Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: Gerry Conlon

Who’s Sorry Now?

Colman's Column3A version of this  article appeared in Ceylon Today on Tuesday March 24 2015.

ConwayBook

Freedom Fighter

Kieran Conway says he is very sorry. What could this respectable-looking white-haired 60-year-old man in his smart suit and red silk tie possibly be guilty about?

Well, there is the small matter of blowing 21 innocent people to giblets while they were out enjoying a quiet drink.

On top of that is the fact that six innocent men each spent 15 years in prison for what Mr Conway and his friends did.

In a recently published book, Southside Provisional : From Freedom Fighter to the Four Courts, Conway, who ran the Provisional IRA’s intelligence-gathering in the 1970s, made the first formal IRA  admission that it had carried out the bombing of the Tavern in the Town and the Mulberry Bush pubs in  central Birmingham. Notice that he thinks of himself as a “freedom fighter”. Conway claimed that the civilian casualties had not been intended. One is reminded of the sentiments expressed by Padraic Pearse, leader of the 1916 Easter rising: “we might make mistakes in the beginning and shoot the wrong people: but bloodshed is a cleansing and sanctifying thing”.

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Birmingham Bombings

I was living in Manchester on 21 November 1974. One of my close friends had recently moved to Birmingham. I had often visited him there and become friends with many of his new friends. I knew the city well because I had been visiting since before I was ten years old to see my cousin Pat Saward, who was also captain of the Republic of Ireland team, playing football for Aston Villa. When I heard the news of the bombings, I was immediately concerned for my friends. I had often been in the Tavern on the Town. I could picture the streets where the atrocity was perpetrated.

pub

The bombs killed 21 people and injured 182. The dead and wounded were mainly young people between the ages of 17 and 25, including two brothers: Desmond and Eugene Reilly (aged 22 and 23 respectively). Their names clearly indicate that they were of Irish extraction and not British imperialists. The Mulberry Bush was on the lower two floors of an office block called the Rotunda. The police began checking the upper floors of the Rotunda but did not clear the crowded pub at street level before the bomb exploded at 20:17. Ten people were killed in this explosion and dozens injured.

boys

At 20:27 a bomb exploded at the Tavern on the Town, a basement pub 50 yards away on New Street. It killed a further 11 people and left many with severe injuries. Several victims were blown through a brick wall. Their remains were wedged between the rubble and underground electric cables; it took hours for firemen to free them. A passing West Midlands bus was wrecked in the blast and passersby were struck by flying glass from shattered windows. The fact that two bombs had exploded  close together meant it was difficult to get casualties to hospital in the chaos.

bus

One of the victims, 18-year-old Maxine Hambleton, had only gone into the Tavern in the Town to hand out tickets to friends for a party. She was killed seconds after entering the pub and had been standing beside the bag containing the bomb when it exploded. Her friend, 17-year-old Jane Davis, was the youngest victim of the bombings.

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Birmingham Six

Evening-Mail-mcdade

On the night of the bombings, six Irishmen were arrested at Heysham Port while about to board a ferry to Belfast. They became known as the “Birmingham Six”.  The six were from Belfast but had lived in Birmingham for some time. They were going to Belfast for the funeral of James McDade who was killed in a premature explosion while planting an IRA bomb at the Coventry telephone exchange. One of the six was also intending to see an aunt in Belfast who was sick and not expected to live.

West Midlands  police were under great pressure to make arrests and the British government were under pressure to clamp down on the IRA. Someone had to pay and it did not really matter who the sacrificial victims were. The Birmingham Six – Hugh Callaghan, Patrick Joseph Hill, Gerard Hunter, Richard McIlkenny, William Power and John Walker—were quickly arrested and eventually sentenced to life imprisonment in 1975. The West Midlands Police tortured them- they were deprived of food and sleep, they were interrogated sometimes for up to 12 hours without a break; threats were made against them; they were punched; fierce dogs  were allowed close to them; there were  mock executions.


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Forensic scientist Dr Frank Skuse used positive Griess test results to claim that Hill and Power had handled explosives. Dr Hugh Kenneth Black of the Royal Institute of Chemistry, the former HM Chief Inspector of Explosives at the Home Office challenged Skuse’s interpretation. The men had been playing cards on the train and that could have given the same results as explosives. The judge (and the jury) preferred Skuse’s version.  In October 1985, a  World in Action TV documentary In The Interests of Justice concluded that the real Birmingham pub bombers had gone free. Days after the TV programme, the Home Office retired Skuse, aged 51, from the Civil Service on the grounds of “limited effectiveness”. All 350 of Skuse’s cases, dating back to 1966, were re-examined. In 1991, the Court of Appeal stated that the Griess test should only be used as a preliminary test and that Dr Skuse’s conclusion was demonstrably wrong, judged even by the state of forensic science in 1974.

Dr-Frank-Skuse

The convictions of the Birmingham Six were declared unsafe and unsatisfactory and quashed by the Court of Appeal on 14 March 1991. The six men were later awarded compensation ranging from £840,000 to £1.2 million. They had each spent 15 years in prison.

 

six

Guildford Bombings – Legitimate Targets?

Kieran Conway is now a criminal lawyer in Dublin. He says in his book that where off-duty soldiers were the targets of bombings, “I had little sympathy for either the soldiers or the unfortunate civilians who had been sharing their drinking space.”

The bombing of the Horse and Groom and the Seven Stars in Guildford in October 1974 would be acceptable to this freedom fighter because those two pubs were popular with off-duty soldiers from the barracks in Pirbright. Four soldiers and one civilian were killed, whilst a further sixty-five were wounded. Once again innocent people –

Gerry Conlon, Paul Hill, Patrick Armstrong and Carole Richardson

-each spent 15 years in prison for a crime they did not commit. Conlon had been in London at the time of the bombings, and had visited his aunt, Annie Maguire. A few days after the Guildford Four were arrested, the Metropolitan Police arrested Auntie Annie and her family, including Gerry Conlon’s father, Patrick “Giuseppe” Conlon. The Maguire Seven were falsely convicted of providing bomb-making material in March 1976 and sentenced to terms varying between four and fourteen years. The Guildford Four were held in prison for fifteen years, while Giuseppe Conlon died near the end of his third year of imprisonment. All the convictions were overturned years later in the appeal courts after it was proved the Guildford Four’s convictions had been based on confessions obtained by torture whilst evidence specifically clearing the Four was not reported by the police.

Gerry Conlon, despite being portrayed by Daniel Day Lewis in a film, did not have a happy life. He died last year at the age of 65. He spent 25% of his life in prison for a terrible crime committed by someone else and had mental problems as a result.

conlon

 

Paul Hill did rather better. He moved to the USA. In 1993, married Courtney Kennedy, a daughter of assassinated American senator Robert F. Kennedy and a niece of assassinated president John F Kennedy. They had a daughter in 1999, but legally separated in 2006.

paul hill

Troubled Times

 

The year 1974 was a particularly uncomfortable one in which to be Irish in England. I recall sitting in the Irish Club in Gloucester with my sainted aunt who was on a visit with her son and his wife. Our pleasant evening was marred by a brick being thrown through the window. A work colleague vehemently told me that she was boycotting Kerry Gold butter because of the IRA.  One had to be constantly vigilant. When I worked in a social security office in Manchester, we evacuated the building when a security guard found a suspicious parcel in a toilet. It turned out to be a package of sausages. When I worked in London for Sir Arthur Armitage at the Social Security Advisory Committee, I had the building, near Lincolns Inn Fields, cleared when an unidentified parcel arrived addressed to Sir Arthur. Sir Arthur was an eminent lawyer and Vice-Chancellor of Manchester University. We were planning our annual visit to Belfast and he was very nervous about it, having received threats. I was not at all embarrassed when the parcel turned out to be a tape of an interview he had done. Because of the actions of Conway and his friends, we had to live with fear and even today, people in the UK are living with the effects of the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

Confession

In his book, Conway writes about his participation in bank raids and gun battles and his encounters with leading IRA figures. He refers to Gerry Adams as “a mendacious, lying bastard”. Conway  told the Irish Independent newspaper: “For much of its existence, Sinn Fein was a support group for the IRA, a junior and not terribly effective part of the republican movement. Though always controlled from a distance by the IRA, the IRA leadership decided in the late 1970s that the party would come under IRA control at every level.” This sounds similar to the relationship between the LTTE and the TNA.

adams

Conor Cruise O’Brien pointed out 30 years ago that those who carried out the Easter Rising in 1916 believed they were entitled, although they were but a small unelected group of conspirators in a democratic country, to stage a revolution in which many innocent people were killed. “Armed struggle” generally means  fanatics killing innocents by remote control. Revolutionary leaders presume a lot. Pearse might nobly say: “I care not though I were to live but one day and one night, if only my fame and my deeds live after me”. The majority of the casualties in the Easter Rising were civilians. Did Prabhakaran ever ask Tamils civilians  if they wanted to be martyrs? Was there a referendum on martyrdom, a focus group?

Despite the undoubted success of the Good Friday Agreement a handful of unelected die-hards do not want peace. They want to create new martyrs for Ireland. Today, after so much bloodshed, Ireland is still not united. Today, after so much bloodshed, there is no Eelam.

How Sorry Is Conway?

Maxine Hambleton’s family and the campaign group Justice4the21 met Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper last week to ask for her support for new inquests. They have also met Home Secretary Theresa May and are preparing a case for the European Parliament. Inquests were opened days after the bombings and closed in 1975 without hearing evidence, because of the guilty verdicts on the Birmingham Six.

While Conway was heading the IRA’s intelligence department, the Provisionals killed 140 people. Conway said in an interview: “I have no doubt that actions of mine resulted in serious harm to people and worse, and I regret that. I very much regret it in view of the outcome… The IRA has disappeared into history having taken a position on how to achieve Irish unity which is identical to that of the British government it fought against for 25 years and that is not a good outcome,” ”

Julie-and-Brian-Hambleton

Julie Hambleton is asking why this “freedom fighter” is not questioned about his role in the murder of her sister following his admissions in his book.

 

Vintage Sleaze Part2 Butler-Sloss Inquiry

This article appeared in the July 16 edition of Ceylon Today.

 

Colman's Column3

Last week I wrote about calls for a public inquiry into allegations that the UK Home Office had colluded in a cover up of paedophile activity in Parliament and government. There has been strong criticism of the role of Leon Brittan, who was Home Secretary at the time when 114 files relating to child abuse went missing. At the time I wrote that article, UK prime minister David Cameron was steadfastly arguing that an internal Home Office inquiry combined with ongoing police investigations would be sufficient.

Since then, on 6 July 2014, the current Home Secretary, Theresa May, announced that an expert panel will have the power to scrutinise the behaviour of political parties, the security services and private companies amid allegations that paedophile networks operated with impunity in the 1970s and 1980s. It will also investigate the handling of the information given to the police and prosecution service about the allegations at the time. May added that this review would look into the Paedophile Information Exchange group. Peter Wanless, the chief executive of the NSPCC will head this review which will report within ten weeks to Mrs May and to Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General. Wanless was previously the Big Lottery Fund’s chief executive and worked at the Department for Children, Schools and Families.

May raised the possibility of converting it into a full public inquiry and giving the panel the authority to subpoena witnesses and has since announced that a public inquiry will be led by retired judge Lady Elizabeth Butler-Sloss. There has been much criticism, mainly on the grounds of her age and connections, of the appointment of the appointment of Lady Butler-Sloss.

NPG P1029; Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss (nÈe Havers) by Christian CourrËges

Brother’s Keeper?

Lady Butler-Sloss’s family connections are indeed somewhat embarrassing. Her father, Sir Cecil Havers, was the high court judge who passed the death sentence on Ruth Ellis, the last woman hanged in Britain. In a 2010 television interview, his grandson, the actor Nigel Havers, revealed that his grandfather had written to the Home Secretary recommending a reprieve, but had received a curt refusal. Sir Cecil subsequently sent money annually for the upkeep of Ellis’s son.

Gerry Conlon recently died at the age of 60. Daniel Day Lewis is to be knighted by Queen Elizabeth. One of Day Lewis’s memorable performances was as Gerry conlon in Jim Sheridan’s film In the Name of the Father. In the film Daniel Massey plays the prosecuting QC, Sir Michael Havers, who is unnamed. Gerry Conlon spent 25% of his life in prison for a crime he did not commit.

Gerry Conlon was one of the Guildford Four, who were convicted in 1975 for the IRA Guildford pub bombings of 5 October 1974. After their arrest, all four defendants confessed to the bombing under torture by British police. There was never any evidence that any of The Four had been involved with the Provisional IRA. Collectively, the Four and the Maguire Seven served a total of 113 years in prison and one of the Maguire Seven, Giuseppe Conlon, Gerry’s father, died in prison, convicted on the basis of discredited forensic evidence. Havers represented the Crown in the trial and appeal of the Guildford Four and also of the Maguire family. In the case of the Guildford Four, the Director of Public Prosecutions was found to have suppressed alibi evidence that supported Gerry Conlon and Paul Hill’s claims of innocence. The DPP suppressed confessions by Provisional IRA bombers, known as the Balcombe Street Gang that they had carried out the Guildford and Woolwich bombings. In his submission to Sir John May’s 1989 Inquiry into the Guildford and Woolwich bombings, Labour MP Chris Mullins cast doubt on Havers’s integrity. “He is, therefore, probably the person who can lay claim to the most detailed knowledge of this affair. I respectfully submit that any inquiry that passed without the benefit of his experience would be deficient…The only hope of sustaining the original convictions was to rewrite the script from top to bottom. This Sir Michael and his colleagues proceeded to do with ingenuity and relish.”

In the Yorkshire Ripper case in 1981, Havers attracted controversy at the outset of the trial, when he said of Sutcliffe’s victims in his introductory speech: “Some were prostitutes, but perhaps the saddest part of the case is that some were not. The last six attacks were on totally respectable women.”

More to the point, Sir Michael was the attorney general under the Thatcher government and was accused of a “cover-up” when he refused to prosecute Sir Peter Hayman, a former diplomat and member of the Paedophile Information Exchange. Hayman was the deputy under secretary of state at the Foreign Office, and was reputed to be a senior officer in MI6, the foreign intelligence service.

havers

Should being sister to Mrs Thatcher’s most senior law officer disqualify Lady Butler-Sloss from heading an impartial inquiry?

Husband’s Keeper?

When Lady Butler-Sloss was appointed by Tony (now Lord) Newton to head the Cleveland Inquiry, the News of the World (17 July 1988) did a feature on her husband Joseph Butler-Sloss, who was then a circuit judge in Kenya. In a taped conversation, he confessed to using prostitutes A Nairobi court colleague said: “The wife comes through the front door and his girls go out the back. He is very discreet with her around because he doesn’t want scandal.”

Her Own Record

She was the first female Lord Justice of Appeal and, until 2004, was the highest-ranking female judge in the United Kingdom. In 2002, she chaired the Crown Appointments Board charged with the selection of a new Archbishop of Canterbury. She is Chairman of the Advisory Council of St Paul’s Cathedral. She once stood as a Conservative candidate for election to Parliament.

Her main qualification for heading this inquiry would probably be her previous work on the Cleveland child abuse scandal in 1987. Dr Marietta Higgs and Dr Geoffrey Wyatt diagnosed 121 cases of suspected child sexual abuse in Stockton-on-Tees. Higgs used a reflex anal dilation test, which on the scandal’s 20th anniversary Chief Medical Officer Liam Donaldson described as “not reliable”. The children were subject to place of safety orders, and some were removed from their parents’ care permanently. Dr Higgs continued to examine them while they were in foster care. She subsequently accused foster parents of further abuse and many were arrested. Courts dismissed cases involving 96 of the 121 children alleged to be victims of sexual abuse and 26 cases, involving children from twelve families, were found by judges to have been incorrectly diagnosed.

In The Cleveland Report was established, Baroness Butler-Sloss stated that the problems of child sexual abuse had become more recognised in the early 1980s which caused “particularly difficult problems for the agencies concerned in child protection”. She went on to state: “In Cleveland an honest attempt was made to address these problems by the agencies. In Spring 1987 it went wrong.”The public inquiry found most of the allegations of sexual abuse were unfounded and all but 27 children were returned to their families. The two doctors were criticised for “over-confidence” in their methods.

People on various sides of the debate were unhappy with the Butler-Sloss Cleveland Report. Anti-patriarchal witch finder Beatrix Campbell said: “Her report contributed to the myth that children were the victims not of sexual abuse but of crazed doctors and social workers.” Anti-zealot the late Richard Webster wrote: “Through no fault of her own Justice Elizabeth Butler-Sloss had, in effect, been compelled to produce her report in the dark. She simply did not have the benefit of the very scientific research which would have revealed the true scale of the Cleveland scandal and the real dangers of the child protection ideology and the paediatric zealotry which had led to it.”

Should She Stand Down?

Lady Butler-Sloss will not be working alone. She will have a panel of independent experts and the review will be conducted in the glare of publicity. However, can we expect transparency from an inquiry presided over by a member of the House of Lords whose members she would be investigating?

She was Chairman of the Independent Security Commission  which  reviewed “vetting of those who belong to the Royal Households, those working with them, or who otherwise gain access to Royal residences”.   She would have overall a responsibility for vetting  Jimmy Savile. She is an intelligence insider. She must have known knew Savile was a paedophile.

How About an International Inquiry?

In the five years since Sri Lanka comprehensively defeated the barbarous Tamil Tigers, UK ministers have been persistently calling for an international inquiry into alleged war crimes and human rights violations. As there is strong evidence that UK ministers have been buggering orphans for decades, would it not be the best plan to appoint an internationally respected figure to conduct an independent inquiry? Someone not intimately connected by ties of blood and influence to the likely perpetrators?

 Postscript

Since the article was published, Lady Butler-Sloss has decided to stand down saying it has : “become clear to me that I did not sufficiently consider whether my background and the fact my brother had been Attorney General would cause difficulties.”

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