No justice for the innocent
Monday 20 July 2009
"I'm not a good guy," says Paddy Hill. "I have 17 previous convictions." He says it casually, then his eyes harden and his voice suddenly rises. "But I tell you one thing - I was given 21 fucking life sentences for nothing, and there's not a day goes by that I don't want to get a gun, walk into a police station and shoot every police officer in the place fucking dead."
Paddy is one of the six men framed and jailed for the bombing of two pubs in Birmingham in 1974 in which 21 people were killed.
It took three Court of Appeal hearings to overturn his conviction, but it will take the rest of his life to deal with the extreme post-traumatic stress disorder that 16 years in jail have left him with.
"What I would like is to wake up one morning and be happy, but I'm so fucked up that I haven't got a hope of a normal life," he says.
"I've been around the block trying to get help, but doctors tell me that the NHS doesn't have anyone who can treat someone so severely traumatised and all the voluntary organisations tell me that they are only allowed to help prisoners who have done their time."
"They can only treat the guilty, not the innocent," he says bitterly.
No-one has ever been held responsible for the miscarriage of justice that has lost Paddy 34 years of his life - 34 years because the trauma that he suffers still isn't over.
"Prison kills you a little bit each day, and sooner or later you wake up and you don't feel nothing, you don't give a fuck about anything," he says.
"When I was inside, I cared about just one thing - getting to the Court of Appeal and getting out. But now that I'm out, I feel nothing - not for my kids, not for anything."
Paddy left Belfast 50 years ago to look for a factory job in Birmingham.
"It was leave or join the British army like my father had done and my brothers did.
"But back then Birmingham was so racist there were signs on the walls at the factories that said 'Vacancies - no Paddies'," he says.
"Times were hard, tough. The police used to beat us up and to be honest a lot of the time I deserved it. And by the time the pubs were bombed I probably knew all the cops in Birmingham.
"But after the bombs, it changed. The West Midlands serious crimes squad came in and things were different. After I was taken to the cells, these cops told me: 'We know you didn't do it, but we don't give a fuck.'
"They wanted to get confessions and convictions no matter what, to get their bosses and the papers off their backs, so they beat me, knocked out all my teeth and burned me with cigarettes."
Paddy has told his story many times now, seeking out people who will listen and who might be able to help "the innocents" as he calls them - victims of miscarriages of justice that happen every single day.
Together with Paddy, John McManus organises the Miscarriages Of Justice Organisation (MOJO), which advocates for those still inside who claim that they are innocent and tries to assist the wrongfully imprisoned when they are finally released.
"Even 10 years after Paddy got out in 1991, the Lord Chancellor still had to admit that the Court of Appeal was overturning almost 800 convictions every year," John explains.
"Wrongful criminal convictions are a normal, everyday fact of life, but no-one is ever held responsible, and none of the victims ever receive the medical help that they need, let alone the recognition they deserve - no-one even ever says sorry," he states flatly.
John relates that when he first met Paddy, "I assumed that he must be getting counselling - to help to put his life back together and start to deal with the outside world, but he got nothing.
"The state just doesn't want to know, just wants people like him to disappear," he adds.
MOJO is now trying to set up a trauma centre in Scotland, with the help of the National Union of Mineworkers, the FBU firefighters' union and RMT.
Paddy and John were invited to the RMT recent conference on the Isle of Man as part of their efforts to raise awareness of the extreme suffering that the innocents endure.
"There is nothing for innocent people after they are released, no preparation, no counselling, pre or post-release - nothing," says John in disgust.
"There can be no doubt that wrongful incarceration is damaging, but what is worse is the way individuals are released back into society, compounding that damage, damaging them irreparably."
John explains that "few doctors can recognise post-traumatic stress disorder immediately and most just give drugs, but what these people need is cognitive behavioural therapy to deal with what is tearing them up inside."
Paddy recalls that he was put in jails together with prisoners "who had been thrown out of other jails for being too violent.
"Prison life was constant tension, constant stress, constant fucking violence. Each day you are just living on your nerves. When you get out, you think that you can handle it, but there is nothing that can prepare you.
"After 18 years, I still break down, crying like a child on the floor and I don't fucking know why," his says angrily, before his voice drops to a whisper as he repeats, shaking his head, "I just don't fucking know why."
Unions are backing MOJO's campaign to set up the trauma centre for the innocents because, as John points out simply, "unions exist to help people and trade unionists know that this is a human rights issue.
"What we need to do now is make it a political issue. The state has a responsibility to help miscarriage of justice victims, but the government will do everything it can to dismiss us, to deny to people who have already been denied justice their humanity as well.
"But, with the help of the unions, we are not going to let them get away with it."
MOJO can be contacted via www.mojoscotland.com
Taken from Morning Star.