obeyed but those who did not comply were ignored. [If this was so, why didn't the rest of the men 'fail to comply' with the orders — or were they all enjoying them so much?] The medical evidence suggested that one of the detainees, Mr. Smith, should not have been required to perform exercises that imposed an unusual strain on the back. Mr. Rodgers complained of a sore right knee, a condition consistent with the performance of some of the exercises described; there was however no physical sign of this condition, though pain in the knee persisted until 17 August. There were no marks or bruises consistent with the complaints of beating.

We think that it is plain that these compulsory exercises must have caused hardship to some at least of those who were made to do them, especially those in poor physical condition, and we have noted as a particular hardship that some men were woken up to do them in order to secure uniformity of action in the hut. On the other hand, we do not regard these exercises as 'cruel', if the adjective means that the exercises were thought of and carried out with a view to hurting or degrading the men who had to do them. We prefer to take the view that the exercises were devised to counteract the cold and the stiffness of which the arrested persons complained, but that it should have been foreseen that a system of voluntary changes of position at set times was bound to turn into a form of physical drill compulsorily performed without regard to the relative capacity of the performers, and that the routine was thoughtlessly prolonged after it had served its proper purpose. We think there was a lack of judgement here, but not cruelty or brutality, and we think that the complainants may have suffered hardship but we make no findings of deliberate ill-treatment.* [*My emphasis throughout — JM.]

By this stage many readers could be forgiven for feeling that the Compton Report was not even a proper 'whitewash', as most of the papers branded it, but a deliberate insult to the reader's intelligence. Lines such as 'we prefer to take the view that the exercises were devised to counteract the cold and stiffness', and 'we think that there was a lack of judgement here, but not cruelty or brutality', will surely go down in the history of the absurd. Compton's faith in the Army witnesses who assured him that they hadn't laid a finger on anyone may have been touching, but others were not so naive — Judge Conaghan for one. The following is an extract from the Irish Times:

A Northern Ireland judge ruled yesterday that men were detained in 'primitive circumstances' which were 'deliberate, unlawful and harsh', following their arrest by security forces during the big internment swoop on August 9th last year.

Judge Rory Conaghan was giving his reserved judgment at Lurgan County Court in a civil action brought by a former detainee, William John Moore. of Bleary, Portadown, against Mr. Graham Shillington, Chief Constable of the RUC, and the British Ministry of Defence for alleged wrongful arrest and assault. Mr. Moore was awarded the total damages he had claimed, $720, which is the highest amount a County Court Judge can award . . .

Turning to how the exercises were initiated, the judge said that the military witnesses gave evidence in the absence of each other, as did some of the plaintiff's witnesses. Three army witnesses, Lieutenant Barton, Sergeant Smith, and Corporal Robert Melville Graham gave three conflicting accounts. Judge Conaghan said: 'I have come to the conclusion that all three were telling lies about this matter. It is also inconceivable that detail of so important an operation would be left to work itself out haphazardly.'

Judge Conaghan turned to the evidence of Captain Dr. David Plant who examined the detainees at Ballykinler. His evidence was that on Monday the men were tired, and on Tuesday were more tired, but he would not accept phrases such as 'exhausted' or 'prostrate' or any colourful word or that the men showed signs of having been the subject of cruelty or ill treatment. Examining other aspects of the doctor's evidence, Judge Conaghan recalled that the witness withdrew a statement that he had seen men moving about outside the huts to latrines and also 'going to food, I think,' after it was pointed out to him that there had been unchallenged evidence that the men had all been fed where they were confined. Dr. Plant had also given two different answers when asked if he knew the detainees were going to be interrogated. The judge said: 'Perhaps these are just slips but they may very well not be and should not appear in the evidence of a doctor.'[9]

No disciplinary action was taken against Lt. Barton, Sgt. Smith or Cpl. Graham, whom Judge Conaghan had clearly indicted as liars — and thence perjurers whom he regarded as guilty of assault as well. Nor did the good Dr. Plant apparently suffer any official opprobrium. Subsequently sixteen of the men who were held at Ballykinler and had to undergo what Compton calls 'position changes' were awarded $9,360 between them by the courts. The rest have received nothing as yet and several were still held, three years later, in Long Kesh, without charge or trial.

Girdwood Barracks

Girdwood, being in Belfast, held the largest number of men. 185 men were taken there to be 'processed' and interrogated, amongst them four of the 'guineapigs' — Jim Auld, Francis McGuigan. Joe Clarke and Kevin Hannaway. Joe Clarke, 19, made the most detailed statement about the first forty-eight hours:

I was arrested at home on Monday August 9th, 1971, at 4:30 a.m. It was a total military operation: there was no RUC involved. The arresting military could not have been any more civil — they were in no way aggressive. After a peremptory search of the house they asked for Joseph Clarke. I said that I was he. They then told me that they were arresting me under the Special Powers Act. I was fully dressed (unlike many men who were dragged out into the streets in their pyjamas) and after asking my father to contact a named solicitor I went with the military. They put me into a three-ton Army lorry. At this stage there was no one else in the lorry. In the lorry I was asked to take my shoes off and these were put into a bag. Then my hands were tied behind my back and then secured by another rope to the lorry. By this time another person whom I now know to be Phil McCullough had been put into the lorry beside me. We were driven directly to Girdwood Park barracks. The only incident which occurred on this journey was just as we arrived at Girdwood when a soldier who was guarding us in the lorry produced a long steel bolt and said 'I wish some of you boys had been aggressive.' This operation was carried out by Paratroopers stationed at Springfield Road police station.

On arrival at Girdwood I was taken out of the lorry, and, still barefoot and handcuffed, was frog-marched into the reception area where my particulars were taken by the RUC. My photograph was also taken now. My personal effects were taken from me. The binding was now taken off my hands and I was led into a large gymnasium where I was made to sit on the floor. Then after about one hour I was taken from there, led along a corridor into another room where I was confronted by two Special Branch RUC men who questioned me generally and wrote down everything I said. The interview lasted about half an hour and during it I was kicked in the legs and called a 'lying bastard' by one of the men. After this I was led upstairs into a large room which sported the portraits of the Duke of Edinburgh and the Queen of England. I must have been in this room for about six hours during which time I was made to sit motionless, alternatively on a chair and on the floor. I was also given a cup of tea in this room but since there were only twelve cups between about ninety prisoners everyone had to take their turn with these unwashed cups.

At the end of the six-hour period I was taken back down to the gymnasium and made to sit on the floor. After some time I was given some stew and a piece of bread to eat. Some time later I was again taken away for more interrogation by the Special Branch. This interrogation lasted about 1½ hours. There was no ill-treatment this time and mostly concerned any knowledge that I might have about the IRA and known Republicans. At the end of this, it was back to sitting in the gym. At about 6 p.m. I got more stew to eat and then at about 8 p.m. I was taken away for more interrogation which lasted this time until 11:30-12 midnight. There was no maltreatment during this interrogation except that one of the interrogators threatened to have me thrown out of a helicopter . . . After this third interview I was taken back to the gym again where everyone was bedded down. I was given a camp bed and blankets and allowed a shower. I was then bedded down but it was virtually impossible to sleep due to constant interruptions by the RUC, SB and military.

Awakened about 8 a.m. by the military. Given a wash. Some breakfast consisting of stale cornflakes, bread and tea. Had to sit on the floor again. At about noon permitted to have a five-minute walk outside under escort and one cigarette. On the way back into the gym I was stopped by two MP sergeants, one of whom asked me my name and address and said that he had seen me throwing a nail bomb at his jeep on last Sunday afternoon. I told him it wasn't me. As I went to move off one of them grabbed me by the arm and said that if I didn't get that smile off my face he'd wipe it off for me. Alternative sitting and standing in gym . . . As I was seated an MP corporal came over to me and said, 'I don't like you at all. I'd like to bash your fucking face in.' He went away but after about half an hour he sent another corporal over to me who said that I was talking and that I had to go over to the first corporal. I went over and he made me do twelve press-ups. No talking, by the way, was allowed. At any rate, the point is, I wasn't talking. Then after a few minutes the same corporal called me over again and said, 'I'll fix you,' and made me do another twelve press-ups. I did them but he said I'd only done eight. A sergeant came over and told me to go back to my place and that I'd done twelve. The sergeant seemed to be reprimanding the corporal . . . A private came over to me and offered me chewing-gum. He said, 'I like you. I'll look after you. Anything you want, ask me.' I remained in the gym, alternatively sitting and standing all that day and during this time the private kept coming over to me and talking, generally at first, but then asking me if I knew anything about the IRA and if I knew where any guns were. He told me I could tell him, as he was my friend. We were given tea that evening — beans and stew and a banana. Between 10p.m. and 11p.m. SB and RUC men arrived and shouted out thirty names. These men I understand were released. The remainder of us were seated in groups of five on the floor, and each group was surrounded by MPs with drawn batons. Some of the MPs pointed to different people with their batons and threatened them. Along with three others I was taken into the cook-house and made to clean pots, dishes and butcher equipment. We were made to do this at the double. At the end of this we were taken back to the gym where Harry Taylor [Belfast's best-known SB man — JM] and another SB man were taking names, addresses and ages. Then were was a further weeding-out process where men were taken away in groups of six at the direction of Taylor and' these I now understand to have been taken to Crumlin Road prison. At the end of this process there were only two of us left in the gym, a Francis McGuigan and myself. We were led into separate rooms where I was told to lie down on a bed to get some sleep. RUC and military kept coming in and kicking the bed and shouting abuse at me, like 'Get up you bastard, you're not going to get any sleep.' One particular uniformed RUC man came into the room and kicked the bed, saying, 'Why aren't you asleep?' I replied that it was because he and people like him kept coming in and kicking the bed. He then said, 'Clarke, I know you from the court case,' [Joe Clarke had in fact no criminal record — JM.] As he said that, he kicked my legs apart and stuck his heel into my genitals. Other MPs came in and said that half my district had been wiped out. At about 4 a.m. on Wednesday a SB man came in and said that I was to be taken for a ride in a helicopter and that I was to be thrown out.'[10]

Kevin Hannaway got even worse treatment than Clarke. He had to undergo the 'helicopter treatment; — forced to run the gauntlet between two rows of baton-wielding MPs, pushed into a helicopter whose rotors were already turning, threatened with death and then pushed out backwards only to discover that they were only four feet off the ground, then forced to run the gauntlet again. He was also forced over the 'obstacle course' several times while being batoned and kicked." Joe Clarke and Francis McGuigan spent the first forty-eight hours of their ordeal in Girdwood. Jim Auld and Kevin Hannaway, after arrival there early on the morning of 9 August, were transferred to Crumlin Road jail through the hole in the back wall of the jail, where they were not officially received but were still in the custody of the RUC. At 4:30 am. on Wednesday morning, after being in custody for forty-eight hours they were beaten back to Gird-wood over the 'obstacle course' and reunited with Clarke and McGuigan. The grimmest week in their lives was about to begin.



Sunday Times Insight Team, Ulster (Penguin, 1972), p. 260.


See John McGuffin. Internment (Anvil Press, Tralee, 1973), p. 78.


See Combat, the paper of the UVF, Vol. 1, No. 6 (25 April 1974).


Ulster, op. cit., p. 263.


ibid., p. 264.


For an explanation of the legal reasons for this, see McGuffin, op. cit., pp. 210-12.


These statements were taken in Crumlin Road jail on 20 and 23 August 1971, and can be seen in the offices of the Association for Legal Justice.


Compton Report, Cmnd. 4823 (HMSO, 1971), para. 152.


Irish Times, 19 February 1972.


Statement of Joe Clarke to the Association for Legal Justice, 22 August 1971.


For a further account of the 'helicopter treatment' and the 'obstacle course', as well as an explanation of the Compton Report's findings on conditions in Girdwood barracks, see McGuffin, op. cit., pp. 11-18 and 128-32.

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