From one hell on Earth to another: the new trials that await Sean Hodgson

Other victims of miscarriages of justice warn the 57-year-old he'll need help to adapt to a harsh life outside prison
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The Independent Online

He emerged, looking crumpled and hemmed in by supporters and well-wishers, on to the pavement outside the High Court in central London, apparently elated but worn down and scarred by 27 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Sean Hodgson's brother, Peter, kissed him on the cheek and hugged him so hard his frail frame was lifted off the floor. There was laughter and elation on Wednesday after a battle for justice spanning a quarter of a century was finally won.

Sadly, the victory will soon appear hollow and the smiles and laughter shortlived if the experience of other victims of miscarriage of justice are anything to go by. They say Mr Hodgson, 57, whose years in jail for the murder of 22-year-old Teresa de Simone represent one of Britain's worst miscarriages of justice, has just exchanged one "hell on Earth" for another.

De Simone, a barmaid, was sexually assaulted and strangled in Southampton in 1979. Mr Hodgson confessed to the crime a year later, while in prison for other offences.

Although he pleaded not guilty at his trial in 1982 he was not believed. And an alleged blunder by the Forensic Science Service 10 years ago, when it stated that no exhibits from the original case had been retained, stopped his name being cleared by new DNA evidence at that time. Mr Hodgson's lawyers intend to sue the service.

According to others imprisoned for crimes they did not commit, a bleak future awaits unless he is given extensive counselling and treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. Apart from any mental health issues, he must get used to the pace of modern life and a culture that has changed extraordinarily in a quarter of a century.

Paul Blackburn, 45, spent 25 years in jail after being falsely convicted of the attempted murder of a nine-year-old boy in 1978. His name was cleared in 2005, two years after his release. He says there should be trauma centres for the growing ranks of victims of such injustice. "I was arrested at barely 15," he said. "When you come out, how do you get a job ... when your CV says you spent the last 25 years in prison?

"Sean Hodgson is going to have a very difficult time... He could be so far from reality he doesn't know what is real any more. That's why we need trauma centres. I left prison without a National Insurance number. I didn't exist. I couldn't even collect benefits. No one's said sorry."

His experience is shared by other high-profile former prisoners locked up for crimes they didn't commit – Paddy Hill of the Birmingham Six, Gerry Conlon of the Guildford Four, Michael O'Brien of the Cardiff Three.

They are all understandably angry and bitter, not only at having the best years of their lives taken from them, but also at the lack of treatment and support once they were released.

"Terry Waite was taken hostage by another country and came back with post-traumatic stress disorder," Mr O'Brien said. "Sean Hodgson is likely to have the same problem, but we were people who were taken hostage by our country, and that makes it worse in a way. The first thing [he] will need is counselling for post-traumatic distress disorder. There is now a miscarriage of justice unit which has support available... but his family should be offered counselling too."

Colin Wallace, 65: convicted of manslaughter in 1980 and served nine years. His conviction was quashed in 1996

"I remember driving away from the prison and being frightened by the speed of the traffic. Inside everything moves slowly. You have to come to terms with a different world. With Sean Hodgson, so much depends on the support he gets. It's make or break. For me there was huge media attention and that created a diversion. Sean Hodgson will be centre of attention and that will distract him. But when everybody goes it's like after a bereavement: you're fine until after the funeral and that's when it kicks in. In prison everything is organised for you. Then you find you're in a world where you have to make decisions. That's very difficult."

Paddy Hill, 63: served 16 years as one of the Birmingham Six, who were wrongly convicted of IRA pub bombings in the city in 1974

"Sean Hodgson will be elated after walking out of prison. But it's going to be short-lived. When the hullabaloo dies down it will hit him and he'll realise that he's stepped out of one hell on Earth into another because there's nothing out there for him.

"I've not had any help in 18 years. Like many victims of miscarriages of justice, I suffer from PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder]. I was told that there are no services in Scotland and they can't do anything. How does the PTSD affect me? I just want to go out and kill people. I wake up and all I can think about for the first hour is getting a gun and shooting cops. I was better off in prison. I can't sleep, I can hardly eat and people think we have a wonderful life. You must be joking."

Gerry Conlon, 54: served 16 years as one of the Guildford Four, wrongly accused of an IRA pub bombing in 1974

"I think the thing that would help Sean Hodgson most is being taken somewhere idyllic to be treated by the best psychologists and psychiatrists available.

"I don't know one person who's been released after serving a lengthy sentence for something they haven't done who has been offered help. It's as if releasing you is enough.

"It's impossible to lead a normal life. Sean Hodgson will not have heard the sound of traffic for 30 years, he will not have gone into a supermarket. And social life in prison is very different to the outside. The stress and tension never leave you. You don't have the skills you need to survive."

Michael O' Brien, 42: served more than 11 years for the murder of a Cardiff newsagent before being acquitted in 1999

"I still relive all the memories walking down the street where I was arrested. It doesn't go away. It's always there. That's the damage for me after 11 years, so it will be twice as bad for Sean Hodgson, who has been in prison for 27 years.

"What kind of quality of life is he going to have at 57? He will find it difficult to trust anyone – you don't trust anyone in prison, you are on your own, and he will be used to that. That affects how you see people when you come out.

"There are people who have been through similar things. If you meet up with them, you don't have to say anything.

"Just by looking at them you know what they've been through, nothing needs to be said. When I saw Sean Hodgson come out this week, I really did feel like I wanted to cry."

Steven Johnston, 45: was jailed for murder in 1995. He spent 10 years inside until his conviction was overturned in March 2006. Two police officers have since been arrested and face trial for perverting the course of justice

"The public seem to think that it is a big party the day you are released but it isn't. The fight goes on.

I spent 10 years fighting my conviction and when I did get out, I wanted to go back. Prison was all I had known. I hadn't any contact with family and when I came out I had nowhere to live. I was in such a state of turmoil. When you go back to the place you were before, the friends you knew before have moved on.

I just hope Sean Hodgson has family that he can be around.

It is clear that I need help but nothing is offered. When you come out, you have to be as strong as you possibly can, maybe make some plans for the future, but some people may never get over it and it consumes them."

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