Johnny Depp describes Gerry Conlon as his 'long lost brother'

Johnny Depp and the front cover of Richard O'Rawe's book about Gerry Conlon 
Connla Young

Hollywood movie star Johnny Depp has described miscarriage of justice victim Gerry Conlon as his “long lost brother”.

In a moving tribute to the west Belfast man, the Tinseltown A-lister reveals how the pair struck up an enduring friendship after Mr Conlon’s release from prison.

Details of their close bond are revealed in a new book about the life of Mr Conlon, who died in June 2014 aged 60.

The Irish News has been given exclusive sight of the deeply personal foreword, which Depp begins with the words “Upon thinking of my long lost brother Gerry….”

The star reveals that to this day he carries a wallet given to him by Mr Conlon which has the word 'Saoirse' - Irish for freedom - emblazoned on it.

In the Name of the Son: The Gerry Conlon Story reveals previously unknown details of the west Belfast man’s wrongful conviction for the 1974 Guildford Pub bombings and the struggles he faced on his release from prison.

It has been written by former republican prisoner, Richard O’Rawe who grew up with Mr Conlon in west Belfast and remained firm friends throughout their lives.

Mr Depp, who has appeared in a host of Hollywood Blockbusters including Pirates of the Caribbean and Black Mass, has penned an eight-page foreword for the book, which goes on sale today.

It is unusual for movie star of Mr Depp’s stature to throw their weight behind such a project.

He reveals he first became aware of Mr Conlon in 1989 as the Belfast man "stomped" out of the Old Bailey in London with raised fists after serving 15 years in prison.

Gerry Conlon emerges from the Old Bailey Court in London after the Guildford Four are were released in 1989. Picture by Hugh Russell

The following year the pair had a chance meeting in the hallway of a talent agency in Los Angeles and from there the solid friendship blossomed.

Throughout the tribute Mr Depp heaps praise on his old friend.

"He was an absolute gentleman, who possessed all the knowledge of law in the streets of Belfast,” he wrote.

“Chivalrous, loyal and highly sensitive to any injustice, no matter how large, or minute."

After his release from prison, Mr Conlon campaigned for others who faced the same injustice as himself and was widely regarded as an able and articulate spokesman.

“He was a 100% trusted friend and brother, to the very end”

Mr Depp praises his friend's forthright nature and ability to make his point.

"If he loved you, you were blessed to be invited into his circle, where there existed no edits with him,” he said.

“Gerry said what he felt and meant what he said.

“He had no difficulty in getting his point across."

The actor revealed that he regarded the justice campaigner as a close friend until his death in June 2014.

"He had grown so used to having his prison clique around him that those of us who spent significant amounts of time with him became a newfangled version of just that,” he said.

“He was a 100% trusted friend and brother, to the very end.”

Gerry Conlon with his mother Sarah

Through the foreword and later in the book the long-standing nature of the men’s friendship is clear as Mr Depp recounts taking a holiday around Ireland with Gerry and other members of his family.

After taking a trip to Dingle in Co Cork to see Fungi the Dolphin the actor reveals how he still carried the wallet given to him during the epic trip.

"It was an honor to have known Gerry Conlon and to call him my friend,” he said.

“Once we’d just left a bookstore in Dublin.

“Me with a handful of Brendan Behan’s books, and Gerry with a present, a beautifully hand worked leather wallet, with one word etched onto it Saoirse, meaning Freedom.

“It’s in my pocket as I write these words.

“Johnny Depp, Vancouver, August 2017.”

Author Richard O’Rawe last night described the movie star as “very honourable in this whole enterprise”.

He explained that he approached Mr Depp to write the foreword after being encouraged by Siobhan MacGowan, a sister of former Pogues frontman Shane MacGown.

After sending an email to the actor explaining the project he soon received a reply.

“I didn’t expect a reply and then about a fortnight later I got an email back from his PA and it said ‘Johnny said it would be an honour to write Gerry’s foreword’”.

"All I can say about Johnny Depp is that he said it was an honour to have written Gerry's foreword and he was very honourable about it."

The 1974 Guildford bombings 

Four British soldiers and one civilian were killed when IRA bombs exploded in two pubs in Guildford in 1974.

Three men, including Mr Conlon, Paul Hill and Paddy Armstrong along with Carol Richardson, were later wrongfully convicted of taking part in the attacks.

Several other people related to Conlon, including his father 'Giuseppe', who died in an English prison in January 1980, were later arrested and also wrongly convicted of the bombings.

That group later became known as the ‘Maguire Seven’.

The 1993 hit film In the Name of the Father was based on the father and son’s prison experience with Gerry Conlon played by Daniel Day-Lewis.

In the Name of the Son: The Gerry Conlon Story is published today by Merrion Press.

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