Gerry Conlon passed away last week after a life ruined by false imprisonment, but he achieved an outstanding record of helping those he suspected were wrongfully imprisoned as he was.
Conlon spent the most formative years of his life, from 21-36, behind bars, suffering incredible pain and abuse.
The Guildford Four were four innocent people, three men from Northern Ireland, Paul Hill, Paddy Armstrong and Gerry Conlon, and one English woman, Carole Richardson, who was just 17 at the time.
They were wrongfully convicted of planting IRA bombs in Guildford pubs in 1974 that killed four soldiers and one civilian.
After they were found found guilty the judge stated he regretted he could not sentence them to death.
The fact that the convictions of Conlon and the other members of the Guildford Four were gross miscarriages of justice only came out after an heroic effort by Conlon’s family, among others, to bring the truth to bear.
The Guildford Four, Birmingham Six and the Maguire family were all cases of 'any paddies will do' in a Britain where the IRA campaign had unleashed a horrific, anti-Irish sentiment and hatred.
The treatment Gerry Conlon and the others suffered in custody and the torture used to gain their “confessions” was vividly depicted in the Oscar-nominated movie "In the Name of the Father."
The facts are their travail should have ended much sooner. The innocence of the three men and one woman was known shortly after they were jailed. The IRA unit which planted the bombs admitted they had done so and gave incontrovertible evidence.
It took heroic British figures such as attorney Gareth Peirce to lead the charge to secure their freedom.
The Irish government at the time also bore a huge responsibility, especially in America, where they ignored and even opposed efforts to bring up the cases of the Guildford Four and the other miscarriages with U.S. politicians.
As the peace process was subsequently to prove American involvement is critical when it comes to resolution of issues between Britain and Ireland.
A concerted American campaign would likely have overturned those verdits much earlier and brought an end to the prison nightmare for the wrongly accused.
Despite all the horrific events, Gerry Conlon did not shirk his duty after he left jail. He became involved in many miscarriage of justice cases, and his very presence at them ensured heightened awareness.
Peirce today defends many Muslim clients who she passionately believes are targeted in the same way Irish defendants once were.
There is a lesson in the Gerry Conlon case for all of us. Are there innocent men in Guantanamo among those being force fed at present with seemingly no hope of a trial?
Gerry Conlon raised such disturbing issues. His death has robbed us of a bright light for justice.
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