Call that justice?
Call that justice?

(for the Irish Post)

Lawyers in England have condemned a decision to deny three Irishmen wrongly convicted of murder thousands of pounds in compensation -- because of the money they saved while locked away.

Michael O’Brien and cousins Vincent and Michael Hickey spent up to 18 years in prison for crimes they did not commit.

But the London Court of Appeal has ruled they must repay 25 per cent of the compensation awarded to them because they did not have to meet their living costs while in jail. The judgment has sparked outrage from some members of the legal profession and campaigners working for justice organisations.

Michael O’Brien spent 11 years in jail for the murder of a Cardiff newsagent before his conviction was finally quashed in 1999. Cousins Vincent and Michael Hickey were two of the so-called Bridgewater Four -- who spent 18 years in jail for the murder of newspaper boy Carl Bridgewater in Staffordshire before they were released following a successful appeal in 1997.

Mr O’Brien was later awarded #647,900 in compensation for his ordeal -- with Michael Hickey receiving #990,000 and his cousin Vincent #506,200. But judges at the Court of Appeal in London have now ruled that 37-year-old Mr O’Brien must forfeit #37,158 of his award because of the money he saved on board and lodgings while in prison.

In the same ruling they also ordered the Hickeys to give up 25 per cent of their compensation award. Mr O’Brien’s solicitor Nogah Ofer branded the decision as unjust. He said: “The judges claim that if he had not been in prison he would have spent money on necessities such as housing.

“He would then have had a home, his own kitchen and bathroom. In fact, he had a prison cell. He is being charged for something he never had.” While he was in prison Mr O’Brien’s marriage ended and his Wexford-born father Jimmy died.

He said: “I’m still trying to develop a relationship again with my now teenage son who was a little boy when I was put in prison. “I feel very angry at the way I have been treated by the establishment.” The Hickeys legal team said they were considering appealing the decision to the House of Lords.

Lawyer Susie Labinjoh said her clients had had to endure the stigma of being known as child-killers and were subjected to appalling conditions in jail.

She said: “They could not comprehend how anyone aware of the circumstances of their imprisonment could suggest that they profited from it in any way.

“They felt that it added insult to injury.”

Mark Leech, editor of The Prisons Handbook, said: “It has to be the sickest of all sick jokes -- can you imagine Terry Waite getting a bill for the living expenses he saved during his five years wrongly held in Iran?

“What was provided to Mr O’Brien while in prison was required to be provided by law. Who would have chosen to eat porridge every day and sleep on a prison mattress for a decade unless they had to?”

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© 2004 Irish Republican News