Britain's Abu Ghraib

A lesson in torture for young maritime workers


They’re Irish, not Iraqis, but what Gerry Conlon and Paddy Hill suffered under the British prison system rivals Abu Ghraib. “They made me strip naked then all gathered round and took the piss out of me,” Gerry Conlon, a member of the Guildford Four told 70 wide-eyed young maritime workers attending the recent MUA youth conference in Brisbane. “They all spat on me and they all slapped me and then they marched me naked to a cell that had no windows in it. ‘Stand up you dirty stinking Irish bastard’ they said.

“They’d bring in policewomen and encourage them to grab my testicles and twist them and pull on them and spit on me. It was all part of the humiliation.”

Gerry Conlon and three other young people were ‘fitted’ for terrorist bombings in Guildford in 1974. They were tortured, sentenced to life imprisonment and kept in prison even after the real bombers were found.

Gerry and Paddy Hill, a member of the Birmingham Six (another group wrongfully convicted of terrorism offences by British courts) toured Australia courtesy of the WA Branch of the MUA to promote the Miscarriages of Justice Organisation (MOJO) a human rights group they set up to assist innocent people both in prison and after their release. Paddy and Gerry spoke in Sydney and Melbourne union rooms in December. Paddy said his experience in many ways was worse after he was released from prison.

“Suddenly you’d be sitting in the house and you’d be reading the paper or something. And the next you know the f…ing paper is coming apart at the seams ‘cause the paper is soaking wet,”he recalled. “You are sitting there crying and you don’t even realise that you’re crying, you don’t realise how long you’ve been crying for and most important of all you don’t even know what the f…you are crying for.”