Birmingham Six given their freedom after 17 years wrongful imprisonment | Story reproduced from @BBCNews, 25 February 1991
After 17 years in prison, the Birmingham Six could be freed within weeks. It follows an announcement by the Director of Public Prosecution, Alan Green, that their convictions can no longer be considered safe and satisfactory. Hugh Callaghan, Patrick Hill, Gerard Hunter, Richard McIlkenny, William Power and John Walker were all jailed in 1975 for an IRA attack on two pubs in Birmingham in November 1974 in which 21 people died.
They have consistently maintained their innocence.
Speaking during a live radio broadcast by Irish broadcaster RTE, one of the six, Hugh Callaghan, spoke about his ordeal. “It should have happened a long time ago. It has been known for years and years that we were innocent,” he said.
Today’s preliminary hearing was told both scientific and police evidence presented at the original trial could no longer be relied upon and that therefore the Crown’s case against the men had collapsed. Their third appeal will be heard at the Court of Appeal on Monday, 4 March. New evidence collected in the past year will be presented to the court, which will make the final decision on whether or not to release the men.
Friends, family and supporters were overjoyed by the news. The Irish government issued a statement saying it shared their relief and joy. Gareth Pierce, the solicitor for five of the men, said the case was “a national disgrace” and called for the evidence to be made public. Patsy Power, William Power’s wife, said: “It’s over and done but the system has to be altered so nothing like this happens again.”
Former Master of the Rolls Lord Denning, who rejected the men’s appeal in 1980, said he was saddened by the case.
“As I look back I am very sorry, because I always thought that our police were splendid and am very sorry that in this case it appears the contrary,” he said.
Mick Murray, a member of the IRA since the early 1950s and the man eventually named as ringleader of the Birmingham bombings, was sentenced to twelve years. He had remained silent throughout the trial, refusing to acknowledge proceedings. The trial judge, the Honourable Mr. Justice Bridge, commended him for ‘having all the demeanour of a soldier’.
Speaking of his years in jail, Paddy Hill was later to say that ‘prison kills you emotionally. It’s a dark, deep, evil, brutal world filled with anger, violence, jealousy, paranoia. You become brutalised – it’s like being in a war zone. […] For 24 hours a day, every day, you’re at risk of being stabbed, slashed or having boiling water thrown over you. After a while, it doesn’t mean anything if you see that sort of thing happening to other prisoners. You don’t feel a thing. […] I became dehumanised and I still am dehumanised.’
The Birmingham Six were to remain in prison for sixteen years. Their first appeal, launched in 1976, was dismissed by Lord Chief Justice Widgery.
A second appeal went before Lord Denning in 1980.
Lord Alfred Denning, Baron of Whitechapel is bizarrely still often described even today as “the people’s judge” and even as England’s greatest ever judge.
Lord Denning once said he had no qualms about donning the black cap to pass a death sentence and he mused that the Guildford Four were “probably guilty” and said: “We shouldn’t have all these campaigns to get the Birmingham Six released if they’d been hanged. They’d have been forgotten and the whole community would have been satisfied.”
In 1980, during an appeal by the Birmingham Six (who were later acquitted) Lord Denning judged that the men should be stopped from challenging legal decisions. He listed several reasons for not allowing their appeal:
In 1982 he published What Next in the Law; in it, he seemed to suggest some members of the black community were unsuitable to serve on juries, and that immigrant groups may have had different moral standards to native Englishmen. His remarks followed a trial over the St Pauls riot in Bristol; two jurors on the case threatened to sue him and the Society of Black Lawyers wrote to the Lord Chancellor to request that Denning “politely and firmly” be made to retire. Denning apologised for his remarks on 21 May and handed a letter to the Lord Chancellor detailing his resignation, effective as of 29 September.
Several years later, journalist Chris Mullin began his investigation into the case for Granada’s World in Action series.
The first of these programmes, broadcast in 1985, cast serious doubt on the men’s convictions. Mullins subsequently wrote a book, Error of Judgment, which presented the evidence for the men’s innocence. Mullins claimed to have met the men actually responsible for the bombings.
The case was referred back to court, but in January 1988 the convictions were upheld. During the following three years, new evidence appeared in newspaper articles, television documentaries and books that further cast the convictions into doubt. Campaign groups calling for the men’s release formed in Britain, Ireland, the rest of Europe and the USA. A third and final appeal, in 1991, was successful. Paddy Hill was among those represented by the renowned human rights solicitor Gareth Peirce. Evidence was produced of police fabrication and the suppression of evidence. The discrediting of the confessions and the original forensic evidence was sufficient for the Crown to withdraw its case against the Six, and they were set free. A decade later, each of the men would be awarded substantial compensation.
Paddy Hill went on to become one of the co-founders of the ‘Miscarriages of Justice Organisation’, a group whose aim is to reduce the numbers of miscarriages of justice and to improve care for those found to have been wrongly convicted. In 2006, they threatened to sue the Home Office Minister Fiona MacTaggart for libel after she made remarks about ‘criminals’ whose convictions had been quashed. They felt this implied that they were still guilty even after their acquittal. Four years later, Hill successfully sued the publishers of a poetry anthology who had referred to his conviction as ‘perhaps wrong’.
Nine years after his release, Hill married an artist named Tara who he had met at a fundraising event for the Miscarriages of Justice Organisation. Tara describes him as a ‘tortured man’. ‘He’s difficult to live with but it’s not his fault; it’s because of what’s been done to him by the state.’ Hill himself says that he is emotionally dead. He hardly ever sees his children because he can no longer handle relationships.
Writing in the Guardian in 2010, journalist Amelia Hill described Paddy Hill’s physical deterioration since his release from prison. He had ‘visibly shrunken’. On his release he had been a ‘strong, stocky man’ and one who appeared ‘resilient and determined to forge a future’. Nearly twenty years on, he is ‘frail’ and ‘looks broken’. The change was the result of psychological stress.
It was in 2010 that Paddy Hill was finally granted two months of trauma counselling to help him recover from the psychological damage caused by his imprisonment. He described how ‘after almost a generation of being held hostage by my own government, I was suddenly thrown out on to the streets and expected to cope. But I’m coming apart at the seams and time has made it worse. I’m like a hand-grenade with a loose pin, just waiting to explode. I wake up every morning and all I can think about is killing cops. But I’m not evil: I’m traumatised and I desperately need help.’ He had spent the years since his release trying to obtain support from the state but was pushed away by doctors who only offered medication or said his trauma was too severe to treat. His solicitor and supporter Gareth Peirce explained that ‘there simply is not any treatment available in the NHS for victims like Paddy, who have experienced such extreme torture and false imprisonment at the hands of their own government.’ Consultant Psychiatrist Professor Gordon Turnbull, who had helped patients including former Beirut hostage Terry Waite, described Hill as one of the most traumatised people had had ever dealt with. In Turnball’s view, ‘being the victim of a miscarriage of justice in your own country is very much more traumatic than being a conventional prisoner or even a conventional hostage, who has been held against his wishes in a foreign country by people who have a different belief system.’
Hill now hopes that the counselling will help him deal with the nightmares and flashbacks. But, he says, he is also ‘scared of the anger counselling will unleash. What if there’s too much to put back in the box? What if there’s too much to contain?’
… to be continued …
James Johnson, Independent Federal Candidate for Lalor