Forever Lost, Forever Gone

The Tragedy of the Birmingham Six


Paddy Joe Hill

'The clearest and most overwhelming evidence I have ever heard of the crime of murder' was how Justice Bridge described what he'd heard while presiding over the original trial of the Birmingham Six. The autobiography of one of them, Paddy Joe Hill, provides clear and overwhelming evidence of the rottenness of the whole judicial system in Britain.

The evidence against the Six was in two parts. Firstly there were the supposed confessions of four of them. Paddy Joe never confessed, but he gives a blow by blow account of how the other confessions were extracted. What he describes is a crude form of torture.

This included sleep deprivation, pointing revolvers into people's mouths and pulling the trigger, threatening the safety of wives and children, and applying lighted cigarettes to wounds.

But the police were unable to provide much else in the way of evidence against the Six. The confessions themselves conflicted with forensic evidence about the way the bombs were planted.

Hence the importance of the evidence of Dr Skuse, the Home Office pathologist whose 'Griess test' identified nitroglycerine on the hands of five of the men. It has subsequently emerged that similar results can be obtained from handling tobacco, playing cards, even using soap.

Prison itself provided a slower form of torture. Paddy Joe is painfully honest about the way he becomes a stranger to his wife and kids and recognises the different kind of punishment they had to endure on the outside. And the euphoria of his eventual release could not magically overcome the years of separation between him and his children.

All this would make for a gruelling book were it not for the fact that Paddy Joe Hill is a fighter. He recognised from his own experience how Catholics were oppressed in Northern Ireland--his father, despite an army background, was dismissed from one job for being the only Catholic. Despite his opposition to the IRA's methods he is absolutely clear as to why people joined it in their thousands after Bloody Sunday, and clear that the British army should get out of Northern Ireland. He is equally clear that working class people can expect little mercy from the police or the courts.

So Paddy Joe fought them all the way--in one case, taking the governor of Gartree prison to court for the loss of £2.16 earnings, in another, threatening to wreck the visiting room unless a delegation of Irish dignitaries visited Gerry Conlon (one of the Guildford Four) as well as himself. This attitude and the support from outside that he acknowledges throughout the book acted as a counterweight to his frequent periods of despair and rage.

Because of this the British injustice system eventually gave way. First the Guildford Four and then the Birmingham Six were released.

This is an inspiring, straightforward, and very readable book. Paddy Joe's determination and guts in the face of the British justice system shine through. Nowhere is this more evident than in the speech he made on his release in 1990: 

'With my right arm stretched out behind me and my finger jabbing at the Old Bailey, I shouted, "Ladies and gentlemen, for 16 and a half years we have been used as political scapegoats for people in there at the highest level. The police told us from the start they didn't care if we'd done it. They told us they were going to frame us. Just to keep the people in there happy. That's what it's all been about, saving face."

'I was determined the world should know that the happiness I felt at being released could not extinguish the fires of bitterness raging inside. Arching around to look at the court building, with my eyes blazing and my finger still stabbing in the air, I spat out the words that came from deep in my heart: 'Justice? I don't think those people in there have got the intelligence or the honesty to even spell the word, never mind dispense it. They are rotten."

'The crowds cheered, and I was going to say more, but something told me I'd said enough, that I'd got the message across." 

Note:  "Forever Lost, Forever Gone" is widely available in the United Kingdom.  In the U.S. and Canada, it can be located through out-of-print book search services such as ALibris and Amazon.
Visit Miscarriages of Justice - UK, founded by Paddy Joe Hill

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Truth in Justice