In the presence of extraordinary men

Note: This posting was amended on 30 August 2013

In this business of journalism you are sometimes lucky enough to meet truly extraordinary people whose stories make them remarkable in many different ways.

There are some people who are remarkable for all that has been bad in their lives, horrific experiences that brought them to the attention of the world. Michael Shields was one whom I met last year.

Then there are three men whom I met two weeks ago, famous for all the wrong reasons, known not as individuals but as part of a group of men who suffered some of the biggest miscarriages of justice in modern times, miscarriages that ruined their lives and the lives of many others.

Paddy Hill, Gerry Conlon and Patrick Maguire were part of the ‘Birmingham Six’, the ‘Guildford Four’ and the ‘Maguire Seven’ respectively. Groups of men accused of heinous crimes committed by the IRA, plucked from their normal lives, put on show to the world as criminals, tortured into confessions and forced to spend years behind bars for crimes they had no involvement in.

Their experiences as they described to me were truly horrific, shocking and appalling. For them the physical torture may have ended long ago but the mental torture is never ending. Their experiences have brought them together and provided them with the only meaningful counselling they have ever received according to Conlon.

It was truly a pleasure to spend an hour in the company of such fine men, so willing and able to talk about the horrors they endured and witnessed and so passionate in their beliefs and in their anger at the British government for their neglect of victims such as themselves.

It’s an interview I don’t think I’ll ever forget for it is rare to encounter people as remarkably brave as Paddy Hill, Gerry Conlon and Patrick Maguire were and continue to be.