Gerry Conlon dead: Wrongly jailed, never to return to normal life

For victims of miscarriages of justice – like the Guildford Four’s Gerry Conlon – there is a glaring lack of support on  the outside

The death of Gerry Conlon of the Guildford Four has revealed a near total absence of specialist psychological support available on the NHS to victims of miscarriage of justice.

It is estimated that there are several hundred former prisoners currently not receiving the specialist psychological care they need in the aftermath of being jailed for a crime they did not commit.

Campaigners say that recent changes in compensation rules have also meant that many victims now find themselves ineligible for payouts that can fund private treatment packages – whilst also feeling the enormity of the injustice against them has not been properly acknowledged.

Mr Conlon, who served 15 years in prison after being wrongly convicted of carrying out the 1974 IRA pub bombing, died aged 60 at his home in Belfast on Saturday.

Following his release in 1989, he became a high-profile campaigner for the rights of wrongly convicted people as he struggled to overcome the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder left by his ordeal. Paul McLaughlin, co-project manager of the Scots government backed Miscarriages of Justice Organisation, of which Mr Conlon was a director, said help was urgently needed.

“There is no specialist treatment provided. That is one of the things that Gerry campaigned for – that people should be referred to specialists with the skills to help them,” he said.

Ministers have accepted responsibility for assisting the wrongly imprisoned but at present they are left to seek help though their GP, he said. Symptoms experienced by miscarriage victims are often compared to those endured by soldiers returning from war zones. “We have letters from the Government saying they accept a duty of care but they think you can go through your local mental health services where it can take 18 months to get an appointment,” said Mr McLaughlin.

The searing impact of wrongful conviction is highly complex and little understood by mainstream medical practitioners, explained Dr Adrian Grounds, of Cambridge University, a forensic psychiatrist and one of the country’s leading experts on the subject.

Outside the Old Bailey after being released in 1989 Outside the Old Bailey after being released in 1989

Based on the experience of 50 patients, he said victims spent years in jail focusing on their campaign for release – but found that freedom revealed their former lives had been lost forever.

Often their families have grown up or become estranged whilst relationships cannot be rekindled. Some struggle to cope with everyday tasks such as crossing the road and continue to feel stigmatised. Many feel life was easier in jail, he said.

“Longstanding depression is common and some use alcohol or drugs to try and reduce feelings of distress. Often the enormity of the personal losses is impossible to bear.

“In addition, some are consumed with anger and bitterness because it is impossible to accept the legitimacy of what happened; there has usually been no apology, and those at fault have not been brought to justice,” he said.

At present the only taxpayer-funded assistance available in England is the Royal Courts of Justice Advice Bureau’s Miscarriages of Justice Support Service.

Released prisoners need specialist psychiatric care and longer term psychological support, Dr Grounds said.

“Most professionals working in mental health services will have little or no experience of work with wrongly convicted people, and may therefore have difficulty in recognising and properly appreciating their complex problems,” he added.

Psychologist Ian Stephen, who has worked with prisoners for 40 years, said that with the right treatment they could get better.

“You can help them and they do make progress. One of the very sad things is the number of people who have been through that system who have died subsequently.  The strain and the stress have physical results,” he said.

Mr McLaughlin said Mr Conlon, who died from cancer, had been receiving expert help for the past seven years and was starting to recover.

However, after his release he had suffered two breakdowns, attempted suicide and battled addiction to drink and drugs. Mr Conlon’s father Giuseppe died in jail after also being among a group wrongly convicted in connection with the 1974 bombings.

Mr McLaughlin described one man who had been asked on his first visit to a psychologist whether he had empathy to his victim, despite being innocent. On the second visit the miscarriage victim, a gay man, was offered help through a religious group which opposed same-sex marriage. “It took him two-and-a-half years before he could find someone with whom he could even begin the process,” he said.

News
Mickey Rourke celebrates his victory against opponent Elliot Seymour
people
News
Gordon and Tana Ramsay arrive at the High Court, London
newsTV chef gives evidence against his father-in-law in court case
News
Actor Burt Reynolds last year
people
News
people

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
books
News
i100 Charity collates series of videos that show acts of kindness to animals
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: QA Automation Engineer

£30k - 38k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: An award-winning consume...

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game