JOHNNY WALKER, one of the Birmingham Six, is currently on a tour of Australia sponsored by the Australian Irish Congress. The six, all Irish, were released earlier this year after 16 years in prison, having been framed for two pub bombings in Birmingham in 1974. He was interviewed for Green Left by JOHN TOGNOLINI.
What was it like when you were first arrested back in 1974?
It was very hard. In 1974 no-one wanted to know anything about us. The police just had a free hand in anything they wanted to do because public opinion was on their side. Nobody wanted to believe us.
What was the basis of the police approaching the six of you?
We were on our way to a funeral in Belfast. We were stopped getting off the train. The bloke said to us,"You lads come from Birmingham?" We said yes. "Did you hear what happened in Birmingham?" We said no, and he told us that bombs went off in Birmingham.
Then two policemen came forward and said, "Can you help us in our inquiries, you know, just clear yourselves?" We said yes. We went in there, sat down. They searched our bags, then let us go outside and I had a cigarette. Then they asked us, "Would you mind helping us in our inquiries more?", we said certainly.
We went down to the police station. This is about 12.15 at night, everything was all right, then at 3 a.m. a crowd of policemen came up from Birmingham. I couldn't believe what they done. They stripped me naked, took my clothes off me, screwed my arms up my back, marched me out of this room, walked me down a corridor towards a cell. There was another policeman behind me. I didn't see him; he kicked me in the back and they just started beating me up.
What was the role of George Reade?
He was the chief of the whole investigation. I blame him a lot because I reckon he couldn't control his own police force and that gave them the upper hand to do what they wanted do. I don't know if these men came from the scene of the crime, but we heard after that they did. What happened in Birmingham that night was a disaster. But what they done to us was also a disaster, and two wrongs don't make a right.
What was the trial like?
We had a junior solicitor who had only done divorce cases. I never actually met my queen's counsel till two days before the trial started. We'd seen the juniors but never the top man himself. The best thing about it was, the judge who put us away was made a lord, the QCs and the prosecution were all made judges. So you think what that means. Was it a fit-up? Was it a whitewash? Yes it was, 100%.
What was it like maintaining your innocence during the 16 years in prison?
The first six years were the worst. Nobody wanted to know. We were up in front of Lord Denning [in 1980]; he turned around and said, That these men are telling the truth: that means the police were telling lies and fit these men up.
It was 11 years after that to prove that we're innocent; it was very, very hard. But then, after about eight or nine years, Cardinal O'Fiach came on the scene and he went back home to Ireland, told the people there we were innocent and then the campaign seem to snowball after that.
What was the campaign like at the start?
Our campaign started off with our six wives, and when they got tired, our daughters took over. It was mostly our daughter who fought my campaign.
We also had great support from the people here in Australia. That's why I'm so happy to be over here. The Australian Irish Congress invited me, and that gives me an opportunity to say thanks to the people of Australia.
We had a campaign even here and all over in America, Canada as well. [British Labour MP] Chris Mullens was really brilliant; he wrote a book about us, campaigned in Ireland. Then we also got a solicitor who believed in us.
Also a lot of English people supported us as well. These are people who believed in something called justice, but there's no such thing as British justice. The campaign was the most important thing. Public opinion put me in prison; public opinion got me out of prison.
You've got the Birmingham Six — six Irishmen free; Guildford Four — three Irishmen and an Englishwoman free; Maguire Seven — Maguire family free. Now we've got Judith Ward coming up for a court of appeal, and there's three black men going for their appeal over the Tottenham police killing. These are the cases you're hearing about, but there's others. We've opened a can of worms.