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Last Updated: Saturday, 12 February, 2005, 12:58 GMT
Conlon thanks over SDLP support
Gerry Conlon had campaigned for a public apology
Gerry Conlon has paid tribute to senior members of the SDLP for standing by him as he tried to clear his name.

The so-called Guildford Four member made the comments during the SDLP's annual conference in Londonderry.

Mr Conlon and 10 others have received an apology from Tony Blair over their wrongful convictions for IRA bomb attacks in Guildford and Woolwich.

"I am indebted to Seamus Mallon as I am to John Hume for his fight for the Birmingham Six," he told delegates.

Gerry Conlon and his father, Giuseppe, were among 11 people arrested and wrongly convicted of making and planting the IRA bombs which killed seven people in 1974. His father died in prison.

The Court of Appeal quashed the sentences of the Guildford Four in October 1989, and in June 1991 it overturned the sentences of the other family involved, the Maguire Seven.

Following a lengthy campaign for a public apology, the prime minister said he was sorry to both families in his private room at Westminster on Wednesday.

The Guildford Four
I cannot believe I am here to be able to talk to people who have worked tirelessly
Gerry Conlon

Mr Conlon addressed a session of the SDLP conference devoted to the issue of justice and policing on Saturday, and paid tribute to those who helped clear his name.

"I cannot believe I am here to be able to talk to people who have worked tirelessly, not just for me, but my mother, my sister, all the MaGuire family, and others.

"I know if my father was alive, my father would be telling people go out and do the right thing. Help the people who wanted to help you, help the people who want to make people's lives better."

Mr Conlon singled out the former deputy leader of the SDLP, Seamus Mallon, for special mention.

"When I went to prison, I lost a bit of humanity because of the austerity of the prison and I saw the way I was treated," he said.

"In many ways, I was very lucky I had my da, Giuseppe, to guide me through dreadful times of bitterness and frustration.

"My father was a father who supported this party. I know if he got out before me, I would not have had to wait as long as I did.

"I see Seamus Mallon sitting there. He went to see me in prison and also the Birmingham Six. His was a single voice in the wilderness but it was a voice which kept echoing and rebounding."

Mr Conlon, who received a standing ovation before and after his speech, was led into the conference hall by Mr Mallon and South Down MP Eddie McGrady.

On the podium, he was embraced by SDLP leader Mark Durkan and Belfast councillor Margaret Walsh, who has been a close friend of his sister, Ann.

Former SDLP leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner John Hume, who had also pressed for the clearing of the Guilford Four and McGuire's Seven name, also welcomed Mr Conlon.



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