32 years on from the exoneration of the Guildford Four
Today marks the thirty-second anniversary of the quashing of the wrongful convictions surrounding the pub bombings of Guilford and Woolwich and the exoneration of Paul Michael Hill, Gerry Conlon, Paddy Armstrong and Carole Richardson.
After their arrest, the police elicited coerced confessions using tactics ranging from intimidation through to torture, including expressed threats against family members and utilising the effects of drug withdrawals.
Gerry’s father, Giuseppe Conlon, travelled from Belfast to London to help his son get proper legal representation. He was arrested, along with a further six family members known as the ‘Maguire Seven’, all seven being charged with being the bomb makers of the explosives used in the Guildford bombings. He died, an innocent man, in an English prison in 1980.
The four were convicted on 22 October 1975 of murder and other charges, and sentenced to mandatory life imprisonment. Carole Richardson, a minor of 17 at the time of the bombings, received an indeterminate “at Her Majesty’s Pleasure” sentence.
Mr Justice Donaldson, who also sat on the bench for the Maguires’ trial, expressed regret that the Four had not been charged with treason, which still carried the death penalty. Although there had been no capital punishment in the United Kingdom since 1964, treason still carried the death penalty until 1998. Tariffs for those sentenced to life in prison had yet to be introduced, and release was entirely at the discretion of the Home Secretary. For the three men, all of whom in their twenties at the time of the trial, sentences of 30 years for Gerry Conlon, 35 for Paddy Armstrong and until “great age” for Paul Hill were recommended.
Both the Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven initially sought leave to appeal and were refused.
In February 1977, during the trial following the Balcombe Street Siege, four members of the IRA instructed their legal counsel to draw attention to the fact the Guilford Four were totally innocent and serving massive sentences.
The Home Office issued, in 1987, a memorandum acknowledging that it was unlikely that the Guilford Four were involved in terrorism, but that this would not be sufficient evidence for a ground of appeal.
In 1989 a fresh appeal was underway, with human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce representing the four with the exception of Paul Hill. During the pursuit of this appeal, it became apparent that evidence had been tampered with, and suppressed, by the police.
After a long and challenging campaign for justice The Four were released on 19 October 1989. Their horrendous ordeal by this point had lasted more than fifteen years. Much of the lasting damage could never be repaired.
The convictions of the Maguire Seven were quashed in 1991.
Over 700 files remain closed to this day in what is a commitment to secrecy, despite campaigning from the families of those injured and killed in the attacks.
All at MOJO miss our friend, colleague and client Gerry Conlon every day. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.