Page last updated at 07:54 GMT, Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Rights chief visits PSNI station

Monica McWilliams
Monica McWilliams has raised concerns at the suspects' detention

The human rights commissioner has visited Antrim police station where nine people are being questioned over three dissident republican murders.

The suspects are being held over the murders of a policeman in Craigavon and two soldiers in Antrim.

The commission has said it is concerned at the length of time those detained have been held without charge.

Commissioner Monica McWilliams said she wanted to inspect conditions at the station.

"We have always been against these lengthy detention periods so the issue would be to charge people or to release them now after this length of time," she said.

"Some of them have not even been interviewed for a number of days now."

She said she had no concerns about how those held were being treated by police, but said that the cells were "completely inappropriate" for a long detention.

"Their issue is the lack of stimuli, the lack of exercise," she said.

"The exercise is on the first floor in a caged area, no daylight in any of the cells and indeed the lack of daylight is beginning to affect their concentration."

28 days detention
28 days detention without charge was introduced in the Terrorism Act 2006
After 48 hours police must make an application to a judge to detain a suspect for a further five days
Further seven day extensions must be approved by a judge, up to the maximum 28 days.

Six of those being held have launched a High Court challenge to the extension of their detention period.

A 37-year-old man and a 17-year-old boy have been held by police investigating the murder of Constable Stephen Carroll since 10 March.

It is the longest anyone has been in custody without charge since internment.

The 17-year-old was charged with murder and other offences on Monday night.

Earlier Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said people being held by the PSNI beyond "human rights best practice" should be "charged or released".

The PSNI were granted extensions at the weekend to continue questioning a man and a woman in connection with the murder of Constable Carroll, who was shot dead by the Continuity IRA in Craigavon on 9 March.

Under the Terrorism Act 2006, police are allowed to detain terror suspects for up to 28 days without charge.

Support

Both the DUP and Ulster Unionists have backed the police.

The DUP's William McCrea said: "It is for the police to say what resources they need and it is for elected politicians to battle to get those resources for them.

"We must not second guess the police as they seek to do their duty."

Basil McCrea, of the UUP, said: "Whilst the human rights of those arrested should be respected, it is also important that the chief constable uses all the powers within the law to bring the perpetrators of these recent murders to justice.

"Any further attacks risk unravelling the fragile peace and plunging Northern Ireland back into the dark days."

Mr Adams said those arrested had the right to "basic human rights" protections.

"If there is evidence which exists against somebody, then that person should be charged and the evidence put before the courts, " he said.

"If no such evidence exists then that person should be released. That is the democratic standard which most be adhered to."

Responding to similar criticisms from Sinn Fein's Alex Maskey last week, the PSNI said it did not "create legislation" but enforced "the law as it is enacted".

"When investigating any crime we will use all legal means to bring those responsible before the courts," a PSNI spokeswoman said. "This we do in compliance with European Human Rights legislation."



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