March 1, 1954
Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK
|Died||June 21, 2014
Belfast, Northern Ireland
|Cause of death||Lung cancer|
Gerard "Gerry" Conlon (1 March 1954 – 21 June 2014) was wrongly convicted of being a member of the Guildford Four who spent 14 years in prison after being wrongly convicted of being a Provisional IRA bomber.
Gerry Conlon was born in Belfast and grew up in the impoverished but close-knit community of the Lower Falls Road. He described his childhood as happy. His father was Giuseppe Conlon, a factory worker, and his mother was Sarah Conlon, a hospital cleaner.
In 1974, at age 20, Conlon went to England to seek work and to escape the everyday violence he was encountering on the streets of Belfast. He was living with a group of squatters in London when he was arrested for the Guildford pub bombings, which occurred on 5 October the same year.
Conlon, along with fellow Irishmen Paul Hill and Paddy Armstrong and Englishwoman Carole Richardson, became the so-called Guildford Four convicted in 1975 of planting two bombs a year earlier in the Surrey town of Guildford which killed five people and injured dozens more. The four were sentenced to life in prison. At their trial the judge told the defendants, "If hanging were still an option you would have been executed."
Conlon continued to protest his innocence, insisting that police had tortured him into making a false confession. In October 1989, his position was vindicated when the Guildford Four were freed after the Court of Appeal in London ruled that police had fabricated the handwritten interrogation notes used in the conviction. Crucial evidence proving Conlon could not have carried out the bombings had been held back by the police from the original trial.
A group of Conlon's relatives, collectively known as the Maguire Seven, was convicted of being part of the bombing campaign and also spent decades in prison. Among them was his father, Giuseppe, who had travelled to London from Belfast to help his son mount a legal defence, and who died in prison in 1980. In 1991 the Maguire Seven were also exonerated. Scientists had falsely asserted that the hands of each defendant had tested positive for nitroglycerine.
After emerging from the Court of Appeal a free man, Conlon said: "I have been in prison for something I did not do. I am totally innocent. The Maguire Seven are innocent. Let's hope the Birmingham Six are freed." Conlon was represented by human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce, who also secured the release of the Birmingham Six.
Conlon had an articulate voice to vividly communicate his experience of injustice in his book Proved Innocent (1991). After that, he became a leading character in the 1993 film In the Name of the Father, where he was played by Daniel Day-Lewis.
After his release from prison, Conlon had problems adjusting to civilian life, suffering two nervous breakdowns, attempting suicide, and becoming addicted to alcohol and other drugs. He eventually recovered and became a campaigner against various miscarriages of justice in the United Kingdom and around the world.
- "Gerry Conlon obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 June 2014.
- "Gerry Conlon, wrongfully imprisoned for IRA attack, dies at 60". The Globe and Mail (from New York Times News Service). Retrieved 24 June 2014.
- "Gerry Conlon - who was wrongly convicted of Guildford pub bombings and jailed for 14 years - dies at home after long illness". The Daily Mail (UK). Retrieved 21 June 2014.
- "Gerry Conlon dies aged 60 of cancer". Big News Network. Retrieved 24 June 2014.
- The Guardian, Obituary 22 June 2014
- The Guardian, Guildford Four's Gerry Conlon dies of cancer in Belfast, aged 60, 22 June 2014