BBC Radio Ulster
William Crawley speaks to author Richard O’Rawe about his new book, In the Name of the Son The Gerry Conlon Story.
** Where’s the audio? This audio is not available for download. To listen along while you read please click here. (begins time stamp ~ 47:15)
William: You’ll remember 1989, the 19th of October, Gerry Conlon burst out of the Old Bailey in London. He had spent fifteen years behind bars having been wrongly convicted of taking part in the Guildford pub bombings. He spoke to the crowds and the media outside the court and you could hear the rage in his voice at the injustice he and others had experienced.
Audio: Gerry Conlon addressing the crowds outside the Old Bailey in London upon his conviction being quashed by the court. To see it click here.
William: Well much has been written over the years about Gerry Conlon, who died in 2014 at the age of sixty, and much more will certainly be written about the botched justice meted out in the case of the Guildford 4, the Maguire 7 and the Birmingham 6. But in his new book Richard O’Rawe, a lifelong friend of Gerry Conlon, tells us about what happened to Gerry after he was released and the devastation that experience of imprisonment and abuse brought to his life. Richard, welcome. Good Afternoon to you!
Richard: Thank you so much, William.
William: Let me say the name of your book, it’s In the Name of the Son, obviously a play on the famous film, In the Name of the Father, the Gerry Conlon story. And it’s a tour – and by the way pacey, fascinating book that you’ve given us. It’s brilliantly written. But you get the sense of two different people here in Gerry Conlon: That rage for justice, that sense of the injustice pushing him into peacemaking – one ‘gets’ that, real focus on that – but also veering towards the edge of self-destruction in a cycle downwards at times.
Well, you’re absolutely right. Gerry was actually two different people – there were two different personas. He had this sort of outward effervescence. He was a guy who, if you’d seen him in the street and been with him for a night’s entertainment etc he was the life and soul of the party but behind that facade there was a guy who was a very troubled soul – very, very troubled. He never, ever got over the death of his father. He never got over the imprisonment of his father.
He couldn’t understand why he was in jail in the first place – because he had nothing to do with The Troubles or the IRA or nothing else – and to compound that there he had no perception of how his father ended up there. His father only went, only ended up in England, because he went over to try and get Gerry a solicitor and to help him with the legal arrangements that he was going to be facing and he ended up doing fourteen years – well being sentenced to fourteen years – and Gerry could never, could never get his head around that. And he felt this guilt his whole life. He carried it to his grave.
William: You even say at the very last – I don’t want to give everything away in the book, obviously – we know a lot of this is in the public domain – but you say there when he was talking to the priest who was with him in his last days, Ciarán Dallat, that he talked about being ready to meet his father and some of the family are very clear that’s what he meant.
Richard: Well that was Ann. Now, Ann – the priest actually, when he was reading the homily at the funeral, believed that when he talked about ‘the father’ he was talking about our Lord. And in actual fact Ann McKernan, Gerry’s sister, is adamant that: No, no, no – he was talking about Guiseppe. At the end of his life he was ready to meet his own father.
William: And to find some kind of forgiveness.
Richard: And he actually found some forgiveness and he actually found forgiveness – he finally forgave himself.
William: And all that was done to him by someone else! All of that sense of guilt was put into him – a kind of psychological abuse over the years.
Richard: Well it was. You know, the fact of the matter was that the Guildford 4 were absolutely innocent. They were, by and large they were hippies. They were guys that were in England because they didn’t want to be in Ireland, they didn’t want to be – certainly Paddy Armstrong and Paul Hill and Gerry Conlon – they didn’t want to be in Ireland. They wanted to be, to live in a society where you had some freedom. At that time there was gun battles etc in the Lower Falls where they lived so they upped and went to try and get a life and live the life that they wanted to live. And they lived a very carefree, hippie life. And they were ripe for being stitched up – which is exactly what happened to them.
William: In the end when the convictions were quashed and Gerry finally got some money – what did he get as a compensation?
Richard: He got five hundred and forty-two thousand pounds, I think, from the British government.
William: And given the psychological trauma he had been through and which continued after his imprisonment putting nearly a half a million pounds into his hands was actually another kind of problem for him.
Richard: You’re absolutely right, William. He actually said himself giving a miscarriage of justice victim money, he’s quoted as saying this – was like giving them a bottle of whiskey and revolver and saying: Now, go shoot yourself. Gerry had no appreciation of money. When Gerry went into prison a pint was 20p. When he came out it was about four pound. He had no appreciation of money. He didn’t – the money didn’t really play a big part in his life. He gave most of it away! He took a lot of it, he spent a lot of money on drugs. He was continually trying to get out of his head so that he wouldn’t be thinking about his father – so that the demons would leave him alone.
Richard: He was, well he was always a gambler. You know – he was a typical Belfast guy from – a working class guy. He loved to bet every day. But he was betting big money when he had the big money, right? And he was a lucky enough gambler but he was just an ordinary guy. He loved the horses. He loved sitting at the house watching the horses and cheering his horse on for wins. Happy Days! Let’s go for a pint! or whatever.
William: And he ends up scavenging amongst the bins in London!
Richard: Oh, absolutely! Well the point of that was that the money that he got he spent most of it on drugs. Now, when I say he spent most of it on drugs Gerry would’ve spent ten thousand pounds on a drug deal, right?
William: In one deal?
Richard: In one deal but he would have bought the whole…
William: …You say a hundred and twenty grand here in a six week period.
Richard: Yeah. He’d have bought ten thousand pound worth of drugs and he’d have rounded up all these characters, they’d’ve all had been there and then they would’ve went into a room and they would have smoked the crack cocaine or whatever it was and he was paying for everybody. It was if he didn’t want the money. He’d seen the money as a bit of a curse, you know? And he was, you know…
William: …He wanted the momentary liberation, that euphoria, that he got away from the trauma through the drugs.
Richard: Absolutely! That was the crucial element – that was the crucial element for Gerry. Gerry detested sleeping. During the research for this book I spoke to a lot of his friends.
I spoke to several of the ladies with whom he had a long relationship and they were all on the same wavelength that when Gerry went to sleep he went into another kingdom. The bedclothes would have been soaking – the sweat – he’d have been shouting and squealing in the middle of the night. And this wasn’t a one off – people have nightmares, everyone does – this was every night. So what Gerry tried to do in many ways was to take cocaine, take crack cocaine, take whatever it took – go to parties, bring the lot back to the house, keep taking away, right, keep the party going so that he wouldn’t sleep.
William: What more did you find out about the false conviction, the police investigation, leading up to that? Because you have new information.
Richard: Yeah. Well, it’s very interesting, William. It was actually the BBC contacted me last October, this time last year, and they said to me that under the Freedom of Information Act they had recovered six files from the seven hundred files that had been embargoed during the Sir John May inquiry, which was the inquiry into the Guildford 4 – the circumstances in which they were arrested. So the BBC flew me over to the National Archives in Kew. And I was sitting there and most of the stuff that I was reading was fairly mundane – it was what a barrister does and what a solicitor does and I was here and I was there – and then a couple of lines just jumped out at me. And those lines were absolutely critical. There was actually a memo from a leading prosecutor to the leading forensic expert on the Guildford 4 and the Balcom Street trials telling him to doctor his statement.
William: And that’s just sitting there.
Richard: That’s just sitting there. Sitting there all that time and nobody seen it. Nobody seen it because these files were locked up. And I have no doubt that see, whoever released them they didn’t see this either. Or they wouldn’t’ve been released.
William: And that information, of course, being presented at the trial…
Richard: It would have punched a massive hole. But they didn’t even present the forensic guy. They didn’t let, he wasn’t- the defence didn’t know that he existed – that he had this statement. Alright? At the Guildford trial the forensics guy didn’t show up because had he have done that – he made the statement and included Woolwich – he actually included Woolwich and five bombings, right? That he said were done by the same people. For three of the bombings the Guildford 4 were in prison. So therefore they couldn’t have done any of the bombs if the same people done the whole five of them! So rather than let that go to trial they just withheld it. And then it came out, it had to come out at the Balcom Street trial because it was so interlocked with the Birmingham 6 because the Balcom Street guys did it. And then they discovered, whoa! Then I discovered it, to be honest – it just jumped out off the page to me – here is a Crown prosecutor doctoring statements.
William: Did Gerry come to a moment of peace near the end of his life?
Richard: Gerry – that’s a good question. He was certainly more peaceful. He got off the drugs. Gerry had a very hard fight as apparently everybody does to get off crack cocaine – it’s very addictive. But 1998 he stopped taking drugs – he literally went cold turkey and he went through a horrendous time. And he was very fortunate because he got help from a psychiatric nurse called Basil Walle, or Barry Walle, sorry, who helped him through it. But it was horrendous for him.
And as the years went on he did get stronger and he did get his apology from the British government and then he met someone with whom he had a relationship eighteen years earlier – out of the blue. And this lady, who wishes to be anonymous, told him that he had an eighteen year old daughter. And that changed him completely. All of a sudden Gerry had the responsibility of fatherhood and he was up for it. And he built the relationship again with this lady who was so good for him – really, really good for him. And he loved her and vice versa. And him and this lady were together ’til the end of his days – she was actually there when he died. So from that point of view he got great solace and he also got back into what he did best – which was fighting against injustice. So if you say to me: Had he peace at the end of his days? I would say given the circumstances in which he found himself that he had as much peace as he could possibly attain.
William: Richard, thank you very much.
Richard: You’re welcome.
William: Richard O’Rawe, whose book is entitled In the Name of the Son The Gerry Conlon Story. It’s just been published. Lot of newspaper coverage of what’s in this book as well – fabulous read, actually, really interesting insights into not only Gerry Conlon’s case but the nature of justice as well. (ends time stamp ~59:50)