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12 November 2010

Goodna murder sequel: Graham Stafford meets wrongly convicted IRA operatives

Graham Stafford with Gerry Conlon and Paddy Hill, who were wrongly
convicted of IRA bombings in Britain in the 1970s. Photo: Supplied
When Graham Stafford met Gerry Conlon and Paddy Hill in a Brisbane
hotel room, he was a bit tongue-tied.

But, as they "compared ordeals", Stafford began to realise he had a
lot in common with the famous pair - both wrongly convicted over IRA
pub bombings in Britain in the 1970s.

"Their ordeal was far worse," says Stafford. "But as [a convicted
child killer], I guess I was the lowest of the low on the prison
ladder.

Now 47, Stafford served 15 years in Queensland jails over the murder
of Goodna 12-year-old Leanne Holland before his conviction was quashed
late last year. A special cold case unit is now reviewing the flawed
police investigation that led to his conviction on circumstantial
evidence in 1992.

Conlon (one of the so-called Guildford Four) and Hill (the Birmingham
Six) met with Stafford after hearing of his case during a visit to
Australia on behalf of the Glasgow-based Miscarriages of Justice
Organisation (MOJO) in June.

Holed up in one of their hotel rooms, Stafford listened to Conlon and
Hill's jail experiences (immortalised by In the Name of the Father, in
which Daniel Day-Lewis played Gerry Conlon), and told of his own
torments. They included bashings ignored by prison staff, food
contaminated by glass splinters and filth, and being woken hourly by
guards during the early part of his incarceration.

"Anyone accused of murdering a child cops it from both sides,
prisoners and guards," says Stafford, whose conviction has been
described by criminologist Paul Wilson as being based on evidence
"even more flimsy and misleading than [that which] convicted Lindy
Chamberlain."

Also present at the hotel room meeting was Stafford's mother, Jean,
who pleaded unsuccessfully for an independent (non-police)
investigation of her son's case before the current police review -
supervised by a senior Sydney homicide detective - was announced by
Queensland Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson in May.

Mrs Stafford told Conlon and Hill Australia urgently needed a body
akin to Britain's Independent Police Complaints Commission to
investigate blatant miscarriages of justice.

"They agreed 100 per cent," she says.

"They also described their own emotional and mental anguish after
getting out of jail, and warned me that Graham would take time to get
over his ordeals and adjust to the world."

Don't miss Frank Robson's in-depth interview with Graham Stafford
about the horrors of life on the inside on brisbanetimes.com.au on
Monday.

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