Created: Friday, 18 March 2016 12:34
Written by Lorna Reid
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no. 100 - April/May 1991
'I don't think the people in there have got the intelligence to spell the word justice, never mind dispense it. They're rotten!'
Paddy Hill outside the Old Bailey, 14 March 1990
On his release Paddy Hill summed up the character of the British judicial system — rotten to the core. The collapse of the case against the Birmingham 6 exposed the enormity of the cover up over which 11 judges had presided. Without them the intricate web of lies and deception woven by prison officers and 25 police officers, including former Police Superintendent George Reade, could not have withstood the repeated challenges of the Birmingham 6 and their solicitors. LORNA REID examines the biggest political, judicial and police conspiracy in the annals of 'British justice'.
Before the final appeal the Director of Public Prosecutions announced he no longer relied on forensic evidence, or on the evidence of the police officers involved, to support the convictions.
It has been argued by the British establishment and media that the convictions were unsafe because of the discovery of new evidence. If this were true it would exonerate the judges. In fact, the evidence which forced the High Court to release the Six had been put to the court in 1975: the confessions were fabricated and the forensic evidence was unreliable.
Mr Justice Bridge (now Lord Bridge) did not allow the 1975 jury to look at the transcripts of the confessions: the jury would have spotted that they were not worth the paper they were written on.
Bridge rubbished the evidence of Dr Black who testified that the tests carried out by Dr Skuse would have given a positive reading from hands which had been in contact with playing cards or tobacco. Skuse, who was '99 per cent' sure the men had been in contact with explosives, was retired in 1985 on grounds of 'limited efficiency'.
Bridge summed up the trial by saying if the defendants were telling the truth, this was: The greatest conspiracy in the annals of criminal history.' A great conspiracy is exactly what the case against the Birmingham 6 amounted to.
THE JUDICIAL CONSPIRACY
On a further five occasions the Birmingham 6 went through the judicial system to prove their innocence and each time their pleas were rejected.
- In March 1976 Lord Chief Justice, Lord Widgery, Lord Lawton and Mr Justice Thompson dismissed their appeal. Lord Widgery concluded there was no evidence that they had been beaten 'beyond the ordinary'.
- In June 1976 Judge Swanwick acquitted 14 prison officers of assaulting the Six at Winson Green prison. He claimed the men had made 'lying accusations against the police at Lancaster [the venue for the 1975 trial] in order to try and wriggle out of their true confessions.' He did not say who beat the men, although it was accepted they had been beaten.
- In November 1977 the Six sued for injuries inflicted by the police at Morecambe and New Street, Birmingham. In January 1980 Lord Denning upheld a police appeal for the action to be struck out as an abuse of process. Justifying his decision he said: 'If the six men win, it will mean that the police were guilty of perjury, that they were guilty of violence and threats, and the convictions were erroneous ... This is such an appalling vista that every per-son in the land would say: "It cannot be right that these actions should go any further" . '
- In January 1987 Douglas Hurd, the Home Secretary, referred the case back to the Court of Appeal and ordered a new inquiry by the Devon and Cornwall police after Granada TV's World in Action questioned the reliability of the forensic evidence.
In January 1988 the appeal was dismissed by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Lane, who said: 'The longer this hearing has gone on the more convinced this court has become that the verdict of the jury [in the 1975 case] was correct.'
- In April 1988 the Six were refused leave to appeal to the House of Lords. Lord Denning said: 'It is better that some innocent men remain in gaol than the integrity of the English judicial system should be impugned.'
At every stage of the Birmingham 6 case, the state has concerned itself with keeping the lid on its box of lies. Each time new evidence came forward to discredit the original judgement the source and/or the witness were ridiculed and defamed.
Dr Black was scorned by Lord Bridge. Tom Clarke, an ex-police officer who came forward in 1986 to say the Six were subjected to intimidation and violence at the police station, was branded a liar. Likewise Joyce Lines, an ex-police officer who, despite being threatened, testified at the men's appeal in 1987/1988 that they had indeed been beaten up by police officers was considered by Lords Lane, O'Connor and Brown as 'a witness who was not worthy of belief.'
Dr Janet Drayton who assisted Dr Skuse in carrying out the forensic tests gave evidence at the 1987/88 appeal and contradicted Skuse on more than one occasion. She said she discovered 'possible' nitroglycerine present on one of Paddy Hill's hands. Lord Lane, in his summing up, wilfully turned this `possible' into a 'definite' and found her testimony was 'fatal' to the appeal of the Six.
Graham Boal, counsel for the Prosecution at the latest appeal, made a last attempt at proving the six men's 'guilt': he suggested that the judges might consider the convictions could be unsatisfactory, but still safe! And, seeing that the court was unimpressed by this desperate logic, he accused John Walker of being 'if not a brigadier, a quarter-master' in the IRA!
In 1990 Lord Denning was involved in a row with The Spectator over an interview in which he suggested that the community would not have worried had the Birmingham 6 hanged. After the DPP made it clear that the men's convictions could not be regarded as safe and satisfactory, Denning made a pathetic attempt to make amends: As I look back, I am very sorry because I always thought that our police were splendid and first class and I am sorry that in this case it appears to be the contrary.'
The British judiciary is as unrepentant today as it was in 1975. If it thought it could get away with it, the Birmingham 6 would still be in gaol. It has been forced to release the men because of an ever growing public lobby.
THE POLITICAL FRAME-UP
The British state has only been able to pursue the frame-up of the Birmingham 6 to such an extent because for years precious little political opposition was mounted outside the forces mustered by the men's families and a few political organisations.
In particular, the Labour Party has gone along with the conspiracy. This is hardly surprising given it was a Labour Government which oversaw the men's arrests and trial.
On the day the Six were released Roy Hattersley, Shadow Home Secretary said he felt 'relief that so grotesque a miscarriage of justice has at last been righted . . . anger that it had ever happened at all, and that it was allowed to continue for so long.'
This hypocrisy stinks. The day after the bombings in November 1974 the Labour Government rushed through Parliament the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Roy Jenkins, then Home Secretary, said the Government's opposition to the IRA would mean 'substantial but necessary limitations in personal freedom.'
The deployment of British troops on the streets of the North of Ireland, the building of the H-blocks, the denial of political status to Irish prisoners of war - all carried out under a Labour administration - not to mention the thousands of arrests and detentions of Irish people under the PTA, demonstrate how far the Labour Party has gone to 'limit' the freedom of the Irish.
The Labour Party went along with the conspiracy and did nothing to secure the release of the Birmingham 6. In a speech in March 1983 during the Parliamentary debate to renew the PTA, MP Kevin McNamara (now Labour spokesperson on Northern Ireland) said: . . . ordinary decent coppers using ordinary decent police methods apprehended those responsible for the Birmingham outrages.'
In December 1987 Gerald Kaufman MP, Shadow Home Secretary, refused to sign a declaration calling for the immediate release of the Birmingham 6 and Guildford 4 on the grounds that it would undermine his position.
As late as 1988 the Labour Party NEC (National Executive Committee) refused to add its support to claims that the Guildford 4 were innocent.
It was not until after the DPP's announcement not to contest the new appeal that Neil Kinnock called for the release of the Birmingham 6.
The case of the Birmingham 6 holds valuable lessons. Roy Jenkins' denial of democratic rights in his rush to introduce the PTA in 1975 was echoed by Margaret Thatcher when she introduced the broadcasting ban in 1988: `To beat off your enemy in a war you have to suspend some of your civil liberties for a time.' The concept of an enemy within, for that is how the Irish com-munity in Britain is regarded, has since been extended to include the black communities who resisted police harassment in 1981 and 1985, the striking miners of 1984/85 and, more recently, anti-Poll Tax protesters.
For as long as the British state, its judges and police, remain unchallenged in their war against the Irish people the British working class cannot successfully execute its own struggle for democratic rights.
On their release the Birmingham 6 called for the release of Judith Ward, the Tottenham 3 and the Bridgewater 4 and other innocent prisoners. Who will work for their release? Not the Royal Commission whose agenda will be quite different. Not the police, the judges or the politicians who imprisoned them in the first place. It is the task of the working class to ensure that the ruling class conspiracy to gaol our people, to take away our hard won civil liberties, is exposed. The Birmingham 6 and Guildford 4 are free. Now free Judith Ward, the Tottenham 3, Bridgewater 4 and all framed prisoners.
THE GUILTY MEN No.1
Lord Bridge 1975
'You have been convicted on the clearest and most overwhelming evidence I have ever heard in a case of murder.' am entirely satisfied, and the jury by their verdicts have shown that they are satisfied that all the investigations were carried out with scrupulous propriety.'
THE GUILTY MEN No.2
Lord Lane 1988
'The longer this hearing has gone on the more convinced this court has become that the verdict of the jury was correct.'
THE GUILTY MEN No.3
Det. Supt. George Reade
Responsible for the police 'investigation': brutality, intimidation, false confessions
Click here for an interview with John Walker (one of the Birmingham 6) conducted by political prisoner John Bowden.