Irish human rights campaigner Gerry Conlon died this morning, aged 60. He passed away in his home in the Falls Road area of Belfast following a lengthy illness.
Mr Conlon was one of the ‘Guildford Four’ who served 14 years of a life sentence for an IRA action in England, before their convictions were overturned in 1989.
Following his release and right up until his death, he continued to campaign on behalf of other miscarriage of justice victims, most recently the Craigavon Two.
Mr Conlon’s family issued a statement through his lawyer Gareth Peirce. They said: “This morning we lost our Gerry.
“He brought life, love, intelligence, wit and strength to our family through its darkest hours. He helped us to survive what we were not meant to survive.
“We recognise that what he achieved by fighting for justice for us had a far, far greater importance - it forced the world’s closed eyes to be opened to injustice; it forced unimaginable wickedness to be acknowledged; we believe it changed the course of history.
“We thank him for his life and we thank all his many friends for their love.”
Mr Conlon had been battling cancer for many years.
Mr Conlon’s father Giuseppe, who was jailed as part of a discredited investigation into a supposed bomb making family, the Maguire Seven, died after five years in jail.
His mother Sarah, a tireless campaigner for their freedom, died in 2008, aged 82.
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams expressed his shock and deep sadness at the news.
“Gerry and his father Giuseppe were two of the most infamous examples of miscarriages of justice by the British political and judicial system,” Mr Adams said.
Alex Attwood, SDLP Stormont Assembly member for the area, paid tribute to him.
“He’d given an awful lot but yet had so much more to give,” Mr Attwood said.
“What he learned from his time in prison and campaign for release was the importance of not only raging against his own injustice but fighting for those who had also suffered miscarriages of justice.”
Mr Attwood added: “He’s now with his dad and his mum.”
In 2009 Mr Conlon wrote about the personal and emotional battles he suffered as a result of his incarceration and fight for freedom.
He suffered two breakdowns, attempted suicide and became addicted to drugs and alcohol following his release. Mr Conlon also only began enduring nightmares after securing freedom.
“The ordeal has never left me,” he said.
The jailing of Conlon and the other members of the Guildford Four - Paddy Armstrong, Paul Hill and Carole Richardson - is considered the biggest miscarriage of justice in British legal history.
They were jailed for life in 1975, but were freed in October 1989 after the Court of Appeal quashed their sentences amid doubts raised about the police evidence against them.
An investigation by Avon and Somerset Police found serious flaws in the way Surrey Police handled the case.
As he emerged free from the Court of Appeal Gerry Conlon declared: “I have been in prison for something I did not do. I am totally innocent.”
Mr Conlon was played by Daniel Day-Lewis in the film ‘In The Name Of The Father’, an account of his arrest and personal justice campaign.
In July 2000 British Prime Minister Tony Blair became the first senior politician to apologise to Mr Conlon and the other Guildford Four.