Judith Ward was released from prison on May 11 after successfully challenging the British system of justice which had confined her to 18 years imprisonment when for years nearly all those concerned — the police, the courts and the British Home Office — knew she was totally innocent of any crime.
Today, in another British prison, five innocent teenagers from Belfast's Beechmount area are sitting on 23 hour lock-up in the Crumlin Road jail. The only reason they are there is that they were, like the Birmingham Six, tortured and forced into signing false confessions in Castlereagh Interrogation Centre. Even those who put the five young innocent teenagers in jail have admitted to other arrested people that they know the five are innocent.
The Beechmount Five's ordeal began even before the incident with which they were subsequently charged. They, among other young people of their district, were daily targeted by the British army and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) threatening them that if any incident was to happen in the Beechmount area, they would be "put in jail forever".
The five young men are Mark Prior and Jim McCabe, both 19, Liam Coogan, 18, Kevin Mulholland and Laurence Hillick, both 17. All five have been charged with the murder of RUC Sergeant Stephen Gillespie who, on May 1, 1991, died as a result of an IRA rocket and gun attack on the armoured personnel carrier he was travelling in as it drove through the Beechmount area. The five have also been charged with conspiracy and attempted murder.
The day after this ambush, the arrests of young people from Beechmount began and continued over a number of weeks. In all 53 people were arrested. What emerged was that the RUC was indulging in a form of community punishment, and was not going to rest until it had gone through a trawl of young people, and had charged a group of them.
The five teenagers endured systematic physical and mental torture (which included sleep deprivation) and were forced to sign confessions in Castlereagh saying that they had taken part in the incident. After Castlereagh Interrogation Centre they were then taken to Grosvenor Road Barracks and formally charged.
On top of their ordeal of torture, the families of the five have documented the following facts:
Liam Coogan was held for seven days and denied access to a solicitor. He has numerous witnesses to his whereabouts at the time of the attack.
Mark Prior was also held for seven days and denied access to a solicitor for 58 hours. Mark was with his mother and a school teacher before, during and after the attack. Jim McCabe was held for three days and denied access to a solicitor for 58 hours. Jim was at technical college before, during and after the attack and has witnesses to prove it.
Kevin Mulholland was held for two days in Castlereagh and was denied access to a solicitor. Before, during and after the attack he was at work and has witnesses.
Laurence Hillick, arrested only two weeks after his 17th birthday, was held for four days and denied access to a solicitor for 53 hours. He was at work before, during and after the attack and again has witnesses to prove his alibi.
These consistent facts highlight the lack of any evidence against the five. There is no forensic evidence, nor any prosecution witnesses; the sole RUC evidence is their forced confessions.
From their initial natural reaction of deep shock, the five teenagers' families have got together to highlight and publicise their sons' cases.
They have written to church leaders and politicians, as well as contacting human rights groups. Amnesty International came to Belfast and met with the families last July, and are working on the case. So too is the United Nations Chief Communications Centre based in Geneva, which has told the families that they have written to the British government about their sons' cases. Within Ireland the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace has been contacted and has assured the families of its support.
[From An Phoblacht/Republican News.]