- Created: Thursday, 27 August 2009 13:47
- Written by Nicki Jameson
Obituary: Ronnie Easterbrook dies after 21 years of struggle
Ronnie Easterbrook died on 10 May 2009 in Gartree prison, the day before his 78th birthday. He had been on a prolonged hunger strike, the last in a series of protests over the 21 years he spent in prison.
FRFI first came into contact with Ronnie in 1995 when he was in the segregation unit of high security HMP Whitemoor. In the 1990s the government made a concerted and generally successful attempt to transform and ‘modernise’ the prison system and in the process to destroy solidarity between prisoners. Following massive prison protests in 1990 these changes mainly took a seemingly progressive form, but after two high profile escapes from Whitemoor and Parkhurst in 1994-5, the new measures became overtly repressive, with security and control prioritised over all else.
During the same period, the IRA called a ceasefire and negotiations began around the repatriation of Irish Prisoners of War from English gaols. There were waves of protest throughout the system, with POWs demanding immediate transfers and prisoners in general angered by new systems restricting possessions and increasing intrusive searching of cells and visitors.
In July 1995 prisoner Dennis Prescott wrote to us: ‘there are currently eight on a “dirty protest”. English as well as Irish prisoners... because of very oppressive conditions, being assaulted by screws... plus being hundreds of miles away from their families... There’s a 64-year-old man next door to me on a “dirty”: Ronald Easterbrook, who has only one lung. His door is being kicked in the middle of the night by screws saying “We haven’t woken you up have we?”’
In Ronnie’s first letter to us in September 1995, he wrote: ‘Prisoners in this country are subject to outrageous sentences if they are from the working class, and then dumped into the dispersals, which are symptomatic of the class structure outside. They are the council estates of the prison system.’
Ronnie was arrested for participating in a failed armed robbery that was deliberately set up by a police informer. A detachment of armed police and a TV film crew were lying in wait. Tony Ash, who was with Ronnie, was shot dead. At Ronnie’s trial he wanted to argue that the ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy being used by British forces in Ireland was now being used in England. His barrister did not agree to argue this and Ronnie ended up defending himself, reading out the whole of the Amnesty International report on shoot-to-kill to the jury.
Ronnie received discretionary life sentences for armed robbery and attempted murder and was given a ‘whole life tariff’ meaning he could never be released. He was the only person in Britain not convicted of murder to be sentenced to life with no possibility of parole. Following an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights the tariff was eventually reduced to 121/2 years; however, whatever their tariff, lifers can only be released once the Parole Board determines they are no longer dangerous. Ronnie was not interested in parole – only in a retrial at which the actions of the police could be re-examined. In pursuit of this and more humane treatment he undertook several prolonged hunger strikes which took him close to death.
Ronnie was supported by many prisoners who respected his uncompromising attitude and refusal to dance to the tune of the Parole Board by ceasing to protest, going on ‘offending behaviour courses’ and looking to ‘progress’ through the system. Outside prison he was supported by comrades from FRFI, Anarchist Black Cross and MOJO. Together with a few friends and relatives who stuck resolutely by Ronnie through thick and thin, we corresponded with him, wrote letters of complaint to the Prison Service and organised demonstrations outside the Home Office.
We send our condolences to Jackie and John, Jon, Charley and Bluejay, and everyone in prison who knew Ronnie.
FRFI 209 June / July 2009