Militant, November 1989, Editorial Statement

Free the 'Birmingham Six'

The Tory government and the British legal system now admit to a serious miscarriage of justice in the case of the Guildford 4. It has taken them 15 years to do so. The whole case is an indictment of the methods of the British state and its legal system. However this is not an isolated 'mistake'.

Many others remain in prison for crimes they did not commit. Most notable is the case of the Birmingham 6. Frederick Engels once remarked that the state, in the last analysis, can be reduced to armed bodies of men, judges, courts and prisons acting in the interests of the capitalist class.

Judges, army officers, police chiefs and senior civil servants are generally drawn from the capitalist class. One report on army officers said that 77% were drawn from the 'A-B' socio-economic group. In other words from the top 12% of British society. Even those who not drawn from this group soon absorb its class outlook.

The state does not act as an independent arbitrator in disputes which emerge within society. The state, acting in the interests of the capitalist class, defends its power, privilege and profit. The use of the police in strikes and the use of judges to shackle the trade union movement exposes their real anti-working class character.

The judge at the trial of the Guildford 4 was Lord Donaldson. In the 12970's he was head of the Tories Industrial relations Court. So one sided were his rulings that 188 Labour Mps attempted to have him impeached for political bias.

In Britain minority groups, such as blacks, Asians and Irish are always discriminated against by the state. Recent rape cases have also shown that these institutions are also biased against women.

The entire Labour and trade union movement in Britain and Ireland should now demand the immediate quashing of the convictions of the Birmingham 6. Paddy Hill, Hugh Callaghan, Gerry Hunter, Richard McIlkenny, Billy power and Johnny Walker were all arrested after the Birmingham pub bombings which killed 21 people on 21st November 1974.

All six were brutally beaten while in custody. Forensic tests showed that two of them had traces of nitro-glycerine on their hands. The tests which showed this were carried out by Dr. Frank Skuse, a Home Office forensic scientist. But his test as since been discredited.

In May 1985 World in Action commissioned two distinguished forensic scientists to carry out a series of tests for nitro-glycerine using Skuse's method. They proved that many household items such as lacquer, the coating on cigarette packets, postcards and playing cards, all give a positive reading for nitro-glycerine using Skuse's method.

Early retirement

Skuse later retired at the age of 50! When asked to comment about his early retirement the Home Secretary, Douglas Hurd, replied that it was not the practice to do so when it was 'in the public interest'!!

Four of the Birmingham 6 made statements, beaten out of them, which implicated the six. All these were later retracted. It has now come to light that this is not the first time innocent men have made confessions implicating them in crimes they did not commit.

In 1984, 23-year-old Derek Gordon confessed to the West Midlands Crime Squad - which dealt with the Birmingham 6 case. He signed a two-page confession admitting that he had killed a local publican. However he was released 8 months later after another man came forward and admitted the crime.

Last September the West Midland's Serious Crime Squad was disbanded. They are now being investigated for fabricating confession evidence in local cases which have fallen through. The Special Branch officer, Fred Willoughby, who arrested five of the Six now says he has serious doubts about the prosecution evidence.

Savage beating

No one can dispute that the Birmingham 6 were subject to savage beatings between their arrest and shortly after their arrival in Birmingham's Winston Green prison. The reality is that the Six received beatings from police officers and prison warders.

Three prison warders have admitted that the Six were beaten before they arrived at the prison. One of them saw Johnny Walker strip. "I saw bruises on many parts of his body. His torso was more or less covered. They were all colours. Black, blue yellow, purple and most of them looked oldish (several days old)". In 1976, 14 prison officers were charged with assaulting the Six. They were all found not guilty of assaulting the men. But the question remained. Who had?

When the Six attempted to take a civil action against the police for the assault - the only other possible culprits - they were stonewalled by the powers of the Establishment. Master of the Rolls, Lord Denning, made it clear that the ruling class could not allow their action to proceed.

BLOCK "Just consider the course of events if this action is allowed to proceed to trial…. If the six men win, it will mean that the police were guilty of perjury, that they were guilty of violence and threats, that the confessions were involuntary and were improperly admitted in evidence and that the convictions were erroneous. That would mean that the Home Secretary would either have to recommend that they be pardoned or he would have to remit the case to the Court of Appeal. This is such an appalling vista that every sensible person in the land would say that it cannot be right these actions should go any further". BLOCK

In other words whether the Six were innocent was unimportant. What was, was the credibility of the police, the courts and the whole apparatus of the capitalist state.

It should not be forgotten also that the Birmingham 6 and the Guildford 4 were imprisoned under a Labour Government. It was the Labour Government that introduced the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Paul Hill was the first to be arrested under this act.

The Provisional IRA must also bear a portion of responsibility. Their bombs in Birmingham, Guildford and Woolwich left 28 people dead. This gave the capitalist state the opportunity to introduce repressive legislation and the hysteria which allowed them to lock up so many innocent people.


The labour movement must campaign for the quashing of the sentences of the Birmingham 6 and Gilbert McNamee. It must demand a pardon for the Maguire 7 and as in all these cases, demand compensation. The labour movement must conduct a full investigation into all other similar cases, such as the Winchester 3, Judith ward and the UDR 4.

Peter Imbert, Lord Donaldson and all others directly involved in perverting the course of justice should be sacked. The Prevention of Terrorism Act and all other repressive legislation must be repealed. There must be a radical change in the laws regarding police evidence. Uncorroborated confessions must be ruled as inadmissible as evidence. The laws of conspiracy need to be scrapped.

The labour movement should conduct a through going investigation into the whole nature of the state apparatus and demand the introduction of democratic checks at all levels.

Here is a 1994 review of the film, In the name of the Father.

This series of articles on Northern Ireland from our archives
are available here.

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