How a Beatle Could Have Gone to Jail
Redgrave, Corin, New Statesman (1996)
A new bill would make it illegal even to speak up for the IRA.
I do not know the name of the M15 agent who reported that John Lennon gave money to the Workers Revolutionary Party. It is said that Ml5 gave information from its files on Lennon to the FBI in the early 1970s, when the Nixon administration was trying to have him deported. But the US Freedom of Information Act, though considerably less restrictive than Jack Straw intends its British counterpart to be (it will not permit any access to the files kept by the security services), does not allow the names of agents and informers to be revealed.
What I do know, as one who was then a leading member of the WRP, is that John Lennon never gave us a penny. I am also certain that he never gave money to the IRA. Yoko Ono has said that he did not. But neither her denial normine are likely to be widely reported. The lie, as is so often the case, has travelled three times around the world while the truth is still getting its boots on.
Does it matter that so many newspapers have repeated these allegations as facts, and will continue to do so despite our denials? Actually, it matters a very great deal, and not just for the obvious reason that truth should always be preferred to falsehood. The Prevention of Terrorism Bill, now going through parliament, would have made John Lennon a criminal, not only for those things he is alleged to have done, but for those things which he certainly did and which thousands of us do today and want to continue to be able to do.
In 1972, Lennon wrote a song "The Luck of the Irish", dedicated to the victims of Bloody Sunday. The song appeared on an album "Sometime in New York City" and the proceeds were donated to the Irish Civil Rights movement. Clause 14 of the terrorism bill makes it an offence to ask for money, give money, or receive money or any property if a person knows or has "reasonable cause to suspect" that it may be used for terrorist purposes.
Clause 18 makes it an offence not to inform the police if one "believes" or "suspects" that a person has asked or given or received money from a proscribed organisation. This clause contravenes the European Convention on Human Rights, Article 10, which guarantees the right to freedom of expression. It also offends against one of the principles of the convention, that a person is presumed innocent until found guilty. In Clause 18, as often elsewhere in the bill, the onus is on the person accused to prove his or her innocence. Subsection 3 says: "It is a defence for a person charged to prove that he had a reasonable excuse for not making the disclosure."
Earlier in the same year, 1972, at a rally in New York organised by the US Transport Workers Union, which was attended by members of the IRA, Lennon issued a statement saying that he was protesting "against the killing of Irish people in the Civil Rights movement". …