Two cases reported on the same day in 1985 illustrate how persons living in the United Kingdom experienced equality under the law. The first case concerned a teacher in Enniskillen who was awarded £5,000 in damages by the High Court in Belfast against the RUC for their treatment of him in Castlereagh Barracks in 1980.
He was forced to balance on his toes for hours at a time with his knees bent and his hands stretched out in the air. If he moved he was slapped. He was kicked, punched and hurled across a room. He was made run on the spot, and do press-ups and sit-ups . Soiled underpants were put on his head. He was made pick up cigarette butts from the floor with his mouth. A track-suit was tied over his head and his nose and mouth were blocked so that he fainted. His RUC tormentors made unlikely allegations on the sexual proclivities of the Pope.
Awarding damages, the Judge virtually blamed the abused man for his sufferings, as he had refused to sign a false confession prepared for him by his captors.
On the day the teacher was awarded £5,000 another Catholic was awarded £50,000 in Belfast in an action against London’s ECONOMIST. The lucky litigator had been recently appointed a Northern Ireland High Court Judge and the magazine had suggested there were lawyers better qualified for elevation to the Bench, but that he had been promoted because a Catholic quota was required. The Plaintiff produced weighty evidence to support his claim and the Lord Chief Justice was called as a witness on his behalf.
I culled the story of the injured teacher from THE IRISH TIMES and that of insulted Catholic Judge from THE TIMES of London published on the same day. And set them alongside each other in THE IRISH DEMOCRAT of March 1985.
For good measure I quoted the case of a teacher of French named Wright who got £500 (then a fortune) damages at Clonmel Assizes in 1799 against Thomas Judkin Fitzgerald, High Sheriff of Tipperary. Fitzgerald had had flogged without trial, and the latter sued him for damages, protesting his loyalty to the Crown.
The Sheriff’s defence was that the flogging was necessary “to inspire terror and secure confessions.” Savage though Fitzgerald was, he emerges as a more honest brute than the RUC terrorists and some learned High Court Judges of later years.