24 May 2006

Tragic death of miscarriage of justice victim

IRISH REPUBLICAN NEWS

The British government is being urged to apologise to the Birmingham Six following the death of one of the six, Richard McIlkenny.

The 73-year-old Irishman was one of six Irishmen living in Birmingham who were wrongly sentenced to life imprisonment in 1975 amid a wave of anti-Irish hostility over the IRA campaign on the British mainland.

The British government has never apologised for jailing the men for 16 years or for torturing the men to extract false confessions.

Last year British prime minister Tony Blair apologised to the Guildford Four and seven others who were wrongfully jailed for bomb attacks in England in 1974.

Campaigners are now calling on Mr Blair to offer a similar apology to the surviving members of the Birmingham Six – Hugh Callaghan Paddy Hill, Gerry Hunter, Billy Power and Johnny Walker.

Mr Walker said the British prime minister should do the “decent thing” and apologise.

“It wouldn’t do any harm for Tony Blair to say sorry, especially in light of Richard’s death,” said Mr Walker.

“An apology won’t undo all the terrible things that were inflicted on us, but it would be nice for our families.

“That said, I don’t think he will apologise. Tony Blair had the chance last year when he said sorry to the Guilford Four. He didn’t apologise to us then and I really don’t believe in my heart of hearts he wants to
apologise to us.”

The Birmingham Six were arrested in November 1974 less than 48 hours after a wave of IRA acttacks. During their trial all six men told how their confessions had been beaten out of them, but the court did not believe them.

In August 1975 they were sentenced to life in prison on the basis of the false confessions. The men were denied the right to appeal and forced to wait until 1987 when their case was referred to the Court of Appeal, after new evidence emerged, before being rejected.

Public protests kept the case in the spotlight until August 1990 when forensic investigations showed their confessions had been tampered with.

In March 1991, their convictions were quashed and they were released after 16 years in jail onto the streets outside the Old Bailey in London.

Following his release Mr McIlkenny, who is originally from the Oldpark area of north Belfast, moved to Dublin. The grandfather is survived by his wife Kathleen, his daughters and his only son, who were all at his bedside on Sunday in the James Connolly Hospital in Blanchardstown when he died. It is understood he had been battling cancer for some time.

Mrs McIlkenny said her husband never fully recovered after serving 17 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit. She said he drank heavily following his release and suffered a breakdown in 1995.

“Richard was a great person but you couldn’t really expect anyone to get over such an ordeal,” she said.

“It never seemed to leave him throughout the 15 remaining years of his life.”

Lawyer Gareth Peirce, who represented the Birmingham Six, described Mr McIlkenny as a “brave and dignified man”.

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