Gerry Conlon, arguably the most well-known of the Guildford Four, published his autobiography ‘Proved Innocent’ in 1990. It made an enormous impression on me in my early twenties, so it didn’t take much to get me to Merrion Press’s launch of Richard O’Rawe’s ‘In the Name of the Son’ in Belfast at the start of October.
The forward by Johnny Depp might raise a few eyebrows, and does indicate the kind of circles Conlon moved in after his release from prison, however the key selling point for me is the author himself. O’Rawe grew up in the same street as Conlon, and remained a lifelong friend. This not only gave him access to Conlon himself, but also to Conlon’s friends and family who survived him, after his death in June 2014. ‘In the Name of the Son’ picks up where ‘Proved Innocent’ left off, though enough of the original story is covered for new readers not to become lost.
Leaving the Old Bailey, the moments Conlon is most associated with in the public mind, was the end of his incarceration, but the start of a new struggle –putting his life back together again after fifteen years in prison. He regained his freedom, but his father did not. O’Rawe captures this journey well, with any number of poignant moments. On the night Conlon was released he couldn’t sleep and finished up out walking, remarking “I haven’t walked in the rain in fifteen years.”
It’s impossible to portray Conlon’s post-prison life as a triumph, though in the end he began to master his demons and become much more productive, particularly in his work with the Miscarriages of Justice Organisation (MOJO). His commitment to see the Birmingham Six freed is also well documented. The story is mostly dark, however, as O’Rawe outlines further examples of evidence tampering that would have cleared the Guildford Four to begin with, and records detail of Conlon’s descent into drug addiction.
That said, ‘In the Name of the Son’ has enormous purpose in demonstrating that, in the sense of righting a wrong, there was no justice. Freedom was won, and names were cleared, but the damage was done. The book records the effects on those who were imprisoned, but also brings to light the story of the families left behind. Sara Conlon, Gerry’s mother, was suddenly left at home with her two daughters as first her son was arrested, and then her husband. Giuseppe never returning home.
It is Gerry Conlon’s inability to come to terms with the imprisonment and subsequent death of his father, that was, for me, the most moving part of the book. “Found it a relief to talk about my Dad,” Conlon wrote while in therapy in 2006, “He’s been bottled up inside me for too long; it’s almost as if up to now I’ve been denying his existence. I miss him so very much.” Evidence suggests he never fully forgave himself.
It is a heart-breaking read, and must have been, at times, a heart-breaking write, though Conlon’s intelligence, quick wit, charm and ability to be the life and soul of the room also come through.