After Bridgewater: First night of the rest of their lives

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The Independent Online
This is Jimmy Robinson's first night of freedom in 19 years and he clutches a pint of orange squash and draws on his cigarette. "It hasn't begun to sink in yet. I feel detached, as though this isn't really happening ," he says, looking round at the reception party put on for him and his fellow surviving members of the Bridgewater Four.

His prison uniform has been exchanged for a denim shirt and jeans and a Bridgewater Four T-shirt and he happily relates to everyone who will listen how he heard of his imminent release on Radio Five Live.

"I did a double take and ran out and asked the other inmates whether they had heard but no one had and I didn't know if it was true or if I was dreaming." He looks exhausted but manages a smile. "I could really hammer a large steak."

The scene is the Irish Centre in Camden, north London, where in the early hours of yesterday the freedom celebrations of Mr Robinson and his two companions in injustice, Vincent and Michael Hickey, finally came to an exhausted close.

It was the appropriate place for the party. Founded 42 years ago and full of Irish landscape paintings and religious sketches, the Centre is familiar with unjust causes and people wrongfully imprisoned. Here were held the freedom receptions for the Guildford Four, the Birmingham Six and Judith Ward, and the many Irish victims of miscarriages of justice who had supported the Bridgewater Four felt at home.

Twenty-four hours earlier Mr Robinson was spending the last night of the sentence for something he did not do in a cell in Brixton prison. He is 63 now. Around him there is lots of activity: Michael Hickey is happily embracing the champagne on offer but Mr Robinson with his orange squash is more sombre. He does feel bitter, he says, about the police and the fabrication of evidence against the four. "It meant the jury had no choice but to do what they did. If you feed the wrong chip into a computer it goes wild, so give a jury the wrong information and you'll get the wrong result."

Among the guests was Tim O'Malley, who had been the foreman of the jury that convicted the four men of murder. He had travelled from his home in Stone, Staffs, "to give all the men a big hug", he said.

"I feel very angry," he said. "I'm angry that even at this late stage we are getting evidence of corruption. We as a jury did our best but not only did people lie to us, they sent them to prison. I hope it hangs heavily on their conscience."

Mr O'Malley said he had had slight doubts about the conviction even when he found the men guilty. "I felt the doubts over Molloy's confession were not reasonable at the time. It all hung on the confession and whether it was genuine. It was pivotal that Molloy was not put in the box to give evidence."

There were also more familiar faces among the 100 or so guests looking to greet the men. Michael Mansfield QC, who has fought against several high-profile miscarriages of justice, the Reverend Bruce Kent, Jill Morrell, the former girlfriend of Beirut hostage John McCarthy, actor Roger Lloyd Pack - Trigger in Only in Fools and Horses - and comedian Sean Hughes, who had all campaigned for the four men or taken the cause to their hearts, were on hand.

So too were Gerry Hunter and Paddy Hill of the Birmingham Six, who were released in 1991. For Mr Hill it was an emotional time and he said he would seek to help the three men in their attempts to re- adjust to normal life.

"When we were released we didn't feel part of anything," he said. "I had buried my emotions so deep to cope with prison that when I was freed I couldn't bring them to life again. It's supposed to be the so-called fairy tale when you're out but you're faced with coping with anger and frustration.

"It's come-down time for these men. They're going to have problems. I was never offered any counselling and I hope to God they are."