Last week it was reported that Paddy Hill of the Birmingham Six would receive a huge payout for his 16 years in prison. But, he says, nothing can compensate him for what he has been through
Eleven years after his release from jail, Paddy Hill is back in the news. It has been reported that Hill, the best known of the Birmingham Six who were wrongly convicted of planting the pub bombs that killed 21 people in 1974, is to receive £1m compensation. I phone him to ask if he would agree to an interview. Silence. Then he erupts. "No. I would not. Not after that fucking shit in the newspapers last week. I am not getting £1m, nothing has been agreed, and I did not talk to the newspaper that quoted me."
I hold the phone away from my burning ear, and say I would also like to talk to him about Mojo, the organisation he set up to fight miscarriages of justice. In the early 90s he gave a rare and desperate interview in which he admitted he could no longer feel anything for anybody in the world beyond his mum, his girlfriend Alison and those wrongfully jailed. Since then, he has split up with Alison and his mother has died.
Despite his anger, it's been a good week for Hill. He has just heard that one of his close friends, Satpal Ram, will be released from prison after the government conceded its right to keep him jailed against the parole board's recommendation. Ram is a typical Mojo case - he always claimed he stabbed a man in self-defence after he was attacked in a Birmingham restaurant in 1986, but he was later convicted of murder. The more we talk about Mojo, the more Hill softens. Eventually, he says, I should pop round to his office just down the road from the Guardian in Farringdon, London.
In the photos we used to see of Hill in the newspapers, when he was one of Britain's most hated men, he had jet black hair in a pudding basin cut, mutton-chop sideboards, and a scar across his lower cheek. He was 12 stone, and a stocky bruiser. Today he is skinny, with white hair. He still looks tough, though. His blue eyes - part ice, part fire - defy you to see what they have seen. "Prison kills you a little bit each day, and sooner or later you wake up and you don't feel nothing," he says, stressing every word, slowly, deliberately. "Me, I died in prison, inside."
There are no easy comforts in Hill's world. When he travels from jail to jail, spreading the word, he tells prisoners that the transition to life outside is brutal. He presents himself both as a survivor and the personification of a post-prison wreckage. "It's only about a year or so after you get out, if you've got the intelligence, and, most importantly, if you've got the balls to admit to yourself, that you realise, I'm in shit here, I'm in trouble. But a lot of people turn to drink or drugs because they can't face reality."
Hill's chest sounds raw with infection. He swigs from a medicine bottle, then relights a kingsize rollup. "Once you go into a prison and you're innocent, every fucking part of your relationship is based on fucking lies. Families come to see you and you're given the biggest load of bollocks, everything is all right, blah blah. And you're doing exactly the same thing, telling your family, 'Everything is all right, yes, yes, don't worry'. How can everything be all right when you're serving fucking 21 life sentences for nothing?" As his voice rises, the veins bulge in his neck.
"You don't tell them the truth, for the simple reason is they've got enough on their plate outside and you've got enough on your plate inside. You're lying for the best of reasons: to protect your family." He says even now he has never been able to talk about prison to his family. "It's like a mental block. You find your family has all grown up without you. You feel like an intruder, you're completely isolated. They talk about things they can relate to, and the only fucking thing you can relate to is four walls, a door, and a fucking barred fucking window. So it's like two strangers from different countries, one speaking in his language, and you're speaking in yours, and you don't understand each other."
Had he thought he could come out after 16 years and pick up the pieces, just like that? Oh no, he says, his wife had divorced him and his six children had grown up. After a while he was forced to confront another terrible truth. "I didn't feel nothing for my kids. I feel empty. My kids are like strangers to me." He points outside. "My son's a chef across the road, and he just came over to see me, and I don't feel nothing."
He says he's proud of the way his children have coped, but he knows that's not enough. "I feel sorry for my kids because they are never ever going to have a real father-and-son or father-and-daughter relationship with me. But at least I'm honest enough to admit that to myself."
It's a punishing honesty, for everybody. He tells me about the time his daughter broke down on him. "She said, 'Where are you going', and I said, 'I'm going to see Jimmy Robinson [one of four men imprisoned for the murder of Carl Bridgewater, but whose convictions were quashed in 1997 after they had served 17 years] in prison'. My daughter just lost it; she was hysterical. She said to me, 'Dad, I don't have many memories of you when you went away, but I tell you what, I've got lots of memories after you went. I remember being locked up in homes, being spat at, being locked in cupboards, being thrown into baths of cold water.'" He comes to a stop. "My kids ended up in a home. You hear all this bollocks about kids from broken homes, but our families weren't broken, they were torn to pieces overnight. Within a matter of days we were the most hated people in the country and our families suffered all that."
Hill says his family got it worse because he was so well known in Birmingham. Everyone knew Paddy Hill. He was the guy who sang in the pubs and clubs, told jokes; the one who'd done any number of jobs, the one with the violent streak who'd have a go at anyone who called him for his Irishness. He had come over from Belfast at 15 to discover a city that carried job vacancies saying,"No paddies, no wogs". He had thought England would welcome him; a young lad whose father and brother had been British army stalwarts.
By the time he was set up for the pub bombings, he had 17 convictions, mainly for violence. "I have no scruples about violence. I used to carry blades, swords, hatchets." Hill's honesty verges on the psychopathic. He wants you to know every unpleasant trait. He tells me how he would go on the rampage in prison. "I didn't have any scruples about getting a blade or stabbing screws."
Even now, he says, he could turn at any moment. "The only thing that frightens me is me. That's why I don't touch alcohol. I could use violence quite easy. If somebody starts getting on my face, I'm fucking right in. If I had a gun in my hand I'd shoot you. I don't give a fuck about going to jail. You could take me to jail today and throw away the key. And I wouldn't lose any sleep over it, providing I'm guilty."
And that's the point. I tell him he sounds far too untameable to be an IRA man. "I have not had anything to do with the IRA. Never. I'm Republican and I believe in a united Ireland, but that doesn't make me a fucking bomber. The cops told us, 'We know you're innocent, but we don't give a fuck who done it, we only want bodies.'"
Hill is occasionally terrifying, often tender and vulnerable. He returns to the story of his daughter. "She said, 'You spend half an hour with us and fuck off to your prison. Why?' And I sat down, I'm not ashamed, I broke my heart, I cried my eyes out in front of my kids. And I told them the reason I was going to see Jimmy Robinson was because in here [he holds his heart] I feel something for him, in here I feel fuck all for any of you, and that's the God's honest truth." He's almost crying again. "You know, I've probably spent half of my time out here wishing that I'd never come out of jail. I don't feel a part of it."
Last week he was reported as saying that it was time to put the past behind him. Is that possible, I ask? "I have never said that in my life," he screams. The veins are bulging in his neck again. "I keep telling people you can't put it behind you. And to hear all this old bollocks, 'Time is a wonderful healer', time doesn't heal fuck all. The only thing that time does, if you're strong enough, is helps you to cope with it a little bit better."
As for the compensation, he's still waiting for the offer. All he knows is that it will be less than £1m, and a good chunk of that will be made up of the interest accrued over the years. Would £1m satisfy him? "As far as I'm concerned, the Queen hasn't got enough money to compensate one of us, never mind the six of us. If I got £1m compensation plus the interest I wouldn't be screaming. I wouldn't be happy, but at least I'd accept it."
Actually, he says, money means nothing to him. Of the £300,000 he has received, he has spent more than £100,000 campaigning for miscarriages of justice. "That's why I'm on fucking £75 a week income support."
As for the first £50,000 each of the Birmingham Six received, he says they blew it when they came out of jail. "We were bringing our grandkids out and buying them stuff down Oxford Street, and all we were trying to do was buy love and affection. It doesn't work."
What galls him even more than the money is the lack of a public apology. "All they would have to do is say, 'Listen, we got it wrong and we're sorry'. Believe me, they are going to apologise publicly because I'll take them all the way to fucking Europe for it, and they're going to accept liability."
Hill shows me the tattoos on his arms, most of them done in prison with a darning needle. I ask him what they are, and he gives me a giggly guided tour. "That was a little girl kneeling at an altar rail, this was my wife, this one with four names was done when I only had four kids in the 60s." He lifts up his T-shirt to show me an epic tattoo on his chest. "That's part of The Wind In The Willows, the babbling brook and the little rickety bridge and river running under it. I had this half done when the screws kicked the door in and they took all the ink and we couldn't finish them."
I ask Hill if Mojo has given him a sense of purpose, a sense of hope. No, he says, it's just something he has to do. "Psychiatrists have told me I have lived in a state of depression, tension, for so long in prison that it has now become the norm and they don't think I will ever be repaired." Repaired - the perfect word.
It all sounds so bleak. But even he admits there is a future to look forward to. He is talking to a film-maker who plans to make a movie about the Birmingham Six, based on Hill's book, and he is also planning to move to Scotland. Why Scotland, I ask. He smiles shyly. "I met a girl there after Christmas, New Year, and we just hit it off. We get on like a house on fire. This is the first time I've actually wanted to get involved in a relationship... the first time since I've come out."
Maybe that's a sign you are returning to the world, I say. He nods silently, diffidently, hopefully.
Paddy Hill, who spent 16 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings, is set to receive £1 million compensation from the Government after 10 years of negotiations.
Hill, who plans to move to Scotland to start a new life, said that, although not totally satisfied, he would accept the settlement. 'This is still not enough compensation after spending all that time in jail for a crime I did not commit and for the brutality suffered at the hands of the police and prison authorities, but it is time to move on,' he said.
The 56-year-old father of six rejected two earlier offers, saying they were 'absolute insults'.
Lawyers for Hill and other members of the Birmingham Six will continue to press for a public apology from the Government for the men's treatment at the hands of the police and prison authorities.
Hill was convicted in August 1975 and received 21 life sentences for the pub bombs in Birmingham city centre, in which 21 people were killed and 189 injured. No one claimed they had carried out the bombings. Police arrested the men after Hill and four others tried to board a ferry to Northern Ireland on the night of the bombings to attend the funeral of a known IRA bomber. All the defendants have repeatedly proclaimed their innocence.
Hill was released in March 1991 when the police case against him was overturned in the Court of Appeal. He did not receive any counselling and found it difficult to adapt to life on the outside. Three years ago he founded the Miscarriages of Justice Organisation to help other ex-prisoners in a similar situation.
His solicitor Gareth Peirce wrote to Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Brian Cowen in March, urging him to intervene in 'continuing unresolved injustices' over the British Government's refusal to acknowledge liability for the mistreatment of the Birmingham Six.
Peirce said it was important to extract a full apology because 'influential people continue to reiterate behind closed doors... that the men were in fact guilty and escaped life imprisonment only on a technicality'.
She said the offer from the British Government was a tribute to Hill's persistent fight for justice: 'Paddy Hill has achieved his victories against impossible odds that no other person could have achieved. The reopening of the case and the final successful appeal were in large part due to his fight from within prison. This recalculation should be a bare minimum for the recognition of the enormity of the crimes committed against him.'
Last December Hill rejected an offer of £549,932 in compensation. Although the full offer was over £900,000, the difference was to be withheld because of various reductions. Hill said he was still angry about the way he had been treated. The amount has now been recalculated and the new offer is believed to be in the region of £1m.
'The Government still hasn't made any attempt to apologise or compensate adequately for the distress and heartbreak our families have suffered. I remain very, very angry that our families have been torn to pieces,' he said.
In a book about his 16-year struggle for justice, Hill described an attack on prisoners by officials at Winson Green prison in Birmingham: 'I was punched and kicked across the room... Somebody grabbed me by the hair and smashed my head down on the top of the door. My nose burst apart and the blood ran from it like a tap.'
Paddy Hill, one of the Birmingham Six wrongly convicted of the 1974 IRA pub bombing, has angrily rejected a compensation offer of less than £1 million for the 16 years he spent in jail.
More than 10 years after his release, Hill has received an offer from Home Office officials after an independent assessor calculated that the 56-year-old was entitled to £941,932 for the time he spent in jail and the emotional trauma he endured.
In a letter last month to Hill's solicitors, the Home Office's justice and victims unit said the offer would take into account a 10 per cent reduction to cover interest payments on maintenance money Hill received after his release. An MP has described the letter as 'spiteful'.
Hill said this weekend he was 'outraged' by the offer. He believes the sum is considerably less than settlements made to other victims of miscarriages of justice.
He told The Observer: 'I'm disgusted. After all these years they are still insulting me. This is not about money, but ensuring mistreatment and corruption on such a scale never happens again. None of my torturers have been jailed for what they did.'
Hill and five others were convicted in August 1975 of bombing two Birmingham city centre pubs in which 21 people died. The convictions were overturned in 1991.
According to the assessor employed by the Home Office, the minimum claim for loss of liberty of this length of time is £360,000, but Hill has been awarded £130,000. He has also been given £75,000 for harm to his reputation despite £125,000 being the maximum figure available.
What has angered Hill most, however, is a Home Office bill for £92,000 interest on the £300,000 he has received since his release. Bob Russell, Liberal Democrat MP for Colchester and a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said: 'This strikes me as spiteful. I would need to know why the sum seems in variance to others.'
The Home Office said the Home Secretary had no power to alter the amounts.
A former Conservative MP apologised to the Birmingham Six at the High Court in London yesterday after claiming in an interview that they were guilty, even though they had been cleared by the Court of Appeal.
David Evans, who lost his Welwyn Hatfield seat at the last election, also paid an undisclosed "appropriate" sum to the six to settle a libel action over statements he made to pupils at Stanborough School, Welwyn, Hertfordshire, last year.
The six served 16 years in jail after being wrongfully convicted in 1975 of the murder of 21 people who died after bombs exploded in pubs in Birmingham. The appeal court quashed their convictions in 1991.
Benedict Birnberg, a solicitor representing the six, told Mr Justice Popplewell that, during an interview at the school, Mr Evans "expressed the view that the plaintiffs were guilty of the Birmingham pub bombings". During the interview, he said, Mr Evans added: "You think the Birmingham Six hadn't killed hundreds before they caught them?"
Mr Birnberg told the judge: "Despite the quashing of their convictions by the Court of Appeal seven years ago, the plaintiffs are concerned that some people have refused to recognise the truth of that simple fact."
He said Mr Evans "unreservedly retracts the allegations he made and wishes to state that he accepts as proper the verdict of the Court of Appeal quashing the plaintiffs' convictions for the Birmingham murders. The defendant has undertaken to the court that he will not repeat the allegations complained of nor make any similar allegations concerning the plaintiffs."
He added that Mr Evans, "accepting that the allegations he made were both grave and unfounded, has paid to the plaintiffs an appropriate sum by way of damages."
Clive Ince, representing Mr Evans, told the judge: "Mr Evans genuinely regrets the remarks he made about the plaintiffs and is happy to take this opportunity to retract them. He fully accepts the verdict of the Court of Appeal quashing the plaintiffs' convictions, and through me, apologises to the plaintiffs for what he said.
"He regrets that his off-the-cuff remarks, spoken in the course of an interview with two school pupils and their teacher, were given national publicity, but nonetheless the defendant accepts that he should not have questioned the plaintiffs' innocence."