In Brief

Gerry Adams ‘was illegally interned’ in the 1970s, lawyers say

Court hears former Sinn Fein leader’s detention order was not approved correctly

The former Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams was interned illegally during the 1970s, the Supreme Court in London has heard.

Lawyers for the 71-year-old Republican are arguing that two 1975 convictions relating to his attempts to escape from the Maze Prison are unsafe because the wrong minister approved his detention order.

Adams was taken into custody under the Detention of Terrorists (Northern Ireland) Order 1972, which covered anyone the secretary of state for Northern Ireland “suspected of having been concerned in the commission or attempted commission of any act of terrorism”.

The order required that Northern Ireland secretary be involved personally in making any such decision but documents released to the public records office under the 30 years rule show that junior ministers made the call.

The documents also show that the government was aware of the irregularity at the time. A note, dated 17 July 1974, described a meeting held by the then prime minister, Harold Wilson, which was arranged to consider “an urgent problem which the attorney general had brought to his attention”.

The note says that that the applications for interim custody for Adams and two other prisoners “had not been examined personally by the previous secretary of state for Northern Ireland during the Conservative administration”.

Instead, it explained, the previous Tory government had “left both tasks to junior ministers in the Northern Ireland office”. It speculated that as many as 200 persons could be unlawfully detained in Northern Ireland.

Adams, who has always denied being a member of the IRA, was first interned in March 1972. He was held in 1973 in the Maze prison, also known as Long Kesh. He made two unsuccessful attempts to escape: in 1973 and 1974.

He was later sentenced to a total of four and a half years for the escape bids but his Sean Doran QC told the Supreme Court yesterday: “Everything goes back to the original order … We would ask the court to rule that those convictions are now unsafe.” The Guardian says judgement is expected to be reserved.

Irish News reports that Adams set the legal proceedings in motion after human rights campaigners at the Pat Finucane Centre recovered a document from the British National Archives in London.

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