The vigil for Sam Hallam, in torrential rain on Tuesday night in St John The Baptist churchyard
Published: 18 May, 2012
by TOM FOOT
A FEW dozen family members and supporters gathered in torrential rain on Tuesday in a solemn churchyard vigil, the night before Sam Hallam’s appeal reached court.
A plan to release hundreds of balloons into the sky was abandoned in the downpour and a local vicar passed cups of coffee around to try to warm the spirits.
The mood was apprehensive.
Sam’s mum, Wendy Cohen, said she had made plans to stage a party if her boy was released.
If not, she was “ready to fight on”.
Less than 24 hours later, Wendy and Sam walked triumphantly into the Lion and Lamb pub to a heroes’ reception.
Jubilant supporters had first met at the Green Hut, in New North Road, but been moved on after the venue was double-booked with a karate class.
When the pair arrived they were mobbed by friends and their extended family.
Everyone wanted to shake their hand, grab a kiss or a hug.
Wearing a blue cap, blue and red Converse T-shirt, denim jeans and bright white trainers, Sam seemed startled but lapped up the attention.
The scale of the victory – in a legal tussle titled “The Queen v Sam Hallam” – was starting to sink in.
Friends opened car doors and boomed out garage music and children sat on the pub’s pool table.
In one bittersweet moment, Sam met for the first time his five-year-old niece, Ella, who was born after he went to prison and whom he had never seen before.
Loud shouts and applause rattled out every half hour or so as footage of Sam’s release earlier that day flashed across rolling news on the pub television.
Among the guests were top legal minds – who had brought about his release – and many people involved in other miscarriages of justice.
His campaign and legal team of Paul May, solicitor Matt Foot and Henry Blaxland, QC, were joined by Patrick Maguire – wrongly imprisoned as a boy for making IRA bombs in the 1970s – and Robin Crouch, who played Sam in a recent play staged at the King’s Head Theatre in Upper Street, Islington.
Mr Maguire, who has campaigned for Sam’s release since he was wrongly convicted in 2004, stood with his arms outstretched and then engulfed him in a powerful hug.
The campaign for Sam’s freedom has inspired art, a play and captured the imagination of friends who said they had been overwhelmed by the grace and humility Sam had shown throughout his ordeal.
John Rudder, one of his closest mates, told the Tribune: “Total strangers have taken an interest and come down here tonight. It’s just brilliant.
"Rob, the guy that played Sam in the play, is here tonight. He’s an actor – he doesn’t have to be here. But that is how this has been.
"You have no idea, my friend, of the support Sam has got. People round here have always said he wasn’t there.
“We grew up together. We went to Central Foundation School together. I remember we used to go to our mate Bobby’s – he’s here – then pick Sam up then go to school.
“For once, it shows you what can happen to people. But out of all the people that have helped us – people like Paul May, who came to help us – Sam has been the strongest.
"The community has come together and he is the one that has got us through it – he is the strongest out of all of us.”
In a melee of phone calls, hugs and kisses, Sam’s mum, Wendy Cohen, told the Tribune what the family had been doing in their first few hours together after his release.
She said: “This was something else today – it was torture. Terry’s [Sam’s dad’s] brother came round and took them down to the pie and mash in Hoxton.
"He wanted a bar of chocolate. We got him some clothes – the prison hadn’t given him any proper shoes; he didn’t get his suit, no tie, no belt.
"He’s staying in his sister’s bedroom. We ain’t got no bed at the moment. We’re doing it up so he can stay there in Pitfield Street. We weren’t expecting him out today.”
She added: “I never thought I’d see this day.”
The party lasted long into the night but the celebrations were tinged with sadness. Tragically, Sam’s dad committed suicide 15 months ago.
Wendy said: “Terry, we’d split up a year before Sam was convicted. Never in a million years would I have thought he would have done that.
"He won’t be celebrating today and that is sad.”