Paddy Joe Hill's anger needs no amplification. Yet anger cannot describe him enough. Neither can you say he's a tough guy. Tough doesn't come close. He is both electric and anonymous. If anything, despite his intelligent but empty eyes and halo of grey hair, his mercurial temperament is at odds with his physical make-up, so he looks like nothing much at all. Thin as a communion wafer, there is every reason to mistake him for someone else. He looks like no-one in particular. While he might not appear instantly recognisable, to the Irish community in London and Birmingham, he is as familiar as the Rosary.

Then there is the voice, throaty with an urgent Belfast burr, which spins and does little tricks every time he opens his mouth. ''Bollocks'', ''f***'', and ''c***'', greet me with every sentence. There is a street-corner jauntiness about his language that reminds you where he is from and where he will always be. He is working class, from nimble back streets, full of appetite, where his roughness and unpolished self-celebration only adds to the fascination.

Like a shaman, he is steeped in spectacular knowledge, possessed by the insider's erudition of the few who have spent years in prison for something they never did. Prison, with its genius for the comic book name, christened him ''fearless Paddy'', but it also crucified him. Now he spends his days crying, throwing telephones against walls, smoking from his hash pipe and lamenting the things that have passed. And here's the rub. Paddy Joe Hill wishes he was back inside. He felt secure there, he could breathe there. He even loved his family there. There was distance and there was imagination. But now, on the outside, approaching the tenth anniversary of his release from Her Majesty's pleasure, he has no emotion for them, couldn't care less if he never saw them again. Tracy, Michelle, Maxine, Sharon, Nicola and Sean. Prison did this. Prison killed him. Paddy Joe Hill is a walking corpse.

March 14, 1991. It is one of the most enduring images of the last century. The freed members of the Birmingham Six - Paddy Hill, John Walker, Hugh Callaghan, Richard McIlkenny, Gerry Hunter and William Power - emerging, joyfully and angrily, from the Old Bailey having spent 16 years in prison, following one of Britain's worst miscarriages of justice. They had just been freed on appeal for the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings, in which 21 people died in the city-centre terror blast at the Mulberry Bush and Tavern in the Town public houses. Immediately upon his release, Hill gestured at the Old Bailey and shouted: ''Justice? I don't think them people in there have got the intelligence nor the honesty to spell the word, never mind dispense it.''

Uproar had earlier broken out in Court Eight as three Appeal Court judges quashed the convictions just moments after the defence had finished its summing up. Lord Justice Lloyd asked the Six to stand in the dock before telling them that, in the light of fresh evidence, their appeal would be allowed and they would be free to go. Thirty-three minutes later the six Irishmen were released through the main doors in to the street outside the Old Bailey to cheers. Kenneth Baker, the then home secretary, immediately announced the setting up of a Royal Commission of Justice.

The Appeal Court result was virtually a foregone conclusion after the director of public prosecutions admitted the police and forensic evidence which jailed the men was no longer safe. Among other things, Electrostatic Document Analysis tests on 19 pages of police interview notes had shown they could have been written months after police said they were. Forensic tests for explosives were also later regarded as faulty.

''I was innocent of those bombings,'' says Hill, at his home in Muswell Hill, London. There is a sense of bewildered emotion in his voice. He scratches at a deep scar on his face. The prominent facial disfigurement is the souvenir of a knife assault, courtesy of the girlfriend of a childhood mate, when he was 16.

It's an ugly slash, beginning at his left ear, skirting his mouth before twisting in on itself, which required 19 stitches. With the scar the stranger is forewarned. ''He went to punch her and I grabbed him and she cut me with a cut-throat razor.''

Hill has had a number of previous convictions, 12 of them for violence. ''I'd had the f****** lot, you know. I was very lucky as a youngster that I never killed anyone. I was the blade merchant, I ended up with heavy fines and that. We used to get slapped about something f****** terrible in Birmingham, because they couldn't understand our Belfast accent.''

He rolls a joint and inhales deeply. Each week he smokes about two ounces of hash, which keeps him going. ''When I took it in prison I ended up nuts. They put me in padded cells, monkey suits, straitjackets . . . you name it, I've had the lot. I smoke weed - I don't touch any other drugs. I only take this because it keeps the temper in check. People wouldn't understand how hard I've tried to get off this, you know. But I've been told by counsellors that they wouldn't recommend me coming off it.''

He talks about his youth at length and entrancingly. His family moved to England in 1959. His father, Robert, and his brother, Bobby, were both in the British Army, ''something that people don't realise at all''. His grandfather Johnson was an Orangeman on his mother's side, who married his grandmother and he became a Catholic. The Orange side of the family disowned him. The rest, including his mother, Anne, who died a year ago, are all Catholic. ''My da joined the British Army when he was 11 years of age. He was going to be put in a home when he was younger and the only way he could avoid it was by joining the army as a drummer boy. They sent him to India in the twenties, all over the place. He spent his life in the army. My da did nearly 30 years in the British Army and we were brought up on army camps all over the country. I wouldn't join up, though.'' He pauses. ''The only thing I ever

joined was my hands, although I'll admit that I'm a republican. I'm green.''

His style, his ethic, is built up around a willingness not to surrender, to absorb punishment but he softens when he mentions his father. His biggest regret is that he never got a chance to speak to him before he died, when Hill was in jail. ''Me and my da were more than father and son. He was some f****** fella, and I was just a miniature version of him. I was my da's partner in darts, dominoes, whatever. My da loved fishing and I hated it, but I used to go out with him all the time, four o'clock in the morning and all that bollocks, you know. I did it because he was my da. We were very close until this happened. We became very estranged.'' He pauses. ''My da could never get his head round the fact that they tortured me, when I told them what they had done to me. He couldn't accept that.'' He holds his hands up. ''I got more fingers up than visits from my da when I was in jail.''

The young Hill didn't want to stay in Birmingham but he settled in and his family ended up in a place called Summer Lane, which was just like Belfast or the Gorbals, full of working-class Irish and Scots. By the time he was 18 everybody knew to give him a wide berth. ''I did a lot of slicing people and all that. That was what happened. There was seven of us. Four boys from Glasgow and three from home. We made a pact when we were kids that if anybody f***** with us or our family then we'd deal with it. I dragged married men and their sons out of their beds, people way bigger than us and told them this is what they'd get if they never left my family alone.'' His hands make the shape of a shotgun. ''We were 16, or 17. If you want to f*** with us you'd better know the house rules. That's the way it was. I used to carry cut-throat razors strapped to my body, a hatchet strapped to my leg, I was

like something coming out of the Vietnam jungle. We were all like that. We had no scruples about using them. No-one died. We were lucky a few times. But, of course, we grew out of it. The rent was more important, the girlfriend and all that. We were soon in our twenties, we got married and settled down.''

All the Birmingham Six knew each other, five of them were born in the same district in the Ardoyne area of Belfast. Hill, Hunter and Power are all the same age. Walker, McIlkenny and Callaghan are about 10 years older than the rest. ''The only oddball out was Johnny Walker, he's a Derry man.'' The friends had been working with each other in the same factory on and off for years and they all drank in the same pubs. Hill was a painter and decorator and sign writer by trade. ''I done everything. I used to mix me own paint and all that. I was an excellent footballer. I could have sung on the circuit.''

The Birmingham Six were made scapegoats, he says, to appease the public. ''I remember the cop that stopped me at the boat, he was a gentleman. I had a small case. Where you coming from Paddy, he says? We had the craic going, a bit of a laugh. I am not walking from anything, I told him. But all this changed at 6.30 the next morning when a detective from Birmingham said to me: 'Soon, you murdering little bastard, soon.' Later they started beating me and told me they had orders to do what they had to. They told me they didn't give a f*** who had done it.''

In January, last year, Hill started up his campaigning pressure group, Miscarriages of Justice Organisation (Mojo), to champion the rising number of alleged miscarriage cases swamping the British judicial system. He has already set up contacts with a number of leading lawyers, solicitors, pathologists and forensic scientists who provide free advice to prisoners who claim they are victims of a miscarriage.

''A decade on from our release, and our prisons are still housing thousands of wrongly convicted people. But the problem remains that people in jail who are innocent have no idea how to fight the system. When they contact us, we pass the details of their case to legal and medical experts who can advise them how to fight for an appeal. The question that really needs addressed is, who polices the police?'' Not one police officer, he reminds me, has been tried yet for anything in relation to his case.

The system that broke Hill has done little to put him back together. He knows to his cost the real price of his freedom so he sits there, railing against the world, trying his best to make sense of what has happened to his life. There are others, too. Gerry Conlon, an innocent man who'd served 15 years for the Guildford Four pub bombings, more broken, says Hill, than the rest, wasted on drugs. Conlon, living alone in a small flat in England, has endured years of alcohol and drug abuse. ''Gerry has lost it. He lost it a long time ago. Is he a victim? You better believe it.

''We were just thrown out, but people will never understand what it was like. One minute you are sitting in a maximum-security unit as a category A prisoner, mad bomber, and the next day you are sitting in the Court of Appeal and then you are out in the street like a sack of garbage.''

Hill's life has been defined by corrupt police, gullible courts, complicit forensic scientists, and terrible beatings and abuse. His voice is desperate and angry. He remembers everything about his arrest and his subsequent imprisonment. There is so much that he cannot get out of his mind. ''We were so damaged when we got out and there was nothing for us, no-one to help us. I always say when I talk about it that I wouldn't mind going back to prison because that's where I felt safe, comfortable. I knew who I was then. I have no f****** idea who I am now apart from 509496, my prison number.

''I cannot explain prison to someone who has never been. I could sit here all day and talk about it, and, no disrespect to your intelligence, but there's only three things you are going to know. One is how to spell prison, two that there are prisoners locked up, and three, that they are locked up in 8ft by 8ft cells. Anything else you've got in your head, forget about it. This Mickey Mouse shit that's portrayed on television, bollocks. When you go into Max, the Big House, then you're living 24 hours a day on your nerves. A lot of the guys in maximum-security prisons should be in secure units. Killing people on maximum-security is like taking a cup of tea, it doesn't mean nothing.''

There are no officials trying to help men like Hill or Conlon. The only people they have are themselves. And what's left of themselves isn't very much. Despite his never having received full compensation, his two-bedroomed house is open to other victims of miscarriages who are freed from prison, but have nowhere and no-one to go to. In March 2000, John Kamara, 44, was freed after 19 years when his conviction for the murder of a Liverpool bookmaker was overturned (the reasons for his release were many but the discovery that the prosecution had withheld 201 witness statements from the defence was one of them), and he stayed with Hill. ''Your conviction gets quashed and for a very short while you are over the moon, but you soon realise you have no money, nowhere to live, no health care and nothing in the way of counselling. There is nothing in place to equip you for what you have been away from

for so long.''

His steady stream of house guests since his release has also included Patrick Nicholls, who served 23 years after being wrongfully convicted of murdering his friend. When he was released more than two years ago Nicholls was almost 70.

''He didn't know anyone on the outside and he had nowhere to go. He had suffered a couple of strokes and, when he was wheeled up to me by a prison guard, he was just dazed looking, didn't know what was going on. He had a sponge ball in his hand which he needed for his physiotherapy, but they took that off him.''

He has also offered his home to Michael Stone, who is appealing against his conviction for killing Lin Russell and her daughter, Megan, and for an attack on her daughter, Josie. ''If Michael had got out there was a bed for him here. I told his sister, Barbara, not to worry, that Michael could come and stop with me. I've already told Michael. I visit him in prison. Barbara is in touch all the time but I've told her not to speak about it.

''Meanwhile, Michael is going to go back to court to try to prove that he's innocent. There's DNA and everything. This is another example of so-called jailhouse confessions. Cell confessions, people in the showers claiming someone admitted their guilt. No way. It doesn't happen.''

The Birmingham Six have each received interim payments of up to #300,000, but they are arguing for more. When you take into account lost and projected earnings, the compensation element of being wrongly locked up, beaten and abused for years, it averages out at #13,000 a year. Most of it is now gone. Like the rest of the Six, Hill, who is 55 now, spent the money on his family trying to buy their love and the love of his grandchildren. ''I could see my grandkids running away from me, they were scared, so all I ever did was try to buy their affection.'' Since his release he has tried to build a relationship with his six children and 13 grandchildren, but has failed. Ten years after being freed he feels nothing for them. ''Emotionally, I am dead.''

He rubs a tattoo on his forearm of a little girl making her holy communion. There is another, with the names of four of his kids. ''I knew the divorce was coming. But, to be fair, the wife had it hard. The family were known and they were constantly abused, they had to move house about 11 times. My kids had hardly any schooling. The only one of my kids that I can really have any sort of rapport with is my oldest, Tracy. To be honest I don't feel a thing for them.

''I feel sadder for my kids' sake than me. I was out about 18 months and I dropped into my daughter Tracy's house for coffee. When I got there my daughter, Maxine, was there. Maxine came in and she just went to bits. She was screaming hysterically, crying, going nuts and she said that all I ever do is go away. She said 'da, I don't have many memories of you before you went away to prison but I've got a lot of f****** memories after you went.' She told me she remembered being in homes, being battered, scarred, thrown into baths of cold water and beaten and all because I was supposed to be one of the bombers and she was my daughter. 'You don't belong here,' she said, 'I don't know where you belong.'''

He thumps his hand off his chest. ''I'm not ashamed to admit it but I cried my eyes out, and told my kids I was sorry but I only felt something for the guys in jail, in my heart I felt nothing for them. And that's the way it is. Even today. See them cats, Benny, Millie and Ginger, they are my life. If anything happened to them I would crack up. If anything happened to my kids and they needed money I would seriously have to sit down and think about selling this flat. It's the way I feel. What I look forward to is coming home at night and sitting here with them. I have nothing else, honest to God. I feel so disorientated out here sometimes. I just got here by skidding along in the dark on my own.''

So Hill lives, like many others freed from a crime they never committed, pretty much alone, battling with his past, his future and his addiction to hash. A few years ago he had a love affair with an English girl half his age and, although they are no longer together, he says that she showed him how to feel again. ''She was wonderful. I still see her, but I can never have a proper relationship with anyone. I can't afford to get to close to anyone.''

Mojo has been running for about a year, although Hill has been helping victims much longer. The official launch of the organisation will take place in the House of Commons on March 14, the tenth anniversary of the freeing of the Six. ''We have no money, nothing. I'm about ten grand in debt these past 12 months to keep Mojo going. I'm on #75 a week income support and I'm still fighting for my full compensation. The less they pay us the more chance it will look that we were guilty. I don't think the offer will improve much so I'm taking my case to the European Court for Human Rights. Money doesn't come into it, but I know at the end of the day someone has to put a figure on it and the figure they put on it has to show that we were innocent.''

He shrugs, then searches my face for any trace that I am taking in any of what he is saying. I ask if he knows who was really behind the bombing campaign in Birmingham? ''Everyone knows their names. There has been no contact from them. I tell people that I'm a republican in as much as I believe in a united Ireland, but I don't believe in the IRA's methods. The guys who done it? If they were standing beside me what would I do? It all depends on the mood I was in. If I was in a bad mood I would probably take one of their lives, if I was honest about it. Not just for what happened but for what they did to Birmingham and the people there.

''The image that people have is that 21 English people died. The vast majority of them were actually of Irish extraction. There was five Irish that was killed. Two brothers lived 200 yards from my mother's house. Dublin people they were. What the f*** would I bomb anyone for?''

The rest of the Six have their problems. He talks to them on the phone. They are trying to get on with their lives. They don't talk to anyone, apart from Hill and close friends, about what happened. ''I do what I do because it's the only way of making sense of things. I still remember being freed as clearly as if it was yesterday. It was surreal, but it's like it happened to someone else and I am outside my body looking down on it. I can remember it but I couldn't tell you what happened. That's what happened to my life over the past 10 years.''

He pauses, takes another smoke. ''I don't have a life. I have no personal life, I have no social life. I haven't a clue about computers, mobile phones, you name it, I haven't a clue. I get so frustrated at times and I just end up breaking down and crying. I think I'm going mad half the time.'' Hill gets physical when he talks, his head scrunched into his shoulders, while his torso writhes. He is like a hand grenade with the pin pulled. Every week he goes back to Birmingham to see his old friends and a couple of mates from prison. It's just like being in jail again. They stay indoors, play backgammon, like they did inside, smoke a few joints or sink a few pints. But the only time he feels truly free is when he is in his car, on the road. The truth is he hasn't been happy since the day he left jail. ''In the past I didn't know the meaning of the word depression. Now . . .'' He voice trails

away in a blanket of smoke.

For all his imperfections, Paddy Joe Hill is a moralist who believes in truth, and understands justice. And recounting his life gets worse, not better, with the telling. He is a man of stamina, of the hardest-boiled. But he still suffers from the ghost of a part-time fear burning crazily in his brilliant, steely eyes: that he is already dead. That he died a long time ago. In the torture chamber of a British police station. There is surely something wrong with the system when an innocent man, freed after 16 years for a crime he never committed, says: ''I wish to God I was back in prison. I just can't handle this.''