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Monday 23 July 2018

Guildford Four Conlon's 'living hell' after 12 years in prison

Gerry Conlon in 1991
Gerry Conlon in 1991

The Guildford Four's Gerry Conlon was in such despair after 12 years in prison he was on the verge of killing himself, private letters to the government reveal.

While languishing in HMP Long Lartin in England in 1987 - seven years after his father Giuseppe had died in jail - Mr Conlon wrote how he couldn't face another 18 years of "living hell".

Conlon died in 2014, aged 60, three weeks after being diagnosed with lung cancer.

The letter, dated May 10, 1987, and released by the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin under the 30-year rule, was sent to then tanaiste and foreign affairs minister Brian Lenihan.

Sentence

The west Belfast man reflected on his 30-year sentence.

"That means if nothing is done to help us I must face another 18 years of a living hell," he wrote.

"I can assure you that I do not intend to serve it, I would much rather join my dear father.

"I can see that if my plight is not resolved in the near future, that I will have to decide which form of protest I must take.

"This is not something I want to do, but you can only suffer so much and to suffer it for something you didn't do makes the suffering intolerable."

Mr Conlon and the rest of the Guildford Four - Paul Hill, Carole Richardson and Paddy Armstrong - were sentenced to life for attacks in Guildford, Surrey, that killed five people and injured 65. Their convictions were overturned in 1989.

Trial judge Mr Justice Donaldson had told them: "If hanging were still an option, you would have been executed."

iInocent

Mr Conlon pleaded with the Tanaiste: "I hope the Irish Government will be able to do something to help us before another innocent person, like my father, dies from that terrible disease known as British justice."

The handwriting on the pale blue notepad was impeccable and belied the deep trauma Mr Conlon was suffering.

He told Mr Lenihan he was grateful for the Irish government's efforts to get justice.

"I can think of nothing worse than putting an innocent person in prison. It has got to be the ultimate living hell," he wrote.

"More so when you know the courts and judiciary know your innocence as well, but refuse to admit it because of political decisions and the reputations of those who made their names while framing us."

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