London: Catholic Workers open new house

Giuseppe Conlon, who died in prison a victim of a miscarriage of justice

Giuseppe Conlon, who died in prison a victim of a miscarriage of justice

The London Catholic Worker has opened a new house that will serve as a hostel for the destitute homeless in north London.

The house has been named after Giuseppe Conlon, father of Gerry Conlon, who was wrongfully convicted and served 15 years for the Guildford pub bombings in 1974. While in England campaigning for his son, Giuseppe was arrested and falsely convicted together with the Maguire family of involvement with explosives. He recdived a 12 year sentence, but died after five years in prison. His body was returned to England three times because the authorities in Belfast would not unload it from the plane.

The Maguire’s and Guildford Four were all eventually cleared by the Court of Appeal, after a hard fought campaign. Cardinal Basil Hume notably intervened with the Home Secretary of the time on behalf of the families involved.

The celebration was attended by more than 150 people and included an address from lawyer Gareth Peirce and music from Irish folk singer Joe Black and Lovers Electric.

In her speech, awyer Gareth Peirce, who represented Giuseppe and Gerry Conlon, described the naming of the house after Giuseppe as “a beautiful thing to do.”

She described how Giuseppe, who had come to help his son, who was “hooded, shackled and beaten” while being interrogated over the Guildford pub bombing. “Giuseppe Conlon came to England to find a lawyer for his son and never went home,” said Mrs Peirce.

“It is so beautiful that a shelter for the homeless is being opened in his name is because over those years his wife Sarah visited to see her husband and son but there was nowhere for her to live or stay,” said Mrs Peirce. In the early 70s there were still signs in B&B windows saying: 'no Irish'.

Mrs Peirce said Sarah Conlon used her holidays to come over from Belfast to visit, but she would visit a prison where Giuseppe or Gerry were being held, only to find they had been moved at the last moment.

“The only person who gave her any help was Sister Sarah Clarke. She’d pester people to find a bed for Sarah and she drove her round the country,” she added.

The Conlon family are overwhelmed that the shelter was to be named after Giuseppe, she said. “It is so fitting that this tribute is being paid to Giuseppe.”

Father Joe Ryan, Parish priest of St John Vianney Church, where the house is based, saisd it is there is on a two-year lease. “The Catholic Workers are renovating the house and there has been support from the parish as well,” said Fr Ryan.

Westminster Justice and Peace worker Barbara Kentish said that they are looking for surrounding parishes to provide support for the work with the most destitute and homeless.

The Catholic Workers also have a Dorothy Day house in Dalston, north London and a base in Oxford. “This house is a space for the homeless, a place of mutual aid, where we all get something back,” said Ciaran O’Reilly of the Catholic Workers.

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Tags: Gareth Peirce, Gerry Conlon, Giuseppe Conlon, Guildford pub bombings, Joe Black, London Catholic Worker, Lovers Electric

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