Free from prison for the last two decades after an infamous miscarriage of justice, Gerry Conlon still feels trapped. He was always innocent, but that was never enough and it still isn’t.
“They may have opened the doors and let us out of the
prison,” says Conlon. “But they haven't opened the doors
in our minds and let us out of the jail. We're still reliving the
horror of all that and I don't know if we'll ever get out of it.”
Patrick Maguire can identify with those sentiments. Speaking in Liverpool, he told JMU Journalism: “Maybe it would have been easier if I'd have been guilty. I wish I had been sometimes rather than innocent.”
And Paddy Hill has his own way of dealing with the pain: “I've never spoken to any of my family about prison and they've never spoken about what happened to them. That's my way of coping with it.”
The 'Guildford Four' and 'Birmingham Six' miscarriage of justices committed against these three Irish men and others has arguably become more famous than the terrorist atrocities they were wrongfully convicted of.
In October 1974, five people were killed and 65 injured by a Provisional IRA bombing of two pubs in Guildford. Later that year, Gerry Conlon and three others were arrested, tortured and forced to confess to the bombings before they were convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
Patrick Maguire was just 14 when, in 1976, he, his
mother, father and older brother, along with three
others including Conlon’s father, Patrick “Giuseppe”
Conlon, were tried and convicted of handling explos-
ives found during the investigation into the Guildford
They too were innocent, beaten into confessions and
locked up. No way out. An establishment conspiring
against them, driven by fear induced by the deadly
IRA bombing campaign at the height of the troubles
in Northern Ireland.
Conlon explains: “The actions of the IRA created
such a siege mentality in this country and people wanted to see people being arrested and locked up.”
Another innocent Irish man imprisoned was Paddy Hill who, along with five others, was wrongfully convicted of the Birmingham pub bombings of November 1974, which killed 21 people and injured 182, the deadliest terror attack on British soil until 7/7 in 2005.
“The Birmingham police told us from the beginning that they knew we didn't do the bombings and that they didn’t care,” says Hill.
“They told us straight that their orders were to get confessions and convictions and use any means they could to get them.”
Maguire spent four years in prison. Conlon wasn’t released until 1989, while Hill had to wait until 1991. In their time behind bars, Conlon’s father Guiseppe died. It’s a death that still haunts him, that and the horrors of what he was subjected to and witnessed in prison.
“None of us realised how damaged we were going to be when we came out because living in the madness in there you thought it was normal,” he says.
“I witnessed two murders in prison, countless suicides and self harm cases. When we first went in we were being attacked all the time.”
Hill says he knew from the beginning he was being stitched
up and was prepared for his fate behind bars. What he
didn’t expect was how long it would take for him to get
He says: “I knew I was always going to prove my innocence
but I never thought it was going to take sixteen and half
f*****g years! I never imagined anything like what happened
to me - just sheer brutality from beginning to end.”
There is so much that links these three men but
perhaps above all is the anger and pain which they
still feel. The lack of support upon their release from prison still rankles with all of them.
Conlon says: “People like us who have spent years and years in prison have been given nothing. The only therapy is when we get together. It's the only time we feel at ease and comfortable because we've been through an experience.”
All three of them continue to campaign on behalf of people falsely imprisoned. Hill explains: “Where there has been a wrongdoing, irrespective of the time frame, whether it's six months or 50 years later, if its proved later to be wrong then it should be acknowledged and put right.”
Conlon is not a man at peace and nor will he ever be. His experiences have scarred him, he cannot forget, nor will he.
“The reason why I do it is because to not do it would be to forget my father,” he says. “When you've been there, you've lived in a cesspit and it affects your everyday life and nobody wants to help you - it's an obligation."
By Hugh O'Connell, Website Producer
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Patrick Maguire, Gerry Conlon, and Paddy Hill; YouTube: Christy Moore sings about the Birmingham Six
Birmingham Six after their release in 1991
Conlon & family after his release (Pic: UCC)