Richard O’Rawe U105 Radio 1 October 2018

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Frank Mitchell speaks to author Richard O’Rawe via telephone about his new book, Northern Heist.

Frank:   Now, I’ve a book in front of me here and this is worth the read because I haven’t read it all but every time I’ve lifted it to read it I’ve been reading page after page of it because it’s very well written and the author is on the line – it’s Richard O’Rawe. Richard, Good Morning!

Richard:   How are you, Frank? It’s good to be back on with you, mate.

Frank:   It’s a pleasure having you on, Richard. We’d a bit of of head-to-head the last time you were on because I asked you a few questions about your politics. I’m not as interested in your politics this time round but it’s still relevant, it’s still relevant, because the Northern Heist – now it’s about the robbery of, I think you call it, the ‘National Bank’ but this is about, this is about the Northern Bank – isn’t it? This is the story of what happened with a few little twists of your own in there or is this completely a work of fiction?


Richard O’Rawe
Photo: The Belfast Telegraph

Well, it’s absolutely a work of fiction, Frank. It’s actually an amalgamation of several big robberies that took place in and around the time of the Northern Bank – that’s part of it – of the process that I incorporated when I was writing it. But we also had a huge robbery down in the docks where over a million pound in cigarettes was taken and we had the wholesalers robbery on the outskirts of Belfast (I forget the name of it) but they got away – it was a million pounds, over a million pounds, taken there so what I did was I thought this, I actually said to myself: There’s a brain behind this here. There’s somebody, one person – in my view it was one person – planning these things, carrying them out and it seemed to me to be the same modus operandi all the time and I assumed, maybe it’s just me, that it was the same person or the same people doing it and I amalgamated them all and I came up with the story of Northern Heist. But you’re quite right, the Northern Bank robbery was one of the things that I certainly looked at I mean, how could I not given the size of it and the enormity of it?

Frank:   And your a man who knows about robbing banks because you went to jail for doing the very thing – not the Northern Bank but you robbed a bank back in the day yourself.

Richard:  (laughs)  That was forty-two years ago, Frank. That was long before tiger kidnappings was even thought of – yes, but you’re quite right. I robbed a northern bank in 1977, as you point out, and I got eight years imprisonment for it – for the IRA.

Frank:  And did you do that, did you do that for political reasons or did you do that for personal gain or did you do it for both?

Richard:  No, that was an IRA job, Frank. I never knew where Mallusk was – I hadn’t a clue. I was virtually following orders – we’d go in and rob this bank – and that’s what I did. So I mean it had nothing to do with me I was just told to do it and we were caught and that’s the end of it.

Frank:   And how much did you regret that? Because you spent eight years in prison, you’ve written about your time in prison, you’ve written about the hunger strikes – you know, we’ve talked about this on the radio about this before- you’ve also written about Gerry Conlon who was a good friend of yours and you’ve written some well, highly respected, books that people have an opinion on in terms of the way they are structured – other people would be critical, of course, but you’ve got a high profile now as a writer so when you go back to the actual robbery of forty-two years ago – do you regret that experience of life?

Richard:  I do, Frank, I absolutely do. Because here’s the – I was only married six months and in those days I was quite selfish – right? I had a family, a young daughter and a wife, and I was away from them for the next six years and they virtually had to fend for themselves so I mean I absolutely regret that. It was awful. In the process I met some fantastic people, some fantastic – I met Bobby Sands, I met Darkie Hughes, Tom McElwee, Joe McDonnell, Kieran Doherty – I met a whole plethora of fantastic people but that does not make up for the fact that I was away from my family for six years and I absolutely regret it, of course.

Frank:   And you mention there some of the hunger strikers in that list and you came to prominence and discussion and debate in the book about the blanketmen where you argued against the IRA on the issue of how many of them should have been allowed to die – you believe some of the hunger strikers’ lives could easily have been saved.

Richard:   Well, absolutely, Frank. I was the PRO (Public Relations Officer) of the Republican prisoners and on the 4th of July we released a statement, 1981, which the British responded to with an offer and me, myself, as one of the prison leaders, and the prison OC (Officer Commanding) decided to – that there was enough in the offer to honourably end the hunger strike but we were vetoed by a committee on the outside. And I believe that had that offer been accepted, had our writ been carried out, the last six hunger strikers wouldn’t have died and obviously, that’s a very sore and a very bold point for me.

Frank:   Do you still argue with the likes of Gerry Adams about this or is this argument, is this debate, this discussion now something that belongs to Richard O’Rawe’s past?

Richard:  No, it flashes up every now and then but I mean it’s been debated and been diagnosed and pulled apart and put back together again and you tend to be going over the same old ground but it’s not so much a lame argument at present.

Frank:  It’s interesting – the book says: When James ‘Ructions’ O’Hare put together a crack team to rob the National Bank in Belfast December 2004 even he didn’t realise he was about to carry out one of the biggest bank heists in British and Irish history – and then this line: And he’ll be damned if the Provos are getting a slice of it. So, you’re almost suggesting there that the Provos didn’t do the Northern Bank. They’ve never been found guilty of doing it but everyone believes they did do it.

Richard:  You’re quite right – everyone does believe they did do it. Frank, neither you nor me know for sure who done the Northern Bank. Now, we can assume that the Provos done it – and if you were looking at it from a realistic point of view you would have to come to the conclusion that no one else was capable of doing it. And you’d also have to keep in mind that the two governments and the Garda Commissioner and the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) all said that the Provisionals, the Provisional IRA, pulled off this job so I mean certainly there is a weight of evidence – maybe not evidence but opinion – certainly leaning towards the IRA having done it but no one’s ever been charged with it. And from a writer’s point of view there’s a certain beauty in that because it lends to the mystique around it and the mystery around it and it would lend itself, obviously, to a book like mine where a creative writer is saying: Maybe there’s an alternative – and therein lies the substance of Northern Heist.

Frank:  The substance of Northern Heist is pretty meaty. There’s, as I say, it is well written – in fairness to you, Richard, you seem to have a great skill with the English language – and it flows and whenever you’re reading a thriller or whatever you like it to flow. Is it easier for us to read because we know every nook and cranny of this, we know every street you refer to – I know you’ve some fictional villages in it and so on and so forth but they sound like the places that the victims, and I emphasis the victims of the Northern Bank robbery, came from – those people who would have been held hostage – so is there a little bit of poetic licence in terms of renaming places? Are you doing that on purpose?


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Yes, I am, Frank. I didn’t want it to be, I didn’t want it to be – because it’s a fictional piece I didn’t want it to be so precise and I also wanted the readers to understand how absolutely horrible it was for the victims – because there’s victims in tiger kidnappings – there are families always held hostage and because usually they’re not physically hurt or abused – you then have the mental scars after it and I mention that in the book as well. So I wanted the reader to – from a writer’s point of view you have to be – every character in the book has to be a part, not a part of you, but you certainly have to be a part of them because you’re constructing their personalities so you’re writing a book from their perspective and writing it from a victim’s perspective was very important to me and I think, I hope, I’ve done that in the book and covered it very comprehensively.

Frank:  And how is it that you go from being, as you say about yourself, so stupid that you didn’t know where Mallusk was as a young fella to being such a good writer? Where did you learn the skill?

Richard:  That’s a good question, Frank. I was always pretty good at writing, even at school, but I think the genesis of my career as a writer, if you want to call it that, started in the H-Blocks, started in H6, where Bobby Sands began what could only be termed as a propaganda factory where eight or nine of us guys – we were in the special wing of leaders, etc – Bobby started a campaign of propaganda whereby we were writing letters to everyone around the world of influence – universities, colleges, unions, etc in the US and places like that – and we were literally churning out letters and I mean, you churned out the same message all the time and you were always looking for a different way to write it just to break up the boredom so I think that that was the actual genesis of me being a writer.

Frank:  Well, you’ve obviously now been able to turn it to profit and there’s talk about a film made of this. You will have your critics, Richard. There’ll be people shouting at the radio: Number One: I shouldn’t even be talking to you. Number Two: You shouldn’t be benefiting from having robbed a bank in the past yourself or having been in prison and now being a successful writer. It’s an argument that doesn’t wash, of course, with many, many, many people but do you understand those who might be shouting at the radio?

Richard:  Well, people always shout at radios, Frank, and well you know it. You probably know it better than anyone however – why shouldn’t I be a writer? Why shouldn’t anyone be a writer? What’s to stop them? Who’s to say who’s to write and who isn’t going to write? That’s a form of censorship. The sub-text of that there is that any writer that a certain body of people should say who’s gonna write and who isn’t gonna write and that doesn’t wash. It’s censorship. And I mean, it shouldn’t be tolerated and certainly, certainly, from my point of view, I wouldn’t tolerate it, nobody’s gonna tell me that I shouldn’t write or what I should write. I am a free writer, I write what I think and I write what my conscience tells me and nobody’ll ever tell me different.

Frank:  Is it going to be made into a film?

Richard:  Well, I don’t know, Frank. There’s an interest there. There are three film companies at the minute looking at it – and you don’t really know whether it will or not – you know? It would be nice, wouldn’t it?

Frank:  Well, it wold make, in fairness, it would make a great film, you know,…

Richard:  …thank you so much…

Frank:  …there’s no question about it – like you’d definitely sit down and watch that. Have you any idea who would play Ructions O’Hare?

Richard:  Well, it must be Johnny Depp, must’n it? (both laugh)

Frank:  I think the plan is already underway here. Richard, it is Northern Heist. It is courtesy of Merrion Press and people can’t judge it until they read it. I see one of our commentators who regularly appears on this programme says: Unquestionably a serious and superior work of fiction. O’Rawe’s book is a stunner. – that was written in a review by Malachi O’Doherty. Richard, thanks for coming on and we’ll allow the reader to judge it.

Richard:  It’s a pleasure me talking to you, my friend, Lovely.

Frank:  Thank you, Richard. Thank you, indeed.

Richard:  Thanks, Frank. Bye-bye.

Frank:  Thank you. Thank you. (ends)

Richard O’Rawe BBC Talkback 6 October 2017

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William Crawley speaks to author Richard O’Rawe about his new book, In the Name of the Son The Gerry Conlon Story.

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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.


Richard O’Rawe with William Crawley in the Talkback studio
6 October 2017
Photo: BBC Talkback

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.

Gerry Conlon, 1974
Upon his arrest

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.

William:  Gambling?

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.

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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.

Gerry Conlon holding the apology from the British government.
Photo: The Belfast Telegraph

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)