In Memory : Ronnie Easterbrook (UK)

Ronnie Easterbrook died on hunger strike 10th May 2009.

Ronnie Easterbrook was convicted in 1988 for the attempted murder of a policeman during an armed robbery that was set up by the police and a police informant. The only person who died was his fellow would-be robber who was shot dead by the police. Police had lain in wait, with a TV camera crew in-tow and ambushed the gang. The man shot dead by the Police, Tony Ash, was unarmed and already surrendering to them.

Ronnie campaigned relentlessly since then for his conviction to be overturned, refusing to become involved in applications for parole or early release. He had wanted to mount a political defence at his trial, arguing that the infamous ‘shoot to kill’ policy adopted by the British state in Northern Ireland had then been taken up by the Met. Police in pursuit of criminal gangs. His barrister at the time refused to follow his instructions so he was forced to defend himself in court, without legal representation. Although he wanted to focus on police tactics as part of his defence the request was refused on the grounds that a political defence was not permitted.

Handed down a Life sentence (originally with a whole-life tariff, itself highly unusual given the circumstances of his case), Ronnie held one of the longest dirty protests in the British prison system and undertook a 60 day hunger strike 10 years ago to try to force the authorities to review his case. At 78 years old and after 20 years fighting the system, this hunger strike was to be his final act of resistance to the unfair trial and unjust treatment he had received.

Those who knew and corresponded with Ronnie will miss him greatly.

Brighton ABC

Below are some words from John Bowden, his friend, and Simon Creighton of Bhatt Murphy Solicitors, who represented him for many years:

Extreme cruelty has always been a distinguishing hallmark of the British prison system, and those who are paid to administer and enforce that system frequently operate devoid of any moral compass or shred of ordinary human sensitivity and compassion; many often exhibit a criminal disregard for human life more pathological and ruthless than some of those imprisoned for their crimes.

Forcing conformity on the imprisoned frequently takes the jailer to the most negative and brutal extremes of human behaviour, to places where even the most elemental characteristics of human empathy and compassion are absent and void. In the daily struggle to enforce power and authority in jail it is the basic humanity of those enforcing that power that is eroded and lost, them who are the most damaged and destroyed as human beings. In apparently civilized societies bound by moral parameters, prisons are places where the very worst of human behaviour when practised by those in charge is allowed to flourish and where the jails exists as an incubator of the fascist mentality.

The treatment suffered by Ronnie Easterbrook, who died on hunger strike in Gartree Prison on the 10th May, typifies all the mindless cruelty and inhuman callousness, the amorality of a prison system designed to achieve nothing but the broken spirits and minds of its captives.

Ronnie was a sick and elderly man who had served over 20 years in prison, not for murder, rape or crimes against the weak and vulnerable, but for attempted armed robbery and trying to defend himself from a gang of armed policemen. Ronnie was an old school outlaw whose “crimes” had never remotely threatened ordinary people or endangered the community; in many ways he was a gentleman thief from a bygone era. And yet the prison system tortured and eventually murdered him as if he was an animal. And make no mistake, he was murdered by the prison system and over a prolonged period of time, systematically, calculatedly and mercilessly.

Ronnie’s greatest crime as far as the system was concerned was his refusal to conform in prison and the manner in which he protested for years the way in which a corrupt judicial system had railroaded him into a life sentence because of his attempt to expose the use of Northern Ireland type police death squads against English armed robbers. His legal defence in a trial for armed robbery, during which his friend Thomas Ash was murdered by a metropolitan police death squad and Ronnie himself wounded, was deemed unacceptably “political” by the judge and so Ronnie was silenced and sent to prison for life. But Ronnie refused to be silenced, he continued to protest and resist in jail, to spend years in shit-smeared cells within brutal punishment units, to be transferred continuously around the system, to regularly hunger-strike, until, elderly and frail, his health was destroyed. And still he protested, revealing a strength of spirit infinitely more noble and courageous than the dehumanised characters of those trying to break him. At every step and juncture of Ronnie’s long and horrendous struggle in jail those administering the system could have intervened with fairness and compassion and transferred him to less brutal conditions; he was an elderly man who had done more than his time in jail and represented no risk whatsoever to the community. But no, they chose instead to confront his spirit of resistance and perpetuate the very treatment and conditions that fuelled his conflict with the system, carrying and punishing him to his death.

I knew Ronnie personally, had shared many jails with him, witnessed many of his struggles. He was a good man and in many ways a heroic one. And yet he died in circumstances and conditions that were indescribably inhuman.

The manner of Ronnie’s death / murder says much about the nature and character of the creatures responsible for it. It also makes the struggle against them and their machinery of death an imperative that must never cease or weaken.

John Bowden #6729

HMP Glenochil

“I represented Ronnie Easterbrook for a number of years when he was seeking to challenge the lawfulness of the sentence he received. At the time, he was the only prisoner to have received a whole life sentence who had not been convicted of murder. With his usual tenacity, Ronnie successfully challenged this in the English courts and then, in an attempt to make his own experience have some value for others, he went on to win a victory in the European Court of Human Rights about the fairness of the overall procedure.

Sadly, this was ultimately a pyrrhic victory as he never accepted the lawfulness of his conviction and so refused to co-operate with the lifer system and he remained in protest about his conviction until his death. Ronnie was a highly intelligent and engaging man and will be sadly missed by all those who have known and worked with him.”

Simon Creighton
Bhatt Murphy Solicitors

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This entry was posted on Monday, November 23rd, 2009 at 1:02 am and is filed under Prison Struggle.