| Innocent 'dumped like |
sacks of garbage'
Victims of miscarriages of justice given help to cope with life outside
By Audrey Gillan
When John Kamara walked out of the appeal court last March he had six clear plastic prison bags full of his belongings, a £46 discharge grant and a travel warrant that expired at 8pm that night.
A victim of a miscarriage of justice who had been in prison for the previous 20 years, he was surprised by the swiftness of the overturning of his conviction and was unprepared for life on the outside.
With no support from any official agencies, Mr Kamara, from Toxteth, Liverpool, was bundled into a taxi to the north London home of Paddy Hill, one of the Birmingham Six.
Over the years since his release, Mr Hill has taken in a number of victims of miscarriages of justice because they had nowhere else to go. Only too aware of the problems his fellow "miscarriages" face, his is often an open door.
Today marks the 10th anniversary of the release of Mr Hill and the other members of the Birmingham Six. It also sees the official launch of the Miscarriages of Justice Organisation (MOJO) at the House of Commons. Founded by Mr Hill, MOJO will campaign for some kind of aftercare for people like Mr Kamara who are left on their own, in spite of years of institutionalisation.
"Innocent people are being dumped out of the court of appeal like sacks of garbage, all suffering from severe post-traumatic stress syndrome, without counselling or any psychological help," says the group's literature.
There is little in the way of help for those who have been victims of miscarriages of justice and are then sucked up by the potential vacuum that is life outside. In 1998 the home secretary, Jack Straw, rejected a call from Chris Mullin, the former chairman of the home affairs select committee, for special measures to assist in the care of released miscarriage of justice victims.
Many who have worked with victims have observed that they are profoundly scarred by their experiences and have difficulty in coping with life on the outside.
Adrian Grounds, a psychiatrist at the institute of criminology at Cambridge, examined Gerry Conlon of the Guildford Four and four members of the Birmingham Six and found that they were suffering from irreversible, persistent and disabling post-traumatic stress syndrome. He compared their mental state with that of brain damaged accident victims or people who had suffered war crimes.
Gareth Peirce, the solicitor who represented the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six defendants, said: "They come out with no money and no counselling. They have no references, it is difficult to open a bank account, you can't get a mortgage. They have no GP. You don't belong."
Judith Ward, wrongly convicted of the M62 coach bombing, was refused a £5,000 bank loan while she waited for an interim compensation payment and Michael Hickey, one of the freed Bridgewater Three, told a court he had stolen a ring from a Birmingham jewellers to highlight his case. He said: "I did it to say I've been given no money, nowhere to live, what am I supposed to do?"
Mr Hill has been travelling across the country, garnering support for his fledgling group. He said: "Compare what is available for innocent people as compared to guilty people and see what is done for them. When someone makes a decision for a guilty person to be released there is a chain of processes put in place which lasts for about three years. They take them out for a few hours at the weekend. Over a period of a few months those few hours gradually increase. Then they will be out all day and come back at night. They teach them all about modern technology. They are rehabilitated into the system. When they are released they have a place to live, probation services, aftercare services, all sorts of helplines.
"The innocent. One day your ass is sitting in a prison cell and the next day you are in the court of appeal. You are thrown out on the street like a sack of garbage and forgotten about. It's mind boggling coming out. Even in the queue for the supermarket you get wound up with all the computer stuff and credit cards."
Mr Hill said many either become alcoholic or addicted to drugs as a way of blocking severe psychological problems. For most, it is difficult to even sign on with a doctor because they have no paperwork.
Another "miscarriage" to take temporary residence at Mr Hill's home was Paddy Nicholls, who had been in prison for 23 years after being wrongfully convicted of murdering a friend. He was almost 70 when he was released in 1998.
"Paddy had had a stroke at Christmas and was released on bail in the February. They just threw him out. That's a man who was 70 years of age and could hardly walk. They threw him out at the gates of Albany prison. I had to go and pick him up. He had no medication, nothing, and on the way out they even took the tennis ball that they give to stroke victims off him," Mr Hill said.
A year after his release, Mr Kamara still struggles to negotiate this world, though he has found himself a fiancée and a place to live. Mr Kamara had been convicted of the murder of a betting shop manager in Liverpool but it later emerged that the prosecution failed to disclose 201 witness statements taken by Merseyside police to the defence lawyers at the original trial.
Mr Kamara said: "One minute I was sitting with a life sentence and the next minute I was free to go, but go where? I was given a travel warrant to Liverpool that expired at 8pm. I had no money for six to seven weeks. I had no legal documentation, no identity, you are a non person. The DSS granted me an emergency loan of £5 which I had to pay back within 28 days. I told them to keep it.
"The housing manager said because I was a miscarriage of justice why didn't I get a loan and buy myself a property because, he said 'you are going to get massive compensation'. That's how bad it is. Sometimes I thought 'fucking hell, it looks like I'll have to get arrested to get probation'. They seem to push you. They want you to commit a crime."
Six waiting for redress
The Birmingham Six were arrested after the bombing of the Mulberry Bush bar in the city on 1974, in which 21 died. All six were released in 1991 after the case against them was overturned. They had served 16 years:
• Paddy Hill
Founder of Miscarriages of Justice organisation. Lives in north London, has difficulty coping with everyday life
• Billy Power
Lives in east London with wife Nora. Works at homeless hostel. Struggles with everyday life and has had problems bonding with his children
• John Walker
Remarried with a young son, Marty. Living on pension in Co Donegal
• Gerry Hunter
Living in south London
• Richard McIlkenny
Reunited with wife Kathleen and living in Dublin
• Hugh Callaghan
Living in north London
All six await final compensation settlement
27 November 2002 Out on a limb
Victims of miscarriage of justice receive less assistance on release than the guilty. But that could soon change
By Paul Donovan
After Robert Brown was this month cleared of a murder he always said he had never committed, he followed a now well-trodden path of innocent people leaving through the front door of the court of appeal. And like those before him, he found there was nothing much awaiting him on the other side.
Brown, who had served a quarter of a century in jail for killing a woman he maintained he had never met, was at least met by a fellow miscarriage of justice victim, Paddy Hill of the Birmingham Six. Indeed, in the absence of other support, Hill and his Miscarriage of Justice Organisation (Mojo) are now helping him cope in the outside world.
"I got no support whatsoever from the system that kept me in prison for 25 years for something I didn't do," says 45-year-old Brown. "The only support I've had has been from Paddy and Mojo, who've given me £300 to live on. Without Mojo, I'd be destitute. The prison service gave me a travel warrant from King's Cross to Glasgow and the appeal court gave me £46."
A fellow Scot who could tell Brown something about life on the outside for the newly officially innocent is Tommy Campbell, exonerated of the murders last December of what became known in Scotland as the "ice cream wars". "There is no support from official sources once you are released," says Campbell. "I've thought sometimes they try to make it difficult - social security, for instance, won't give me the money I'm due."
Campbell recalls his sense of confusion upon release. "In prison, you become conditioned to the abnormal and there is no debriefing process upon release", he says. "We are essentially strangers in a strange land."
Another man who can sympathise with this is Frank Johnson. Cleared in June of the murder of a man 26 years ago, he left Swaleside prison in Kent with a plastic bag of belongings and the standard £46 discharge grant. He was met by Billy Power, another of the Birmingham Six, who had been in jail with him and had fought for his exoneration. Since his release, Johnson has been living with Power and his wife, Nora, in east London. "It's disgusting," says Johnson. "I've got nothing from them [the Home Office]. If it wasn't for Billy, I don't know where I'd be."
A small but steady stream of wrongly convicted prisoners has been emerging from the court of appeal over the 13 years since the Guildford Four were released. All seem to have been treated in the same way. After serving years in jail for crimes they did not commit, they receive less support on release than do the guilty. "Robert Brown has had no counselling in what to expect on his release to the outside world," says John McManus, a Mojo spokesman. "If he had admitted his guilt, he would have been put on a programme, three years before his tariff ended, in preparation for his release."
Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers, agrees. "Guilty prisoners get trips out into the community to prepare for their return to society," he says. "They would have received training in social skills, information about the outside economy, teaching about cooking, cleaning and general survival. All in all, there would have been preparation for a life where the door was not bolted at night."
Fletcher would like to see a programme established for the resettlement of potentially innocent prisoners as soon as their case is referred to the court of appeal. "Once the case is referred, the prison service should put in place a programme to help that person reintegrate into society," he says. "The probation service should also have a role as it does with guilty prisoners, helping with housing provision and so on."
Power argues that this practical, hands-on help is what is required when a miscarriage of justice victim gets out of prison. "What people need after a successful appeal is help with signing on for benefits, getting registered with the doctor, opening a bank account and dealing with housing needs," he says. "Then there is the question of the psychological damage done to innocent prisoners who have done long periods inside."
There is, at last, a prospect of something being done for such people - at least in England and Wales. The Home Office has awarded an initial 12-month contract to the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux to run a pilot support scheme for miscarriage of justice victims. The service will include visiting and interviewing prisoners prior to their appeal hearings, support during the hearings and, if they are successful, immediate practical advice and help upon release to help them access services and reintegrate into society.
No such scheme, however, is planned in Scotland, where Brown will be resettling. "These people are coming out of the door without any preparation," says Ian Stevens, a forensic psychologist with 30 years experience. "There is often anger there, and the usual resistance of people has broken down. This can result in panic attacks and bursting into tears upon release. There is then the danger of alcohol abuse and suchlike."
At present, says Stevens, the prospect of financial compensation for wrongful imprisonment is seen as sufficient help. Some press reports of Brown's release focused on speculation that he could receive as much as £5m. "There seems to be a popular perception that, once released, they resume life as though it had never happened," says Stevens. "People forget the damage that has been done."
Kevin McNamara, Labour MP for Hull North, is angered that it has taken so long to recognise the plight of miscarriage of justice victims. "The scars of the time spent in prison affect the innocent victims for the rest of their lives," he says. "Too many people believe that miscarriage of justice victims receive compensation and that should be enough - the damage done requires far more than just having money thrown at it."
Even the money takes time to arrive. Individuals may wait for more than six months for an interim payment.
Mark Haffenden, community, education and project development officer of the Prison Advice and Care Trust, believes matters could be improved for miscarriage of justice victims if the compensation process was accelerated. "A speeding up of the system of redress is what we are looking for - it is a timescale thing rather than the level of redress itself," he says. "The levels of compensation are not bad, though you can never fully compensate people for the loss of so many years of their lives."
Getting a foothold
The pilot support scheme for victims of miscarriage of justice is due to start next year and is expected to deal annually with some 20 successful appeals from a total of about 200 lodged with the court of appeal.
The National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux (Nacab) will run the scheme from its existing office at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. The scheme's annual budget will be between £75,000 and £100,000, sufficient to employ one full-time staff worker, one part-timer and one administrative assistant.
The team is expected to be able to draw on other resources, however. "The project will involve the staff directly employed working with other Nacab staff, working in prisons, around the country," says a Nacab spokesperson.
"The prisoner will be contacted when the appeal is lodged and we will then provide support in the lead-up to the appeal. The service will aim to help the prisoner find suitable housing, get benefits, help with work and other practical problems."
Tommy Campbell, Robert Brown and Paddy Hill wearing the new M.O.J.O 'Freedom of Speech' T-Shirts