An Phoblacht/Republican News Thursday 4 July 2002

[An Phoblacht/Republican News]

Johnson and Ram free at last

BY FERN LANE

Two long-standing British miscarriage of justice case have been resolved in recent days, with the release of Satpal Ram and the overturning of the murder conviction of Irishman Frank Johnson by the Appeal Court. They had served 16 and 26 years respectively, during which time both had been denied parole for insisting that they were innocent.

Satpal Ram was convicted of murder as a 20-year-old after the fatal stabbing of 21-year-old Clarke Pearce in November 1986. Ram had been in the Sky Blue Asian restaurant in Birmingham with a group of friends when Pearce arrived with six other people. Ram maintains that the group began to racially abuse the restaurant staff. A fight ensued during which Ram was stabbed twice with broken glass and Pearce was fatally stabbed with a packing knife Ram used in his job as a warehouseman. Ram has always maintained that he acted in self-defence after being racially abused and then attacked by Pearce.

Although the judge recommended he serve a sentence of 11 years, in August 2001 the then British Home Secretary Jack Straw ignored a parole board recommendation that Ram be released. After his release, Ram said he would continue the legal fight to clear his name. He is angry about the length of time he was forced to stay in prison.

"I personally feel that there should be a public inquiry as to why I was unlawfully held in prison since October 2000," he said. "The courts ruled that the home secretary acted unlawfully and illegally and he should be charged with false imprisonment and face the due process of the law.

"I had to endure countless indignities and was put through a process where I was systematically abused. I have lost members of my family. I have lost my mother and father and nobody can ever compensate for 16 years behind bars."

On 26 June, the conviction of Frank Johnson, now 66, was overturned by three appeal court judges, who declared it unsafe. In 1976, Johnson was convicted of the murder of Jack Sheridan, who died three weeks after he was set alight in his shop in East London in February 1975.

The appeal hearing was told by Edward Fitzgerald QC that Johnson had developed a paranoid psychosis at the time of the trial making the original verdict unsafe.

Like Satpal Ram, Frank Johnson was also denied parole because he refused to admit his guilt. He has been supported in his campaign by Billy Power, one of the Birmingham Six.

After his release, Johnson said that he was not bitter about his treatment, just sad.

"Sometimes understanding is more important than knowledge," he said. "There is nothing I can do about the past. That time is gone; it's finished. Sometimes you just have to go along with it and I have to look ahead now."


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