I enjoyed the movie In the Name of the Father, if ‘enjoyed’ is the word for such a sad, brutal story. But one bit I felt cheated by – the emergence of the Guildford Four from prison and Gerry Conlon’s impassioned speech to the waiting microphones and cameras. Not because his impassioned speech about the death of his father in prison and the innocence of the Birmingham Six and so many others – not because it wasn’t well-acted; because I’d seen the real thing so often on TV and nothing, nothing could compare with the raw anger and eloquence of the real Gerry Conlon on that day.
Since his death yesterday a number of interviews with him have been resurrected. In one, he talks about what they faced in prison. Their food came to them having been pissed on, defecated on, sometimes with glass sprinkled in it. Their cell door was left deliberately unlocked, so that those who wanted to were able to enter with socks full of batteries and beat them again and again. All this physical abuse against the background of the death of Conlon’s father and the aching, raging awareness that they had done nothing whatsoever to deserve this. Well no, let’s correct that. They had done something. They’d been Irish. The police had needed convictions for those pub bombings and it was easy, in the wave of hatred which engulfed England at the time, to stitch up the Irish group that included Conlon.
I’ve always wondered how innocent people like that keep their sanity. Sitting in a prison cell as days become weeks and weeks months and years, with the prospect of freedom at best a vague, distant hope. Lesser men would have gone mad. I would have gone mad, I’m sure. Conlon survived it but only just. Outside prison, he found life even harder to deal with and sought a dulling of the pain in drink and drugs. But even these he overcame, to campaign tirelessly for people like himself who had been imprisoned, not because they were guilty but because it suited the authorities to lock them up.
People talk about supporting the police and the judiciary system. Gerry Conlon and those like him prove that, when it suits them, the police and the judiciary are capable of the most contrived, heartless injustice imaginable. We should always be suspicious of those who tell us to always support the legal authorities. No we shouldn’t. What we should do is be always watchful, ready to call them to account. Of course a police service and legal system are necessary. But given sufficient public hysteria,they are capable of lying and lying and lying again. Gerry Conlon knew that. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam – May he rest in peace.