“I have been out of prison for seventeen years and I’m still angry. What you [the families] get back is a shell of a person who went in, the only thing you learn in prison is confrontation.”
– Paddy Hill (Birmingham Six)
To be imprisoned for a criminal offence you didn’t committ and then to find that the legal system you’ve placed your trust in doesn’t work, is nobody’s nightmare; simply because nobody would dare think let alone dream that such a thing could happen to them.
Paddy Hill was one of six men arrested after the Birmingham pub bombings. Up until then Birmingham had pretty much been his home from home. But on the 21 November 1975 all that was to change.
After food and sleep deprivation, twelve hour interrogation sessions and police beatings, Paddy Hill and five other men were charged with murder and conspiracy to cause explosions . On the 15 August 1975 each of the men were sentenced to twenty-one life sentences.
In June 1975, fourteen prison officers were charged with assaulting the six men whilst they were in prison awaiting trial; all fourteen men were acquitted at a trial presided over by Justice Swanwick. And this despite the testimony of a prisoner who had been released two weeks after the Birmingham six had arrived at HMP Winson Green.
In 1991 Paddy Hill was released from prison and his convictions subsequently quashed and that was when his struggles really began.
Dr Iain Stephens, a psychologist who has counselled many prisoners has highlighted the fact that prisoners serving time (repeating the same structured day over and over) can have a hard time on release, getting used to being back in society, but at least they receive preparation for it.
Prisoners who are the victims of miscarriages of justice receive no such preparation; once the Court of Appeal hands down its decision in their favour, they are released. And though they may feel euphoric on their release, the euphoria doesn’t last long. For in the words of John McManus, the project co-ordinator for the miscarriages of justice project, :-
“They don’t realise all the skills they’ve lost whilst in prison”
As a rule people who have their convictions quashed receive minimal support from the state, fifty pounds in total, for immediate needs, rising to 80 pounds for those seeking an overnight stay in London,
“Many find themselves couped up in a tiny flat, dulling any feelings of depression or anger with alcohol or drugs…financial compensation for the injustices they have suffered may take many years to come…”
The Common Weal Housing Project seeks to provide both housing and support to prisoners who have been released as a result of the work of the Criminal Case review Commission on miscarriages of justice.
But they would rather the government funded such work; as would the Miscarriages of Justice Organisation founded by Paddy Hill.
The previous Labour Government’s Minister of Justice was examining the likelihood of setting up such a scheme. It remains to be seen whether the current minister, Mr Grayling, would be able to find space in his budget for such a measure.
Given the Legal Aid cuts he has introduced, one would hope that would be the case. For there is every likelihood that with a reduction in the quality of advocacy brought about by his budget reductions, miscarriages of justice may become prolific.