“I have been in prison for something I did not do. I am totally innocent. The Maguire Seven are innocent. Let’s hope the Birmingham Six are freed.”
Gerry Conlon, was one of the so-called Guildford Four, convicted on fabricated evidence of the Guildford pub bombings in 1974 which killed five people and injured dozens more; they all protested their innocence, and their sentences were finally quashed by the Court of Appeal in 1989, after they had served 15 years behind bars.
Conlon had an articulate voice to vividly communicate his experience of injustice in his book Proved Innocent (1991). After that, he became a leading character in the 1993 film In the Name of the Father, where he was played by Daniel Day-Lewis. Conlon was a leading activist through the Miscarriages of Justice group still campaigning on behalf of those in prison he believed were innocent even in the days before his death.
In a statement issued through Gareth Peirce, the solicitor who helped him and the other members of the Guildford Four – Paul Hill, Paddy Armstrong and Carole Richardson – gain their freedom, his family confirmed he passed away in the early hours of the morning.
The family said: “He helped us to survive what we were not meant to survive. We recognise that what he achieved by fighting for justice for us had a far, far greater importance — it forced the world’s closed eyes to be opened to injustice. It forced unimaginable wickedness to be acknowledged. We believe it changed the course of history. We thank him for his life and we thank all his many friends for their love.”
The Conlons added: “He brought life, love, intelligence, wit and strength to our family through its darkest hours”.
Conlon, who was from the Falls Road of west Belfast, watched his father Giuseppe die in prison as one of the so-called Maguire Seven, which also included Conlon’s aunt Annie. They were arrested after being falsely accused of taking part in the same IRA bombing campaign in southern England during the mid-1970s. When he entered prison, Conlon’s father was suffering from emphysema and had just undergone chemotherapy. He died in 1980.
Peirce, who was with the Conlon family when Gerry died, added her own tribute. She said: “Once a community has been made suspect en masse every organ of the state will feel entitled, in fact obliged, to discover proof of their suspicions. The example of what happened to Gerry and his entire family should haunt us forever. Sadly these lessons are jettisoned when the next suspect community is constructed.
Reflecting on his experience, Conlon once said: “The Guildford Four were simply chosen because we were dispensable, because if they couldn’t capture the real people, then others had to be sacrificed to ease the public’s mind.”
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam!
Photo: Gerry Conlon (left), Paul Hill (centre), and Paddy Hill of the Birmingham Six after the funeral of Birmingham Six member Richard McIkenny in 2006. File Photograph: Julien Behal/PA.