The Paddy Meehan portions of
this novel are drawn from a real case. Patrick Meehan was
a career safe cracker who was found
guilty of the high profile murder of an elderly woman during
a house break. The case was a notorious miscarriage of
justice in Scotland. Even after the real culprits had sold
story to a Sunday news paper it took a book by Ludovick
Kennedy to prompt the reopening of the case and the Royal Pardon.
The story told here is based largely on Meehan's accounts
in interviews and books and on those of his solicitor,
Beltrami. Some facts have been conflated to make them read
more clearly, for example Griffiths hijacked a number of
cars during his shooting spree. Only the emotional content
is substantially fictionalised.
In the late eighties I
interviewed Paddy Meehan. Neither of us wanted to be there.
We were both trying to please
my mum, Edith.
During a summer in the late eighties Edith
was working as a manicurist in the Argyle Market, a ramshackle
of booths in a first floor corridor
a main shopping thoroughfare in central Glasgow. At the same time Paddy
Meehan was selling his vanity - published book 'Framed
by MI5' at the bottom of
the stairs that led up to the market.
Edith's nail booth was very classy:
she wore a white uniform, had a desk and a sofa and even
had a working telephone installed. Meehan approached
asked if he could receive important calls there because the Secret
Service had bugged the public payphone. Being a lady, she graciously
asked if he would return a favour by telling his story to her daughter.
be interested, Edith said, because she was a law student. I actually
wasn't interested, I didn't know anything about him or the case and
I had exams
coming up, but my mum said I had to buy him a cup of tea.
canteen was deserted in the half hour before closing time.
We were the only customers and Meehan sat facing the door,
I was young and arrogant and in a hurry and only half listened to
his story. He had told it so often that at times I don't even
but he told it well and still got angry when he remembered prison
and being mobbed
Afterwards I asked him to go over part of it again. He said
he had been recruited into the communist underworld network
by a shadowy
when he worked in the ship yards. He bumped into him unexpectedly
in London outside the Embassy and now thought he was an agent provocateur
Although it appeared from his prison records that he had remained
for a five stretch he actually escaped and ran away to the USSR.
There he gave the Soviets information about prison layouts which
Blake. More incendiary, he claimed that he had warned them about
the method Blake used to escape. Either they failed to heed his
warnings or MI5 let
It sounded ridiculous to me. I told him I didn't
believe that MI5 would try to ensure his silence by framing
him for a very high
became agitated and flushed and at one point almost tearful.
I suddenly saw myself, a arrogant law student sitting in a
cafÈ correcting a
red faced old bloke about the narrative arc of his life.
insisted that his life make sense. He wasn't prepared to accept
that his life, like most eventful lives, was nothing
of comic mishaps
and tragedies strung together in a meaningless pattern. Someone
knew what was going on and had directed it all. In looking
for a shadowy
instigator it felt
as though he was insisting that God existed.
We finished our
tea and cigarettes and parted on a sour note. He blanked
me for the rest of the summer. Every time I passed
at the foot
of the stairs
on my way up to visit my mum he'd busy himself tidying the
piles of books or look to the distance with narrowed eyes,
I always said hello just to let him snub me.
As I've grown
older I've come to realise that nothing silences an awkward
truth more effectively than ridicule. His story
to be true.
Meehan kept on telling his story. He told it
to anyone he met.
Paddy Meehan died of throat cancer in 1994.