11. Life Means Life
In December 2010, Eddie Gilfoyle was released on licence after serving more than 18 years in prison. He is subject to stringent conditions which are likely to be applied – unless his conviction is overturned – for the rest of his life.
The Parole Board initially ordered that he:
‘must not contact press or media either personally or through a third party’.
Not only was Eddie gagged from protesting his innocence through the media but so was anyone else such as family, lawyers and campaigners. Asked to justify such censorship, a Parole Board spokesperson commented:
‘the only reason for that condition would be to prevent further offending’.
Ironically, the Board’s efforts to suppress publicity about Eddie’s case provoked a media furore which obliged them to withdraw this condition.
(That are relevant to this chapter)
This was not the first occasion on which the democratic right of Eddie and others to publicise his case had been challenged. In 1996, Channel 4 TV broadcast a Trial and Error programme about Eddie’s case. Although he was not named in the film, a former Merseyside Police officer involved in the murder investigation sued the broadcaster for defamation with the assistance of the Police Federation. The matter was settled out of court without Channel 4 making any payment by way of damages.
In 2000, a website which included an article outlining Eddie’s case was shut down after the company hosting the site received threatening letters from lawyers acting for the Police Federation. Webgenie Internet said that while sympathetic to Eddie, they were a small company with just 20 employees whereas the Police Federation had considerable resources at its disposal. The company had no alternative but to close the website.
Even a minor breach of the conditions imposed on Eddie could result in his return to prison. He must attend regular appointments with his supervising Probation Officer (there have been instances where persons released on licence have been re-imprisoned for lengthy terms because they arrived just a few minutes late for such appointments). He must notify his supervisor if he wants to spend even a single night away from his approved address. If he seeks to start a relationship with anyone, he must provide full information to his Probation Officer. Involvement in even a trivial incident over which he had no control might see him back in prison. Eddie states he is frightened even to visit local shops on his own in case something might happen which would cause his licence to be revoked. He describes his current situation as:
‘worse than prison’.
Contrary to widespread misconceptions, a life sentence really does mean life.