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Gerry Conlon and the Guildford Four were released 25 years ago today

“I’m a totally innocent man.”

Gerard Conlon - Old Bailey, London Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

ON 19 OCTOBER 1989, Gerry Conlon stormed out of the Old Bailey in London, with his sisters Bridie and Ann, and delivered an extraordinary, impromptu speech that has become iconic in recent Irish history.

I’ve been in prison 15 years, for something I didn’t do. Something I didn’t know anything about.
I’m a totally innocent man – I watched my father die in a British prison for something he didn’t do.
He is innocent, the Maguires are innocent, let’s hope the Birmingham Six are next to be freed.

Conlon, who died in June, had his wrongful 1975 conviction for the Guildford pub bombings quashed that day, along with Paul Hill, Paddy Armstrong, and Carole Richardson.

Conlon’s father Giuseppe, who had been in ill health even before his wrongful conviction, died in prison in January 1980.

Crime - Murder Charges Dropped - Guildford Four - Paul Hill - Belfast Paul Hill, speaking in 1994 after his wrongful conviction for the murder of a British soldier in Belfast was quashed. Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

The IRA bomb attacks, on 5 October 1974, killed five people, including four British soldiers.

Speaking at Conlon’s funeral, his solicitor Gareth Peirce said his words that day “set something in motion that forced us, the rest of the world, Britain, to hold a mirror up to ourselves and see precisely who we were and what we had done,” the Irish Times reported.

The Maguire Seven – including Giuseppe Conlon, five members of Conlon’s extended family, and Maguire family friend Patrick O’Neill – had their convictions quashed in 1991.

Gerry Conlon funeral The coffin of Gerry Conlon is carried by, among others, Guildford Four member Paddy Armstrong (front right), and Birmingham Six member Paddy Hill (front left) Source: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Conlon was, in the words of Peirce, plagued by “demons” after his release, and a Cambridge University psychologist in 1996 said he and members of the Birmingham Six were suffering from persist post-traumatic stress disorder.

He became a leading activist through the Miscarriages of Justice group, however, campaigning up until his death.

Richardson, who was just 17 when convicted, lived in almost complete obscurity after being released, until her death in 2012, at the age of 55.

Crime - Guildford Four - Carole Richardson - London A post-release photo of Guildford Four member Carole Richardson, who died in obscurity in 2012. Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

Hill married Courtney Kennedy, the daughter of Senator Robert Kennedy, but their marriage ended in 2006.

Armstrong now lives in Dublin with his wife Caroline, the Irish Independent reported during the summer.

The Guildford Four and Maguire Seven were officially exonerated by British Prime Minister Tony Blair in 2005.

Here is Gerry Conlon’s short, iconic speech from outside the Old Bailey, 25 years ago today:

Source: Donach mc kenna/YouTube

Read: People eulogising Gerry Conlon had ‘no time for him’ when he was in prison>

Politicians express their condolences on the death of Gerry Conlon>

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About the author:

Dan MacGuill

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