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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Interviews with Paul Hill Guildford Four & Johnnie Walker of the Birmingham Six

Paul Hill in the middle behind the Birmingham Six, Johnnie Walker on the right.

This interview with Paul Hill, one of the Guildford Four, was done during his trip to Australia to campaign for the release of Tim Anderson. As Paul points out there's common ground in both of these police frame­-ups. It went to air on Radio Skid Row's Radio Solidarity show on May 5 1991.

Togs: Paul do you think fabrication of evidence is institutionalized as a normal police method?

Paul: I think in many incidents it can just be individuals. But I think in cases political, it certainly is a procedural. There are many more police officers corrupt than we are lead to believe. I know from having been in prison and having spoken to people who were engaged with corrupt police officers, that there are at least three or four dozen corrupt police still investigating crimes in London and these are very senior officers. The problem we have is, once a police officer has been found to be guilty of doctoring and fabricating evidence, nothing seems to happen. As a result of it, none of these people are made accountable and if you don't make these people accountable, what you are actually saying to police as a whole is; "You can do what you want, by any means, procure the evidence for a conviction." That has definitely had a large bearing on Tim Anderson's case because the officers involved in his first framing‑up, were actually awarded medals for velour and still have them. They were not made accountable for the first frame‑up and I think that's very disturbing.

Togs: One thing about the Guildford Four that stands out is the senior position now, sixteen years later, of one the police involved in fitting you up.

Paul: One of them is now the commander of the Metropolitan police in London. A metropolis of eight to nine million people and that is a disturbing aspect.

I think one of the first things in making these people accountable is that the media has to expose them and the media has a moral obligation, not just to expose corrupt police but also to safeguard society as a whole. If we have any kind of investigative journalism what so ever, then surely this must be the issues that those people tackle.

Togs: In your case and also Tim's the role the media has played has actually been supporting the prosecution.

Paul: Well, the media played a role inasmuch as they generated the mass hysteria that was abounding when I was arrested. I can relate that to the hysteria that was generated here. The media unfortunately are used as an extension of the State and, in my own case and certainly in the case of Tim, the State deemed itself under attack.

Togs: So we are really dealing with the political nature of the state?

Paul: Absolutely! I think that's abundantly clear and glaringly obvious!

Togs: You were the first person arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which was drafted for the Irish.

Paul: The Prevention of Terrorism Act was a racist piece of legislation inasmuch as it only applied to Irish people. How would the American public react to legislation passed by Senators in Congress that only applied to Italian people or Israeli people? It's absolutely absurd, bearing in mind that the Prevention of Terrorism Act breaks the European convention of human rights, which actually ruled that a seven‑day detention order is an infringement of your civil liberties.

Britain's deregulation from that is an example of the whole blasé attitude of contempt for human rights in regard to Irish people.

Togs: How did you cope with fifteen years in prison, four of those years in solitary confinement?

Paul: I coped with great difficulty and I would not have anyone believe for a moment that it was easy in prison; it wasn't. I was moved fifty‑two times between thirty different jails in an effort to mentally disorientate me and destroy me physically.

I was assaulted on numerous occasions; I was assaulted so severely in the aftermath of prison disturbances in 1976 that I was awarded by the Home Office five hundred pounds compensation. I spent ‑one thousand six hundred and forty days in solitary confinement.

I was confined in body belts, naked, for very long periods; up to seven days. No matter what the state said about me, or what the prison authorities did to me physically, they could never make me mentally guilty and that was my motivation and driving force.

Togs: Was what you and others faced in the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six the direct result of the second class nature of Irish people in British society?

Paul: Irish people are second class citizens and I don't mean to speak discouragingly of Negroes whatsoever but we are the white Negroes of Europe and always have been.

Togs: The British legal system is a major part of Australian law. What do you see in common between your case and Tim's?

Paul: The obvious parallels, the hysteria of the time and the content of the evidence. There was no eye witness or forensic evidence against Tim and the only evidence against Tim is a discredited verbal. I'm amazed by this, if there weren't victims and Tim is just as much a victim as the three people who died, the whole thing would be an absolute farce. Nobody believed the evidence of Pederick, the police didn't believe his evidence nor the evidence of Denning.

I'm profoundly disturbed that Denning is to be released in November and I would certainly discourage him from coming to England. So if he's reading this... I can't believe that the evidence of habitual criminal, a man who in his last prison escape ended up killing a prison officer...How can any credibility be given to this man who has a personal motive, i.e. he wishes to be released from prison? He has a monetary motivation and figures have been quoted in the hundred thousand dollar bracket ‑that's more than he ever earned from his bank robberies.

Togs: You've mentioned Denning as a prison informer. What do you think of the use of prison informers by police?

Paul: I think people in Australian society haven't lost their convict past and they're not all in prison? To lend a prison informer policy any credibility whatsoever actually telling people and criminals are cunning individuals. That it is in prisoner’s best interests to invent something against someone because they will be released as a payment; it's absurd and very dangerous realm of gaining information. I've seen prison informants and know what they're capable of and they are not people I would believe for one moment. Legal people in Australia should be very disturbed indeed because it's a piece of evidence which from start to finish is incredibly dubious to say the very least.

Togs: Are there other cases like the Guildford Four, the Birmingham Six that we don't know about?

Paul: I know that there is at least another twelve individuals serving life sentences for offences they haven't committed. I would not suggest that Irish people have a monopoly on injustice, they certainly don't. Injustice tends to be perpetrated against people from vulnerable sections in society, immigrant and working class groups and groups that have been preyed upon by the police for a very long time. Unless we can have a system of justice that actually has respect for of all the sections of the community, then we don't have any kind of just system of dispensing legal rights to individuals. There's an old adage that when law becomes an injustice, resistance becomes a duty and that's how it should be seen.

British `justice' on trial

JOHNNIE WALKER, one of the Birmingham Six, is currently on a tour of Australia sponsored by the Australian Irish Congress. The six, all Irish, were released earlier this year after 16 years in prison, having been framed for two pub bombings in Birmingham in 1974.

Togs: What was it like when you were first arrested back in 1974?

It was very hard. In 1974 no-one wanted to know anything about us. The police just had a free hand in anything they wanted to do because public opinion was on their side. Nobody wanted to believe us.

What was the basis of the police approaching the six of you?

We were on our way to a funeral in Belfast. We were stopped getting off the train. The bloke said to us,” You lads come from Birmingham?” We said yes. “Did you hear what happened in Birmingham?” We said no, and he told us that bombs went off in Birmingham.

Then two policemen came forward and said, “Can you help us in our inquiries, you know, just clear yourselves?” We said yes. We went in there, sat down. They searched our bags, then let us go outside and I had a cigarette. Then they asked us, “Would you mind helping us in our inquiries more?”, we said certainly.

We went down to the police station. This is about 12.15 at night, everything was all right, then at 3 a.m. a crowd of policemen came up from Birmingham. I couldn't believe what they done. They stripped me naked, took my clothes off me, screwed my arms up my back, marched me out of this room, walked me down a corridor towards a cell. There was another policeman behind me. I didn't see him; he kicked me in the back and they just started beating me up.

What was the role of George Reade?

He was the chief of the whole investigation. I blame him a lot because I reckon he couldn't control his own police force and that gave them the upper hand to do what they wanted do. I don't know if these men came from the scene of the crime, but we heard after that they did. What happened in Birmingham that night was a disaster. But what they done to us was also a disaster, and two wrongs don't make a right.

What was the trial like?

We had a junior solicitor who had only done divorce cases. I never actually met my queen's counsel till two days before the trial started. We'd seen the juniors but never the top man himself. The best thing about it was, the judge who put us away was made a lord, the QCs and the prosecution were all made judges. So you think what that means. Was it a fit-up? Was it a whitewash? Yes it was, 100%.

What was it like maintaining your innocence during the 16 years in prison?

The first six years were the worst. Nobody wanted to know. We were up in front of Lord Denning [in 1980]; he turned around and said, That these men are telling the truth: that means the police were telling lies and fit these men up.

It was 11 years after that to prove that we're innocent; it was very, very hard. But then, after about eight or nine years, Cardinal O'Fiach came on the scene and he went back home to Ireland, told the people there we were innocent and then the campaign seem to snowball after that.

What was the campaign like at the start?

Our campaign started off with our six wives, and when they got tired, our daughters took over. It was mostly our daughter who fought my campaign.

We also had great support from the people here in Australia. That's why I'm so happy to be over here. The Australian Irish Congress invited me, and that gives me an opportunity to say thanks to the people of Australia.

We had a campaign even here and all over in America, Canada as well. [British Labour MP] Chris Mullens was really brilliant; he wrote a book about us, campaigned in Ireland. Then we also got a solicitor who believed in us.

Also a lot of English people supported us as well. These are people who believed in something called justice, but there's no such thing as British justice. The campaign was the most important thing. Public opinion put me in prison; public opinion got me out of prison.

You've got the Birmingham Six -- six Irishmen free; Guildford Four -- three Irishmen and an Englishwoman free; Maguire Seven -- Maguire family free. Now we've got Judith Ward coming up for a court of appeal, and there's three black men going for their appeal over the Tottenham police killing. These are the cases you're hearing about, but there's others. We've opened a can of worms

The Pogues song Streets of Sorrow Birmingham Six

Oh farewell you streets of sorrow
And farewell you streets of pain
Ill not return to feel more sorrow
Nor to see more young men slain
Through the last six years I’ve lived through terror
And in the darkened streets the pain
Oh how I long to find some solace
In my mind I curse the strain

So farewell you streets of sorrow
And farewell you streets of pain
No Ill not return to feel more sorrow
Nor to see more young men slain

There were six men in birmingham
In guildford theres four
That were picked up and tortured
And framed by the law
And the filth got promotion
But theyre still doing time
For being irish in the wrong place
And at the wrong time
In Ireland they’ll put you away in the maze
In England they’ll keep you for seven long days
God help you if ever you’re caught on these shores
The coppers need someone
And they walk through that door

You’ll be counting years
First five, then ten
Growing old in a lonely hell
Round the yard and the stinking cell
From wall to wall, and back again

A curse on the judges, the coppers and screws
Who tortured the innocent, wrongly accused
For the price of promotion
And justice to sell
May the judged by their judges when they rot down in hell

May the whores of the empire lie awake in their beds
And sweat as they count out the sins on their heads
While over in Ireland eight more men lie dead
Kicked down and shot in the back of the head.

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