Why were Gerry Conlon and others denied the support they needed?
Gerry should not have died.
Having watched over the years how Gerry and the other Irish victims of miscarriages of justices struggled to live their lives with any contentment, Gerry’s death provokes desperate sadness and anger in me. Gerry died so young. Had he been properly cared for, Gerry would still be alive?
All of the Guildford Four and other victims should have received long term help and support. They needed life long counselling and therapy that was professional and compassionate and understood the support that they needed.
Instead, Gerry and his other colleagues Paul Hill , Carol Richardson and Paddy Armstrong were released, dumped, abandoned and forgotten about by the authorities that put them behind bars.
Gerry’s suffering was unbearable in prison. In particular he suffered because he could not bare the stigma and the burden of being accused of such a terrible crime as the Guildford bombing. For 14 long hard years in prison he was called a murderer and a bomber. He was an innocent man. He suffered continuously after he was released and never got over his wrongful conviction.
Following his release, Gerry, until his untimely death, devoted his life to supporting other prisoners both inside and outside of prison wherever Gerry believed they were also innocent. He gave a voice and tried very hard to raise the profile of cases long ignored and forgotten. Gerry was full of love and of compassion. He was highly intelligent, deeply sensitive man who hurt very easily. He suffered years of mental anguish and could not overcome the pain and memories of his wasted youthful years locked up in prison. As Gerry said outside the Old Bailey after his release he was locked up for a crime he “knew nothing about” and a crime that he “didn’t do”.
Holding hands with his two sisters at the moment of his release outside the Old Bailey, I recall thinking that Gerry was a man full of fight and intelligence - a great orator of his own experience. He inspired us all that day. He moved us to tears. I felt he would be a strong and determined fighter for justice for others. Tragically his spirit was crushed and the sadness of his demeanour in latter years every time I met him made me feel I could weep for him.
Three of the Guildford Four are still alive, as are five of the Birmingham Six and four of the Maguire family. All of them continue to endure the memories of their wrongful imprisonment in the most callous of circumstances and all of them suffer in their own way. Do we care? Of course we do. Then we must as a society address why Gerry and all the others have been so utterly abandoned by all but their families.
Farewell Gerry. I am so sad for your family and your devoted lawyer Gareth Pierce.
Sally Mulready is a co-author of Cruel Fate: One Man’s Triumph over Injustice, a book about the Birmingham Six, and is prominent emigrant rights activist and a Labour councillor in Hackney, north London.