Sunday 25 March 2018

Gerry Conlon's archives request examined

Gerry Conlon speaks to the media outside the Houses of Parliament in London in 2005
Gerry Conlon speaks to the media outside the Houses of Parliament in London in 2005

Arj Singh

David Cameron will "look at" the possibility of fulfilling Gerry Conlon's dying wish for people he nominated to have access to secret government documents about the 1974 IRA Guildford pub bombing for which he was wrongly jailed.

Mr Conlon and the rest of the Guildford Four served 15 years of a life sentence for the attack which killed five people and injured 65, before their convictions were overturned in 1989.

SDLP MP Mark Durkan (Foyle) said Mr Conlon was promised access to the secret documents at the National Archives in Kew, west London, through the previous Victims' Commissioner for Northern Ireland, and that people could accompany him.

Mr Durkan said Mr Conlon's dying wish was that those people see the papers, which he said will not be released until 75 years after they were first circulated - 45 years longer than the standard 30 years.

He asked the Prime Minister if he could honour that wish and mentioned Mr Conlon's campaign for better quality mental health services for victims of miscarriages of justice, an issue he said had been "parked" by the coalition Government due to budget restrictions.

During Prime Minister's Questions, Mr Durkan asked Mr Cameron: "Do you accept that his death at 60 proves that Gerry Conlon lost more than 15 terrible years in prison and the anguish of his father's torment due to the injustice from layers of this state?

"As well as his wider campaigning against injustice, there were two particular issues that mattered to Gerry in recent years.

"One is the need for proper quality mental health services for those who suffered miscarriages of justice.

"And secondly, which in particular I would like you to address - notwithstanding the egregious 75 year seal that has been put on the Guildford and other papers, Gerry was recently promised access to the archives at Kew and that people could accompany him.

"It was his dying wish that that would be honoured through the people he wanted to accompany him.

"Will you ensure that the dying wish of an innocent man is honoured?"

Mr Cameron replied: "First of all I'm grateful to you for raising this and for the way in which you do it.

"It is hard to think what 15 years in prison when you're innocent of a crime that you have been convicted for would do to somebody.

"I think it is absolutely right that the previous prime minister apologised as fulsomely as he did when this came to pass.

"I'm very happy to look at the specific request about the records at Kew which hasn't been put to me before and perhaps contact you about that issue."

Speaking outside the chamber, Mr Durkan said he did not want the issue of the secret documents to take away from Mr Conlon's Miscarriages Of Justice Organisation's (Mojo) campaign for better mental health services those who are wrongly jailed.

The MP said the issue had made progress under the last Labour government but was "parked" when the coalition came to power due to cuts at the Ministry of Justice.

He said the new pot of funding made available for victims by the Government meant the case for better services for victims of miscarriages of justice should be revisited.

Mr Durkan said: "Early in the life of this Government that work was parked because ministers said they would not really be in the position make that sort of spending commitment.

"But Mojo have returned to the issue because some spend has been allocated to victims (of crimes), so if that money is available again in the Ministry of Justice then the case for services for victims of miscarriages of justice should be pursued."

Press Association

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