THE Government admitted for the first time yesterday that soldiers from the SAS brought the Peterhead prison siege to an end in 1987.
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Now SAS men are set to give evidence in a Scottish court from behind screens, their faces being revealed only to the Judge, counsel, and the jury.
They will be appearing for the Secretary of State in a case in which he is being sued for #10,000 by a Peterhead prisoner who alleges he was beaten up when the elite troops intervened to rescue a prison officer being held hostage. The Scottish Secretary denies liability.
The action is being pursued by Mr John Devine, who claims that since his alleged treatment at the hands of the SAS in October 1987 he has needed psychiatric treatment and has suffered sleeplessness, headaches, and loss of appetite. He alleges that in the initial fracas he was thrown down a flight of stairs.
The case is due to be heard by Lord Clyde and a jury at the Court of Session next week.
At a preliminary hearing earlier this week counsel on both sides were careful not to mention the SAS by name. It was alleged that Mr Devine had been beaten up by ''Crown servants''.
The Scottish Secretary, who is responsible for the prison service, successfully resisted a move to postpone the case. His counsel explained that these particular ''Crown servants'' had priorities other than giving evidence in court.
Yesterday, however, the Crown servant euphemism was dropped when Mr Alastair Dunlop, QC, appearing for the Scottish Secretary, asked Lord Coulsfield for special arrangements to be made to allow SAS men to give their evidence.
Mr Dunlop told the court: ''The incident was brought to an end by force through the intervention of members of the armed forces, and in particular the SAS.
''I am informed it is essential for the appropriate presentation of the defence that at least some of those from the SAS give evidence. I am advised, and indeed it is accepted, that for reasons of security, operational effectiveness and personal safety, it is essential that the soldiers' identity should be protected.''
The intention was to erect a screen in court which would result in the soldiers being seen only by the Judge, jury, and counsel. The SAS men would also be referred to only by letters of the alphabet.
Lord Coulsfield agreed to approve these arrangements for the hearing, which is due to begin on Tuesday.