Lime Legal

Best of homes, worst of homes Jan 2017

Published 02 January 2024

Paddy Hill was one of the ‘Birmingham Six’, wrongly imprisoned for more than 16 years for the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings by the IRA. In a new ROOF series, he remembers his best and worst homes

Paddy with his grandson

My best home was where I lived growing up in the Ardoyne. It was a modern house with hot and cold running water. Luxurious? You bet! This was the 1950s, remember. I lived there with four brothers, my sister, and my mum and dad. It was a full house. What I also remember was a real community spirit. This was a small, catholic enclave in the north of Belfast. My grandmother lived next door, and my aunt lived up the street.

I don’t know what it’s like now, I’ve only been back once in 40-odd years. My parents rented the house from the council and we lived there until I was about 15. My parents moved to England when dad got a job at a factory in Birmingham. Six months later my mum came back to collect us. That was great. We all went to live in a shared house in Birmingham.

The worst place I’ve lived, that’s easy: prison. I’m not sure there could be anywhere worse. I was a Category A prisoner, so on my own in a cell, which is better. But I was there for a long time, and it gets worse as you go along, not better. Of the 16 years, three months and 23 days I spent in prison, half of it was in solitary confinement. What people don’t understand is the fear. The violence in there is so bad that really from seven in the morning until you’re locked in again at nine you’re in a constant state of fear. I saw people beaten to death. An officer said to me once that if no-one gets killed in the first hour of the day, that’s a good start.

When I got out, I had nowhere to go, no help, nothing. If you’re convicted of a crime, serve your time and then get released, there are all sorts of things in place to help you, like long-term resesttlement, help getting a doctor, help with housing and benefits. We go to court for the appeal, and then the next minute we’re out on the street. The world’s changed, we don’t know how anything works. Lifers get resettlement programmes lasting for years, they get released slowly. For innocent people like us, there is nothing. You’d be better off getting the train to France and then coming back in as an illegal immigrant. After six months, it hits you. Euphoria and elation, and then ‘bang’. At first you don’t realise just how damaged you are. I couldn’t sleep, I had mood swings and still suffer flashbacks of things I’ve seen in prison. Vivid flashbacks – absolutely real, like video.

The psychiatrist Adrian Grant, who has studied people like me, found a common thread of not being able to settle down. He says the symptoms we have are like the symptoms of people who have been the victims of wartime atrocities.

You get no counselling, or help in that way. It makes me angry when the victims of terrible crimes are offered counselling at the drop of a hat, but victims of the state don’t get anything like that.

It took me 10 years to get full compensation. And then the government billed me £50,000 for ‘board and lodgings’ in prison, and £70,000 interest on an interim compensation payment of £300,000. Disgusting really.

When you get out, the first thing you do is get back with your family. But that’s the worst thing. You’re plunged back into all the minor tensions that all families have, you’re piggy in the middle. You want it to be good, but it’s so bad you almost wish you were back in fucking gaol. In a way, all the expectations you have while you’re waiting for your freedom make the reality worse. You spend years waiting, appealing, waiting, appealing – then you’re out. And it doesn’t feel like it should. I had nowhere to go, then I got an interim payment of £300,000. I moved to north London and ended up opening the house to other people who’d spent time in prison after wrongful conviction. Now my organisation – MOJO – is raising money to fund Retreat, a specialist place where the victims of injustice can go and get help when they’re released.

I think one of the reasons I look back on the house in Ardoyne with such good feelings is the contrast between then and what happened to me in 1975. I had a very good, very happy childhood.

Interview by Emma Hawkey