Irish protesters say Magna Carta anniversary celebrations are an ‘insult’

Rally against British Government’s decision that requires victims of miscarriages to prove they were innocent

Victor Nealon (seated), Barry George (L) and Martin Foran (R)  after a protest in Westminster at the Global Law Summit in the Queen Elizabeth II Centre which has marked the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta Photograph: Mark Hennessy

Victor Nealon (seated), Barry George (L) and Martin Foran (R) after a protest in Westminster at the Global Law Summit in the Queen Elizabeth II Centre which has marked the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta Photograph: Mark Hennessy

 

The 800th anniversary celebrations of Magna Carta are an insult, Irish victims of miscarriages of justice have declared.

For Dublin-born Martin Foran (71), who served 18 years in British jails until the Court of Appeal declared he had been wrongfully convicted of two crimes, the celebrations surrounding the Magna Carta provoke bitterness.

Hundreds of people filed past four original copies of the document - regarded as the corner-stone of British liberties - in the Queen’s Robing Room in the Houses of Parliament in Westminster earlier this month.

Thousands more have inspected a facsimile copy in the room’s dim light since.

No man, said the document signed in Runnymede in 1215, by a reluctant King John should be “stripped of his rights or possessions”, or “deprived of his standing” except by “the lawful judgment of his equals”.

“It is an insult,” Mr Horan told The Irish Times, after he had protested about the British Government’s decision that requires victims of miscarriages to prove that they were innocent of the crimes for which a court has decided that they were wrongfully jailed.

Mr Foran was joined by Victor Nealon, a Dublin-born former postman, who served 17 years for attempted rape until his conviction was quashed and, perhaps, the best-known miscarriage of justice victim, Barry George, who was jailed for killing broadcaster Jill Dando.

Mr Nealon said he had been acquitted of a crime he did not commit.

“Yet I have had to move three times since I was let out because of money and condemned to live a life on benefits. It is immoral, it is degrading,” he said.

Mr Nealon’s life descended into a nightmare after a woman was attacked by a man coming home from a night-club in Redditch, near Birmingham.

Her description of her assailant was vague.

Other witnesses described a suspect who bore no relation to Mr Nealon.

Neverthless, he was convicted and given a life sentence. However, he could have been out in seven years, but his application for release was consistently turned down at parole hearings because he refused to accept his guilt.

Seven years after his release with just £46 in his pocket and a train ticket, Barry George today lives in Ballincollig, Co. Cork near the children of his sister, Michelle Bates, who campaigned relentlessly during the years he served.

“The people in Ballincollig are good to me. They know I didn’t do it,” Mr George said as he finished a cafeteria lunch in the Methodist Central Hall, who still holds onto hope that he will be able to force the British Government to make amends for the years taken away.

Clearly protective of her brother, his sister told The Irish Times:

“We thought this had ended with the Guilford Four and the Birmingham Six, but it is worse now. This is why we are still protesting.

“These men are released from prison. They have to try to rebuild shattered lives, after years, or even decades in jail. They come out to a world they hardly recognise, damaged,” she said.