Gerry Conlon

Like his father Giuseppe, he died an old man before his time.

Gerry Conlon has gone to his rest eternal.

The idea that he, or any of the trio that comprised the Guildford Four, were members of the IRA was risible.

However, the sentences they were given were no laughing matter.

The criminal justice system was quite coldly practising a form of racial guilt.

Irish people had planted these bombs and therefore some Irish person had to pay.

These honest mistakes of the English judiciary had the desired Kitsonian effect.

It terrified the Irish community in the great cities of England into political silence about Britain’s Dirty War in Ireland.

The collateral damage of this policy was the ruined lives of the innocent.

The Guildford Four, the Maguire Seven, the Birmingham Six; the message in the Irish community was heard loud and clear – if these people could be lifted, fitted up and incarcerated then anyone could.

The case of Annie Maguire was particularly poignant. She was in the Conservative Party and had a picture of the British head of state in her prison cell…

But no amount of attempted naturalisation could wash away her Irishness and so she was the Ma Baker of a Mr Bean-type bomb factory.

Looking at the Crown’s case now against the Maguire family it is utterly shameful how blatant a fit up it was.

Some apologists for British repression in Ireland tried to wriggle that Conlon was “somehow involved”.

He wasn’t and the British knew very quickly into the …err… interrogation process that the last thing they had on their hands were IRA operatives.

The IRA’s “England Department” were the elite of the Army and were carefully selected to operate in a hostile environment.

A man I worked closely with many years ago once told me that he had found himself in the same prison wing as Gerry Conlon.

He told me that the prison authorities were quite clear that my friend and the Guildford Four man were utterly unconnected – except of course that they were both Irish.

At that point, Conlon had another nine years to serve before he was released in 1989.

The IRA Active Service Unit that carried out the Guildford bombings let it be known that it was they who were responsible and not the people convicted.

At that stage, the ‘Balcombe Street Four’ had been captured and were serving life sentences.

The British state didn’t want to hear and didn’t want to know.

In their policy of racial guilt, the likes of Conlon would do.

Gerry’s untimely passing is not just an opportunity to look at the institutional anti-Irish racism in the British state in the 1970s, but at what could be happening today.

I am sure Lord Denning and his ilk would have loved to have had secret courts and, ahem, evidence, gleaned from torture sessions carried out in other countries.

The British state is in love with euphemism and the latest one is Closed Material Procedures (CMP).

To you and me that is a secret court.

Gerry Conlon and the others were innocent until proven Irish.

The only evidence offered against him in court by the Crown was a contradictory confession beaten out of him and his ethnicity.

Today, listening to a fiery Imam in a Mosque at Friday prayers can be enough to have you scooped off the streets.

Indeed, you only have to ‘look Islamic’ to be a victim of a racist neurotic state.

A Brazilian migrant worker on a London tube train looked ‘other’ enough for him to die in a hail of police bullets.

Had Jean Charles de Menezes been of the Islamic faith then the ‘SAS’ policy would have been deployed:

‘Slaughter And Slander’

Just as the innocents of Bloody Sunday were not in the IRA nor had they been near weapons, it was necessary to destroy their reputations after bullets had ended their lives.

Ultimately, the British strategy of repression failed and after the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six had been freed and vindicated IRA Active Service Units were still operating in the British capital at will.

What stopped the big bombs in the Square Mile was dialogue.

The IRA’s offer was always on the table: give Ireland peace and there will be no war.

Gerry Conlon was an innocent man who was considered expendable by the elite of a polity that had murdered millions of ‘natives’ across the globe for centuries.

Today, the British are no longer a major power, but the imperialist impulse within their elite hasn’t gone away you know.

Gerry Conlon on his release stated that he was bitter towards the judiciary and the police who had fitted him up, but he harboured no enmity towards the people of England.

He made a point of thanking the many good English people who had supported him throughout his ordeal.

It is up to the good people of Britain to hold their powerful to account and make sure that these ‘miscarriages of justice’ are a matter for the history books, not the contemporary courts, especially the secret ones.

That will be a fitting legacy for Gerry Conlon.

Today a good man has gone to his rest eternal, his life ruined by a racist state.

Lest we forget.

Discover Phil’s dramatic play Rebellion