‘The experience never goes away,” says Paddy Hill. He still burns with anger at the British state 35 years after he was imprisoned for a bombing he did not commit.
Paddy—along with Gerard Hunter, Richard McIlkenny, Hugh Callaghan, Billy Power and Johnny Walker—was framed for the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings that killed 21 people.
The “Birmingham Six” were sentenced to life imprisonment in 1975. A long fight to prove their innocence was ultimately successful in 1991 and they were released from prison.
But the state brutality they faced has continued to deeply affect the men, according to Paddy.
He told Socialist Worker, “Thirty five years on, every month has an anniversary—you lost your appeal, Gerry’s dad died, my dad died.
“We were the most hated people in the country, held under maximum security conditions. I spent half my time inside in solitude.
“Every morning, when the door opened, you wondered if you would be killed. You live on your nerves 24/7. Prisons are violent, brutal and evil places filled with hatred.
“We lived in them day in, day out for 15 years. They dehumanise and condition you. Prison kills you a little bit every day. One morning you wake up and you just don’t give a fuck about anything.
“Then suddenly you are slung out and told to get on with an ordinary life. There was the euphoria of release, but then you hit the ground. We were given a £46 discharge grant and our personal belongings and that was it.
“I was taken out of prison, but prison wasn’t taken out of me. People who have deeply suffered can only begin to recover when they’ve been taken away from the trauma site. And I’ve never been taken away from that site—I live on my nerves every day.
“I was a lot happier in prison than I am now. I’ve been out 20 years and some days I just sit here and cry. I’ve had no help at all. They don’t treat guilty prisoners who are released like this.
“Prison can do irrevocable damage to people. Long-term prisoners go through years of treatment before and after they’re released. I’ve had none of that.We are victims of the state, but it refuses to recognise what it has done to us.”
The Birmingham Six—along with the Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven—were some of the casualties of Britain’s dirty war against the IRA.
The British state set out to destroy any resistance to its rule in Northern Ireland. As a solidarity movement developed in Britain calling for the troops to get out of Northern Ireland, the state was determined to crush and isolate opposition to its war.
An anti-Irish mood was whipped up. All Irish people were seen as potential terrorists.
Paddy sees parallels with today.
“The government needed scapegoats,” said Paddy. “They needed to tell the rest of the Irish people not to give any support to the Irish cause.
“They set out to isolate the Irish community in England, just as they are doing with Muslims today.
“They are forcing people into becoming extremists. People are locked up in Belmarsh prison on the suspicion that they might do something. The authorities won’t even tell their legal team what they’re holding them on.”
The brutal campaign went right to the heart of the Labour government of 1974–79.
Paddy said, “In 2007 Gerry Conlon of the Guildford Four and I met Maria Eagle, the then justice secretary. She hugged us and said that what had happened to us should never have taken place.
“We were told that the police knew we were innocent but they had been told that they could use any methods on us and not to worry about it. Those at the top would cover for them.
“They knew who’d carried out the bombing a few days after it took place, but they’d beaten us so badly that they couldn’t let us go.
“Both the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four cases are covered by a 75 year ruling on government files. Why?
“Is it because the Labour government, the judiciary and the police were complicit in torturing and framing innocent people?”
The quashing of the Birmingham Six’s conviction and those of a number of other high profile victims of the state delivered a blow to the British justice system in the early 1990s.
But Paddy believes that things have not changed dramatically since then, and that in fact they’ve got worse. He believes this is because the police seem to have impunity from criminal charges, whatever they do.
“There are a hell of a lot more people in prison today screaming that they’re innocent,” he said.
“Nothing ever happens to the police. Not one legal action was taken against the police officers who tortured and badly beat innocent people.
“They say that crime doesn’t pay, but if you’re a bent copper it pays very well. Until they start putting corrupt cops in jail miscarriages of justice will continue.
“The cops in our case and that of the Guildford Four retired on good pay after going through secret internal disciplinary procedures.
“The cops judge themselves. The public is the only body that doesn’t investigate itself. The whole system is rotten from top to bottom.”
When Lord Denning rejected an appeal by the Six in 1980, he revealed a truth that the ruling class usually likes to keep quiet.
He said that if the appeal had won, “it would mean that the police were guilty of perjury; that they were guilty of violence and threats; that the confessions were involuntary and improperly admitted in evidence; and that the convictions were erroneous.”
But for Denning, “That was such an appalling vista that every sensible person would say, ‘It cannot be right that these actions should go any further’.”
Innocence or guilt no longer mattered. Protecting the reputation of the state was all the mattered, whatever the cost to its victims.
Paddy has devoted his life since his release to fighting against miscarriages of justice. He set up the Miscarriages of Justice Organisation (Mojo) in Scotland to help people in prison and when they come out.
He has funded Mojo with the compensation money he has received.
Paddy said, “I’m fighting not just to get help for myself but to get everyone else help.”
The campaign to release the Birmingham Six
Press, politicians, police and judges combined to keep the Birmingham Six in prison for over 15 years. Their guilt was taken for granted.
The Daily Mirror proclaimed “Bomb Gang Get Justice” while a Guardian report was headlined “Anatomy of a Death Squad”.
Lord Justice Widgery refused the six’s appeal in 1976, Lord Justice Denning dismissed their action against the police in 1980 while Lord Justice Lane dismissed another appeal in 1988.
Campaigners questioned the guilty verdicts from the beginning. Socialist Worker journalist Jean Grey wrote in 1976 that the six’s supposed confessions had been “totally fabricated by the police”.
She wrote, “The men were badly beaten and deprived of sleep for a long time so they would sign these confessions.” And “the traces of explosives on two of the men’s hands were not reliable.”
Chris Mullin, who later became a Labour MP, took up the Birmingham Six’s fight and campaigned courageously for their release, becoming a target for press attacks himself.
Despite growing evidence of their innocence, the press kept up a campaign of vilification against the men.
Lord Denning even said in 1990, “If the Birmingham Six had been hanged we shouldn’t have all these campaigns to get them released.”
The Birmingham Six were released the following year.
For more information go to www.mojoscotland.com