- Created: Friday, 18 March 2016 11:46
- Written by John Bowden
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no. 100 - April/May 1991
PRISONER-TO-PRISONER : FIGHTBACK SPECIAL - JOHN BOWDEN INTERVIEWS JOHN WALKER IN LONG LARTIN
'I wouldn't extradite a dog to this country'
FREE ALL THE FRAMED PRISONERS
JOHN BOWDEN is a prisoner in Long Lartin and a regular contributor to FRFI. Three days before the final appeal of the Birmingham 6 he managed to record this interview with JOHN WALKER inside the prison.
He began by asking John Walker how he felt on the verge of release after 16 years false imprisonment.
Well, to be honest, I still don't trust them. If I had my way, I wouldn't go near the Court of Appeal. These last 16 years have been very hard but prisoners have been very good to me. I know that I had no chance of going home unless my case just collapsed and it's collapsed all around. Now it's just very hard to click into the present moment.
And what sort of memories will you take with you from prison?
That's a very funny question because I'm going to take some great memories with me from prison. You meet some fantastic people and it's very hard to explain this to people on the outside but what friendship means in prison is 100 per cent friendship.
How much of a significant influence do you think that the Birmingham 6 campaign has had and also the pressure that your family has brought to bear in this case?
It really took off six years ago. I'm not a great religious man but when Cardinal O'Fiach came over here and went back to Ireland and told the people that there were innocent men in prison, the campaign just snowballed. And Chris Mullin, and John Farr and people like this really took an interest in our case. In the very early days of our case nobody wanted to know us; we were just lepers. But our families have been great and we've just built it up over the years. Our wives took over and then our children took over and now it looks as though our grandchildren are starting to campaign! It's taken nearly three generations to get this campaign and if our release does come then we owe it to these people.
While you've been in prison you've met a number of other prisoners who are clearly innocent.
The first case that comes to my mind is the Carl Bridgwater case. I've lived with these people over the years: Vinny Hickey, Michael Hickey and the other chap I never had the privilege of meeting, Mr Robinson. These people are completely innocent. And then there's the Tottenham 3. You think the Tottenham 3 are in a similar situation to yourself Certainly, but its up to the people in Tottenham; it's up to these communities to come out and help them. It's the same as the Irish community. The Irish community must fight for justice for Irish men and Irish women. There's a young man in prison now whose name is Dessie Ellis. He was extradited over here. In my opinion the word 'extradition' should be taken out of the dictionary and burned. I wouldn't extradite my dog to this country. That Mr Ellis came over here under a charge; things collapsed and the man is still in prison. Is this justice? You must be joking. And as far as the Irish judges that handed this man over, they're just as bad as over here. Somewhere along the line someone in Ireland must stand up and say 'No more extradition' . How about a little bit of repatriation?
How about the three young men who have done 17 years and are still rotting in the prison? Paul Holmes, Billy Arm-strong and Roy Walsh. These young men are still Category A prisoners. Nobody was actually killed by them, but they're Irish. It's the same old crack. If you're black, you're black; if you're Irish, you're Irish; you're going away and that's the end of the story.
Can I ask you about the Prevention of Terrorism Act?
This came out after we got done and Irish people travelling to this country have got to go through all this hassle, police, brutality and all this. But if I walk out of prison some time next week, what happens to this law? Do they just wipe it off the face of this earth or does it still go on? As far as I'm concerned when we walk out, we've got to take it out with us.
After your release will you devote any of your time to highlighting issues such as extradition, the PTA?
I promise you right now in this cell, after I come to know my wife and family again and my grandkids, I will go and help any innocent man in prison. The Tottenham 3? You need me? I'll be there. Vinny Hickey? Micky Hickey? And the other lad - one hundred per cent behind you, lads. I will give all my time until these men are released. And something must be done with the West Midlands police. They were the law; they took the law into their own hands and they fitted people up.
What do you think needs to be done about the British legal system to prevent further 'miscarriages of justice'?
Nobody can take a policeman's word anymore. Lord Denning said himself a couple of days ago that he was conned also. He said the police told him lies and he took the policeman's word against our word and now that man has came out and said we are innocent per-sons. The Appeal Court doesn't seem to be working; then they must find something else to take its place. These judges, lords, whatever they want to call themselves, they're dinosaurs, they just wake up in the morning and somebody looks after them until they go to bed at night. They don't know the real world. What do you think are the failings of the British legal system which led to your conviction? If a policeman gets up and says I've done something, they're going to believe him 99 per cent, I've only got one per cent left. We're talking about forensic and 16 years ago people didn't even know what the word meant. Now, I remember that morning very well. Paddy Hill was taken out before me and they started coming the heavy and I heard the policeman say, 'You've got more explosive on you than Judith Ward'. Well, that must be a joke now, because Judith Ward was done by the same bloke, Skuse, and they sacked him at 52 years old.
Do you think that they realised soon after you were taken into custody that you didn't plant the bombs in Birmingham? Do you think you were deliberately filled up by the police?
Certainly I was. In Birmingham Irish homes were getting wrecked, Irishmen couldn't go to work and things like this. We didn't know about it - we were stuck in prison - but we found out about it after. I think anybody would have done that night. We happened to be at the right place at the wrong time. We're Irish and we come from Birmingham. But we never told them lies. Everything they asked us, we told them the truth. And I'll tell you another thing: I was never arrested. I was asked to come and help the police with their inquiries and 16 and a half years down I'm still in prison trying to help them with their inquiries. What about the trial? What trial? There was no trial. We just sat there, six little monkeys in the dock. Way above our heads; we're only working class people. We never stood a chance.
And you were received into the prison system defined as 'terrorist prisoners'. How did that affect the way you were treated?
When I came out, somebody called me a Cat A, then somebody told me I was Cat A plus. When I wanted to go to the toilet, four screws went with me. I was branded - the Birmingham 6, the bombers. And any time anything happened in this country we were just treated like animals again. After the Hull riot, 1976, what they did to the Irish prisoners and the black prisoners was just disgraceful. I was listening to the radio and some prison officer came out in favour of the cons and he spoke about two prisoners who he'd seen beaten and I happened to be one of them and the other was a black man. I was told after-wards that the man was sent to Coventry.
What do you feel about the British prison system?
Excuse me for laughing! You could do with about 50 Lord Woolfs coming in here every week and bringing out new White Papers every week because these places are corrupt. There's brutality; they transfer you from one prison to another one and you get it there. If you stand up for yourself you get a bad name and no matter where you go after that, they make sure you pay. If you fight them once, you fight them all through your sentence.
How do you think the prison system in this country should be reformed?
How they go in Europe. They work over there. The trouble is this is fifty years back in these prisons. You've got shops in here where they make stuff and then they take it out and throw it in the North Sea. Mailbags, There must be some fish in those mailbags out in the North Sea.
Here at Long Lartin you're considered a bit of a father figure. How have you managed to endure 16 years as an innocent man in high-security captivity?
For the first five years we were the scum of the earth. I was down the block at Wakefield. It's a very famous place, F-wing. And the weight just peeled off me. My sister came over and took one look at me - I was like a matchstick -and she went back to Ireland and I think she caused a bit of trouble. Next thing I was moved to Long Lartin. I spent a year at Wakefield and out of that year I was 11 months and two weeks in the block in solitary confinement and I think that if I hadn't have got out of there I wouldn't have lasted. No chance. I spent a long time in the block after the Hull riot too.
How do you think you'll cope with life outside?
I get great support from my family. My sister will keep an eye on me. I'm a wee bit frightened of going home, though. I've been away from Ireland a long time. Will you never come back to Britain? I'll come back to visit prisoners but I'll live in Ireland; that will be my base. I'll come over to see a few of the lads over here. I promised them and when I make a promise I keep it.
I would like to ask you about Judith Ward who is presently in Durham prison.
Well, the Judith Ward case - we know that the wee girl's not involved in all that. And the campaign that we had will carry on and I know that there are people who are going to start a campaign for Judith Ward and they're going to try and get young Judith Ward where she should be, back home.
What are your feelings about the situation of Irish people in this country?
If anything happens in this country - if a bomb went off - and they can't get the people who did it, they'll just get some Irish person and they'll do exactly the same thing. It'll keep on going until the people of Ireland get together.