`Nothing can compensate you for all those years locked up'

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The Independent Online
For a brief moment yesterday, the Bridgewater Three again became four. The son of Patrick Molloy, who died in prison in 1981, stepped forward to take the place of his vindicated father.

"No, just the three," shouted an aggressive photographer at the heaving press conference at St Bride's Institute, yards from the High Court in London. "There's four of us," Vincent Hickey replied, pulling Nick back into the fold.

Fifteen minutes earlier, James Robinson, Michael Hickey and his cousin Vincent had stepped into the sunshine for the first time in almost 19 years. And as they faced the bank of supporters, reporters and photographers, they were following in a tradition. Just like the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six before them, they had gone from being category A prisoners one minute to freed men the next.

It had all been so sudden. Michael's mother Ann Whelan had to send someone to buy socks for her son. "He turned up without any socks. That's how quick it is."

Besides the black cabs and double decker buses, the world must have been almost unrecognisable to the three men. As one onlooker put it: "They've almost been inside for the whole Tory Government."

Each man spoke of his first glimpse of freedom. Michael saw "light bulbs flashing". Vincent remembered paying the taxi driver - out of his pounds 46 discharge money. James first noticed "the little passageway towards the pub ... a tablecloth on the table, opening doors for oneself."

A spread of famous faces who had taken the injustice to heart mingled with family and friends. The actor Roger Lloyd Pack said he had come "to see the judges eat their words." One man "just wanted to see what they looked like - in their eyes". Paul Foot, the journalist, whose book inspired campaigners, clutched a slim red notebook to record the final chapter of the story.

The gallery did its best to disrupt the protocol, clapping and shouting. John McGranaghan, who was cleared on appeal of two rapes after 11 years behind bars, yelled out his own name to James who he had known in prison.

The judge issued a warning:. "This is a court of justice trying to do justice. You are asked to behave with dignity and restraint." "Dignity?" muttered Mr McGranaghan. "There's people who have been inside 18 years and they're talking about dignity. How can I respect a court like this? What do they know about dignity?"

Later, at the press conference, asked whether he was bitter, Michael Hickey replied: "We are not at all bitter." His cousin added: "I think a bitter person might as well forget it - forget the rest of their life." He went on: "Nothing compensates for 18 years locked up."