How civil rights are eroded…

28 June 2008

Ronan Bennett reviews Patrick Maguire’s book My Father’s Watch in the Guardian. Maguire was 13 when he was arrested (in 1974) for his ‘part’ in the mythical bomb-making factory that police alleged – completely erroneously, and largely without evidence – had been run from his house. Much later the convictions of all involved were found to be unsafe. So why did it happen? Bennett’s argument resonates down the years:

It happened because of prejudice – against the Irish community specifically, against working-class Irish in particular; brutality – Irish prisoners had been threatened with guns and physical violence; they had been kicked, slapped, punched and verbally abused; stupidity – on the part of the police, the judiciary and the legal profession; compliant media – or worse: some papers actively fomented hatred of the accused; panic – there were bombings so politicians had to do something, now; science – which was said at trial to prove conclusively that the accused had handled explosives and which subsequently was rubbished as the work of incompetents and buffoons; and finally because of insufficient safeguards on the treatment of suspects, who were denied contact with lawyers and interrogated for extended periods. Is this ringing any bells, Mr Brown? Ms Smith?

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