Jun 14 2009 by Andrew Dagnell, Wales On Sunday
AFTER five long years, a Welshman locked up in a notorious African jail for a crime he insists he did not commit has spoken for the first time about the gut-wrenching conditions he is forced to endure every day.
Alan Hodgson, 51, was sentenced to 20 years’ hard labour in Ghana’s Nsawam prison for his alleged involvement in a £79m drugs bust – the largest cocaine haul West Africa had ever seen.
To this day, the dad of one claims he is the victim of a tragic miscarriage of justice – and says the date stamp on his passport proves he was still at his home in Carway, Carmarthenshire, when the crime was committed.
Numerous appeals have failed – and the outlook for the next 15 years is bleak unless Ghana’s Supreme Court can grant him a reprieve next month.
But in an interview with S4C’s Y Byd ar Bedwar programme to be screened this week, Alan reveals how he has been:
threatened with rape, beatings and regularly had guns held to his body;
forced to sleep in a tiny, sweltering cell with 14 other inmates;
starved because the food he is given is inedible and the water filthy;
cut off from the outside world with almost no contact with his beloved family and friends;
dreaming of the day he can return to Wales and eat fish and chips on Saundersfoot beach.
Heartbroken Alan said: “I have been languishing in this jail for over five years now, for a crime I did not do, take part in, or know anything about.
“I was not even in the country at the time the crime took place. The trial was so very unfair on me.”
He travelled to Ghana after he was offered some light work by his uncle Kevin Gorman, a successful businessman who had lived in Ghana for more than 30 years.
The 60-year-old had become ill with prostate cancer and Alan was taking him medicine.
But the morning after Alan arrived in January 2004, police raided Kevin’s house and discovered 674 kilos of cocaine hidden in bales in a secret safe behind a mirror.
Kevin admits he accepted £50,000 to look after the bales, but denies knowing what was in them. He blames himself for Alan getting caught up in the trial.
In June 2004, Alan and Kevin were among six men found guilty of illegally importing cocaine and of possession of illegal drugs.
Each one was sent to the medium-security prison, which is crammed with 2,300 prisoners – three times the number of inmates it was built to hold in 1960.
Alan had taken early retirement from his job as a carpenter for Carmarthenshire County Council because of ill health when he travelled to Ghana.
His health problems have since escalated and he suffers from malaria, blood poisoning and malnutrition, all of which have left him incapable of walking without crutches.
The vile conditions have aged Alan beyond his 51 years – his hair is long and slicked back with sweat and grease, while his skin is red and blistered from the baking sun, and he is missing a few teeth.
Alan says prisoners are so hungry they are forced to eat cats, dogs and snakes – while, on average, one dies every week.
“I also have to buy my own food and drinking water as you cannot eat what food they give you and the drinking water is not clean,” he said.
“Now I sleep in the infirmary, but before I was sharing a cell with 14 others. The size of the cell was 11ft by 10ft... approximately three bunk beds and the rest slept on the floor ... it was like a pizza oven.
“I used to weigh about 15 stone but I’ve lost around four stone due to sickness and malaria, but thankfully I have now gained some of my weight back.
“On average one person died every week, sometimes more – and AIDS and TB are rife.
“There is no meat or fish given or included in any prison food, so inmates breed cats to eat. I have also seen dog and snakes brought in from outside for prisoners to cook and eat.
“There is no running water in the bathroom nor any running water to flush the toilets – they are flushed with p**s from the night before, which is collected in the buckets in the cells or with dirty water. There are about eight toilets shared between 450 [inmates] inside the block.
“What have I done to deserve this?”
To make matters worse, his wife abandoned him a couple of years into his sentence – leaving him in a fragile mental state.
Alan said: “I have not spoken to my son in over five years. My wife did not send me a Christmas card in 2007, but divorce papers instead.
“I have witnessed many terrible things here. Five guns thrust into my head, neck and body.
“Threatened with rape, beatings and seen many, many people die. Constantly being called ‘white man’ by everyone all day and night. So besides health problems I also have to deal with mental problems too.”
Alan appealed against his conviction in 2005, but it was dismissed by the Court of Appeal.
He then went before Ghana’s highest court – the Supreme Court – just before Christmas last year, expecting his trial to be heard, but the prosecution didn’t turn up. A further appeal at the Supreme Court this year was once again adjourned.
Alan said: “Ghana’s motto and crest hangs up in all the courtrooms here and its words are written for all to see... freedom and justice.
“As you know there has been no freedom and justice for me.”
Alan says he will never opt for a pardon or a reduction in sentence as he could only return to Wales as a man who’s been proved innocent.
Hodgson’s defence lawyer, Thaddeous Sory, said: “If I didn’t think there had been a miscarriage of justice, I wouldn’t be fighting it all the way to the last court of the land.
“And I think the Supreme Court will properly evaluate the evidence again and come to the conclusion that definitely Alan shouldn’t have been convicted.”
Alan’s friend, Cardiff cabbie Meinir Jones said she was completely shattered by the most recent appeal failing, after she flew out to Ghana to put pressure on the authorities to secure a date for his appeal.
She told the programme: “You do everything you’re supposed to do, and everything they expect you to do, and yet the right thing still doesn’t happen.
“He’s totally innocent. Look at the facts of the case. He was not there, he did not know and he is innocent.”
Next month Alan is due back in court once again for a final bid for freedom. But his friends and family have said if he is not released, they are worried he won’t survive.
Alan says the only things that keep him going are his dreams of “fish and chips on Saundersfoot harbour” and seeing his 22-year-old son again.
Meinir said: “It’s life or death really. If he doesn’t come home soon I don’t know if he will come home, because I don’t know if he can carry on.”