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Last Updated: Monday, 22 May 2006, 06:11 GMT 07:11 UK
Birmingham Six's McIlkenny dies
Richard McIlkenny
Richard McIlkenny was born in Belfast
Richard McIlkenny, one of the Birmingham Six wrongly imprisoned for IRA bombings in the 1970s has died in a Dublin hospital.

Born in Belfast, Mr McIlkenny, who was aged 73, was released 15 years ago.

Six Irishmen resident in Birmingham were sentenced to life imprisonment in 1975 for pub bombings in the city which killed 21 people. They served 16 years.

Despite pleas that the confessions had been obtained through beatings, they were not freed until March 1991.

The six were Paddy Hill, Billy Power, Mr McIlkenny, Hugh Callaghan, Gerry Hunter and John Walker.

Paddy Hill said he would miss his friend.

"I used to live beside him in Birmingham. We used to drink together. I'm so sad about it. He was always helpful to people and quite religious," Mr Hill said.

"He worked a lot with the nuns in Wormwood Scrubs prison. He was highly regarded in the jail, not only by the prisoners, but also by the prison staff."

Richard McIlkenny was a factory worker in towns in the north of England and was living in Birmingham when he was detained along with friends by Special Branch detectives on 21 November 1974 after two pubs in the city were bombed.

Richard McIlkenny after four days in custody
We've waited a long time for this - 16 years because of hypocrisy and brutality - but every dog has its day and we're going to have ours
Richard McIlkenny

He was interrogated by police for three days until he signed a false confession admitting to bombing the pubs in which 21 people died and 162 were injured.

On 24 November, 1974, Mr McIlkenny appeared in court along with Patrick Hill, Gerry Hunter, Hugh Callaghan, Billy Power and Johnny Walker, and was remanded into custody.

During their trial the men claimed their confessions had been beaten out of them, but the court did not believe them.

In August 1975 the Birmingham Six were sentenced to life in prison on the basis of their false confessions.

They were denied leave to appeal and forced to wait until 1987, when, in the light of new evidence, their case was referred to the Court of Appeal before being rejected.

Mass public protests in Ireland and in England kept their case alive until August 1990, when forensic investigations showed their confessions had been tampered with.

The following year, in March 1991, their convictions were quashed, and they were released after 16 years in jail onto the streets outside the Old Bailey in London.

Richard McIlkenny was first to speak. "It's good to see you all," he said.

"We've waited a long time for this - 16 years because of hypocrisy and brutality. But every dog has its day and we're going to have ours."

Following his release Mr McIlkenny settled near Dublin.

Mr McIlkenny is survived by his wife Kathleen, his daughters and his only son, who were all at his bedside on Sunday in the James Connolly Hospital in Blanchardstown when he died.

It is understood he had been battling cancer for some time.

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