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IN THE NAME OF JUSTICE
With a bit of luck, the release in Britain this week of In The Name Of The Father will help focus attention on the case of Patrick McLaughlin.
Eamonn McCann, 09 Feb 1994
With a bit of luck, the release in Britain this week of In The Name Of The Father will help focus attention on the case of Patrick McLaughlin.
Patrick, from Derry, is in Full Sutton prison in Yorkshire doing life for a bombing offence which he didn’t commit. His solicitor, Gareth Pierce, says: “Of all the Irish cases I have been involved in, Patrick McLaughlin was convicted on the least evidence.”
This, coming from the woman who represented Gerry Conlon, Judith Ward and members of the Birmingham Six, deserves serious attention.
Patrick and his family and friends have had limited success so far in efforts to draw attention to the case. A small group, the Friends of Patrick McLaughlin, has been doing what it can from Derry for around a year now. Letters from them to MPs, TDs and other prominent people have mostly drawn formal, non-committal responses. The local media in the North West have been fairly supportive, but no British or Irish national outlet has yet picked upon the story.
In a perverse way, the longer Patrick’s case has remained effectively ignored, the harder it has become to raise interest in it. He’s been in jail since 1985. People seem to wonder how come, if there’s a miscarriage of justice here as terrible as in the Birmingham and Guildford cases, they’ve never heard mention of it before. A suspicion begins to form that maybe this guy is just trying to get in on the act, taking advantage of a new wave of movie-generated interest in instances of Irish people wrongly imprisoned for “terrorist” crimes.
But, actually, the lack of coverage, far from differentiating Patrick’s situation from now-celebrated cases of wrongful conviction, instead provides a parallel with the best-known of them. It’s commonly, and conveniently, been forgotten that Gerry Conlon, too, and the others, spent long years in prison before campaigns to win their freedom spread out beyond relatives and friends.
In his book Proved Innocent Conlon tells that he had been nine years in jail before the Irish Embassy in London responded to a letter-writing campaign organised by Paul Hill’s aunt and uncle and dispatched an official to see him. “They sent a man whose attitude was to do my time and stop writing to the Irish Embassy, because they hadn’t got time for people like me. I almost hit him.”
Another year was to pass before the Yorkshire TV documentary. Aunt Annie’s Bomb Factory, gave the Guildford and Maguire cases media respectability.
In Stolen Years Paul Hill recalls that for the first years of his imprisonment, “No one in Ireland seemed to care,” that it wasn’t until after Guiseppe Conlon’s death in 1980 that journalists outside the radical press began to question the convictions, and that then it was British journalists and politicians and churchmen, not their Irish equivalents, who took the lead.
The Guildford Four spent 12 1/2 years inside before a motion calling for their case to be re-opened appeared on an Oireachtas order-paper.
So in this respect, Patrick’s case is simply running true to form.
Patrick was 26 years-old when he landed in London on November 7th 1985, looking for work. He hadn’t left on the best of terms with his wife, who remained behind in Derry with their four children. He homed in on Kilburn, met up with a couple of other Derry fellows and went drinking. He spent the next couple of days on the batter. The judge at his trial seemed to find this rather odd, even suspicious, behaviour.
After closing time on Sunday November 10th, Patrick and a number of drinking companions piled into a van and went to a booze-up at a flat in Talbot Walk. Harlesden close to the Mean Fiddler venue as well as Patrick and five Irish people who lived at the flat, the “party,” such as it was, was attended by two or three other Derry men. At some point during the proceedings Patrick fell asleep, drunk.
The following morning the components of a bomb (there was no evidence it had been primed, or even assembled) were found in a grey-green holdall half-hidden in a heap of leaves outside Chelsea Barracks. The INLA claimed responsibility for it the next day.
In a side-pocket of the holdall, police discovered a birth certificate and a national insurance card belonging to one of the people who lived at the Harlesden flat. This person and the other four occupants were rapidly arrested and questioned. They answered all questions put to them, including questions about the Sunday night party. All were released without charge.
The discovery of the device and the hunt for the culprits was, naturally, headline news in London over the next few days. During this time Patrick was living in a hostel in Kilburn run by the Catholic Church, where he had registered under his own name. He had also registered for social security under his own name, giving his home address. After a week, his wife arrived from Derry and coaxed him back home where, again, he lived openly until December 19th when he was arrested in an early-morning police raid, taken to London and charged with conspiracy to cause explosions.
The police theory was that the device had been assembled in the flat in Harlesden on the Sunday evening and that Patrick had been involved. Three pieces of evidence were produced at the trial to back up the charge. Patrick’s fingerprint had been found on a black plastic bag which had been stuffed into the holdall; newspapers and a Puzzler magazine on which he had written his name and address had been found in a van in which forensic tests also revealed traces of explosives; and, most importantly of all, a police officer testified that during an informal conversation after he had been charged Patrick had admitted knowing at the time that a bomb was being assembled in the flat.
For complicated reasons, the fingerprint evidence was scientifically dodgy – not that it ought to have mattered anyway, since there was no evidence how or when the print had been left on the bag.
The van in which Patrick had helpfully left his name and home address had been found, about a mile from the Harlesden flat, on December 31st, 12 days after Patrick’s arrest, seven weeks after the device had been discovered at Chelsea Barracks. Insofar as this constituted evidence at all, it could have been taken as pointing to innocence rather than guilt. A particularly careless and boneheaded bomber might leave his name and address in the vehicle in which he had transported his bomb. But would he then, amid the hue and cry of a highly-publicised police hunt for clues to the culprits, blithely leave the vehicle with his calling card in it parked openly by the roadside for weeks.
The most obvious conclusion from the finding of the puzzle-book in the van on December 31st is that Patrick, as he maintained, had simply lost it and had no reason to believe that it mattered much whether or by whom it was found.
The key piece of evidence, however, came from Detective Inspector Glass who claimed that during a conversation at Wormwood Scrubs prison on December 24th Patrick had said that on the night of the party he had been aware that a couple of people had been up all night in the flat making a bomb. Patrick adamantly denied, and still denies, ever making this statement.
A colleague of Glass’, Detective Constable Kemp, who had been in the room throughout the conversation, testified that he hadn’t heard Patrick saying this.
Glass, a detective with 24 years experience, told the court that it hadn’t occurred to him to ask any follow-up questions, a number of which, it might be thought, occur fairly readily. Who had been up all night making a bomb? What were their names? What did they look like? Had he heard any of their conversation? What had they said? Had he ever met them previously? Where were they from? What sort of accents did they have? Tattoos? Birthmarks?
The judge, Mr. Justice Kenneth Jones, delivered a 12-hour summing up which left the jury in no doubt what verdict he required of them. He devoted ten hours to the prosecution case, two hours to the defence. He fundamentally misconstrued both the fingerprint evidence and the “verbals.”
An exact example of Jones’ methodology was contained in a statement to the jury that Patrick “agreed later to stand on an identification parade and eventually he was, late on December 21st, charged with this offence and cautioned.” The ordinary meaning of these words, read by Jones from a prepared, written script, is that Patrick McLaughlin had been charged after having taken part in an identification parade, the implication being that the identification parade had some relevance to the charge being brought.
But in fact, although Patrick had agreed to take part in an identification parade, in the event no parade had taken place. There was no identification evidence of any kind against him.
It is difficult to believe that Judge Jones was unaware that the meaning the jury was most likely to place on his words was at variance with the facts and detrimental to Patrick’s case.
The jury returned to court for guidance four times during their eleven hours of deliberation. On the third occasion they told Jones that there was no chance of them reaching unanimity. He told them that he would accept a majority verdict.
On the fourth occasion he delivered what is known as a “Walhein Direction” – essentially an official exhortation to reach a verdict if at all possible so as to avoid the cost and inconvenience of a re-trial.
Eventually, the jury convicted Patrick by a 10-2 majority. Two of the jurors wept openly as the verdict was announced.
Patrick’s appeal was rejected in February 1988 by Lord Justice Watkins, Mr. Justice Mars-Jones and Mr. Justice Ian Kennedy. In the light of what we know now of the Court of Appeal – indeed in the light of the evidence in the case, for anyone who cares to read through it – this can be taken as confirmation not of Patrick’s guilt but of the Court of Appeal’s wilful inability to do its job.
Had the conspiracy offence not been available to the police and the DPP – as it would not have been in most other countries, including Southern Ireland, there would have been nothing to charge Patrick with, even if all of the prosecution evidence had been solidly rooted in demonstrable fact. Indeed, weird as it might seem – weird as it indubitably is – at no point in the case did anyone ever specify exactly what Patrick was supposed to have done.
He’s in his ninth year now. Going by the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six experiences, he can maybe expect some serious campaigning on his case soon.
The Friends of Patrick McLaughlin can be contacted at 1 West End Park, Derry BT 48 9JF. Telephone (08) 0504 264767.
Re-reading Gerry Conlon’s and Paul Hill’s books casts an interesting light on controversy about the way In The Name Of The Father bends the facts of the Guildford case.
The two most obvious departures from the facts concern the depiction of Gerry and Guiseppe Conlon sharing a cell for years when they never shared a cell at all, and the allocation to Gareth Peirce of a much earlier and deeper involvement in the Conlons’ story than was truly the case.
Of course, Jim Sheridan is right that you can’t “just stick to the facts” of a 15-year story and make a commercial movie which will convey the essential point to a wide audience. On this ground, I reckon he and writer Terry George were right to place the Conlons in the same cell. It was a device for compressing the relationship in order to be able to show in maybe 20 minutes of screen time the way it changed and developed over a number of years.
But misrepresenting the role and personality of Gareth Peirce is different again.
Ms. Peirce is a quiet woman with a powerful presence, much more impressive than the creature of quivering outrages presented by Emma Thompson. Ms. Thompson’s display of mannered histrionics is truly terrible. There’s not an instant she’s on the screen when we aren’t consciously aware that this is a famous actress, putting on a performance.
Taken together with a narrative of Ms. Peirce’s involvement which has nothing to do with the facts – almost literally: as far as I can recall, hardly anything the Emma Thompson character says or does in the film was said or done in reality by Gareth Peirce – this isn’t so much misrepresentation as fiction, and cannot be justified by reference to any detectable artistic or political necessity.
What’s happened here can more likely be put down to the film-maker’s overriding desire for a product which would fit neatly into the conventional framework of a “successful” movie these days. A starry male-lead part and a starry female-lead part, would be an element in that. So Ms. Thompson to play opposite Daniel Day Lewis . . . with just a hint of an emotional attachment between the two characters. Thus the facts of the matter, having been found in conflict with the commercial requirements of the industry, were ditched.
This doesn’t destroy the film, but it does tend to undermine its ethical stance.
Am I right that it’s become near enough national apostasy to say a word against this movie? Journos, politicians and celebs of all sorts, have been hymning its praises in perfect Irish harmony. It’s made none of them feel ill-at-ease, it would seem.
If all these people are so pleased to see the Guildford Four story told so strongly, how come so few of them weighed in when their interest and support might have made a difference?
For the first ten years at least of the imprisonment of the Four, successive Dublin governments actively hindered campaigns to highlight their case. Officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs, for example, presumably acting on instructions, quietly spread slander about campaigners for the Four and the Birmingham Six, particularly in the United States.
In the same period, British journalists who sought guidance from the Irish Embassy in London were being given to understand that Dublin didn’t think there was any cause for concern here.
It was a couple of untrendy Irish Catholic clergy and a few Left-wing British papers which first joined relatives of the jailed men in proclaiming that a great injustice had been done in this case. At a later stage, British MPs, Lords, archbishops and lawyers were all in the field campaigning for the Four before the interest of their Irish equivalents picked up.
The Irish national press didn’t exactly rush pell-mell into the fray either. And Granada TV, Yorkshire TV and the BBC had all put researchers and resources into exposing the story long before RTE lifted a sticky finger.
I think the reason some well-placed people in Ireland don’t want an argument about the facts of the Guildford Four case is that they, or the parties and interests they are associated with, wouldn’t come well out of it.
I find it interesting that the journalists who have most publicly taken a dim view of the way the film twists the facts – Mary Holland, Gene Kerrigan, Tom McGurk – are among the few who would come well out of it.
Having said all that, I do reckon it’s a fine film, despite the Emma Thompson factor. But it’s silly to put any film beyond criticism, especially when it’s possible this might save a number of no-goods from feeling uncomfortable.