'Prison knocked the life out of me'

As one of the Birmingham Six, Paddy Joe Hill spent 17 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Those years took a terrible toll on Hill and his family. His marriage broke up and he disowned his children. Now aged 50, he lives in north London with Alison, a 26-year-old fitness instructor. He talked to Sharon Feinstein
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"Prison killed me. It sucked the life out of me and it has taken a woman like Alison to show me how to feel again.

"She's reawakened a part of me, and that part loves her so much it's crazy. She's my anchor. My world revolves around her. But even Alison knows that there's a part of me she can never reach because it's been so bruised and battered."

Paddy Joe Hill is struggling to rebuild a life that was ripped apart by 17 years in prison. When he was wrongly convicted of the Birmingham pub bombings in 1974, the biggest mass murder on the British mainland, he left behind his wife, Pat, and his six children aged between two and nine. His relationships with them never recovered.

During his years in prison, his family were tormented and attacked. They were always on the run, moving home 11 times, living under different names, with the children changing schools 19 times.

The children campaigned tirelessly for their father's freedom. Yet since his release, Paddy has told his children, one by one, that he has no feelings whatsoever for any of them. He says the only two people in the world he loves are his new lover and his 76-year-old mum, Anne.

"I feel absolutely nothing for my children, and I can't explain that. Soon after my release, my daughter Maxine and I had a terrible row about how I spent my time visiting prisons and not with my kids.

"I had to tell her first, and then each of the others, that I go to prisons because I feel for the people there.

"I don't spend time with my children because I don't give a damn about them and that's the bottom line. I'm not interested in their feelings. What I'm interested in is how I feel. That's what it's all about at this stage of my life.

"Maxine cried about how she and her sisters and brother were locked up in homes, shoved into cupboards, given baths of cold water, and all because I was their father and supposed to be a bomber.

"She screamed at me about how she waited 17 years for me to come out of jail, and I'd been out two years when she realised she'd never get me back because I didn't belong with them any more.

"If we don't accept that, we'll never get anywhere for the future. I only care about my mother and Alison. I refuse to lie and pretend I care about my kids when I don't.

"My son Sean lives five minutes away from my home and we never see each other. I cannot talk to him or the others about anything meaningful and have absolutely nothing in common with them."

The lowest point of Paddy's jail hell came when his long-suffering wife, Pat, served him with divorce papers out of the blue.

"They have a saying in prison - if you've got a woman on the outside and she stands by you for between three to five years, she's a diamond. If she stands by you for more than that, she's an angel.

"My woman left me and I was totally helpless to try and stop her. It stripped me of everything I had. I lost my freedoms, then my wife and family, and I had to concentrate on trying desperately hard not to lose myself too.

"I always knew I'd be proved innocent one day and walk out. Now I'd just like to be an ordinary guy with an ordinary life, but because of what's happened to me I don't think that will ever be possible."

Although being with Alison has helped him, Paddy's years in prison still weigh heavily. "Every morning when I wake up I'm like a lunatic. Alison can't even talk to me or approach me. I can't relate to anything. I'm so tense, wired up and angry I could pull the place apart at the seams and I wish I was back in my cell.

"When I was inside I only had one problem in my life - proving my innocence and getting out. Now that I've achieved that, I've swapped one problem for a thousand others I didn't even know existed.

"At some point every day I get paralysed inside my house and can't cope with going out. Without even realising it, I get up and lock every door and window in the house.

"When I see young couples kissing in the park I know I had no love between the ages of 29 and 45, when I was freed. I see dads playing with their kids and I know I left six children behind and never shared those moments with them.

"In jail, sex is the last thing on your mind. It's very rare that you even think about it. That's just the way prison conditions you. You have to learn to not think about things like that, or you start thinking about your wife and family and you start getting emotional and messing up your head.

"I've rediscovered that part of myself with Alison, but it's been a slow process of trust and healing the hurt inside me."

Paddy bought his two-bedroom flat with the pounds 200,000 he received in compensation for his imprisonment, but he is currently locked in a battle for more money

"I can't work because where would I get a job? Doing what? Within an hour of being in a factory, office or shop I'd crack up and be wrecking the place.

"I'd run amok because I just couldn't handle being cooped up like that. To a certain degree I'm always going to be in jail. I left a part of me there."

'Forever Lost, Forever Gone' by Paddy Joe Hill is published by Bloomsbury on 29 June, price pounds 14.99.

'When my dad told me he didn't love me, he

completely broke down' - Tracey Hill on the father who

became a

total stranger

Twenty-nine-year-old Tracey recalls the day in the family kitchen when her father told her he felt completely cold towards her and her five siblings.

"When my dad told me he didn't love me, he completely broke down, his knees buckled under him and I had to catch him before he fell to the floor.

"He cried like a baby, which is something I never want to witness again because it tore me to pieces.

"He said he felt so guilty because he had no love or any feeling for his kids. He was just dead inside.

"It's been really difficult for all his kids because although he's our father he's a total stranger and there's been a lot of awkwardness and strangeness between us.

"In the beginning we tried too hard and now we've learnt to take a back seat and give him the space to approach us if he wants to.

"There are times when my dad's like a dead person. He goes into a very dark place and sort of shrinks away. No one can reach him and then he disappears for a while and can't be contacted.

"Over the years I've grown accustomed to feeling deprived of a father so I've got a mechanism inside me to cope with all these things.

"But it's only since reading his book that I really understand how and why he doesn't love us. It's an insight into just how much he's really suffered.

"After he went into prison we had bricks and crowbars thrown through our windows, and I remember street fights against my mum with milk bottles. There were constant death threats and my mum put the five girls into care for a few weeks to protect us.

"But after that she kept us all together, no matter how hard life was for her, and I really respect her for that."

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