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Miscarriages of Justice: The Guildford Four

Updated on April 27, 2017

The Guildford pub bombings occurred on October 5 1974. The IRA (Irish Republican Army) was behind this incident. These pubs were targeted because they were popular among the British Army personnel. The police were under immense pressure to nab the culprits because four soldiers and one civilian were killed and many others were wounded in the incident.

A marker -
Guildford, UK
get directions

In December 1974, the police arrested four people (three men and a woman). They were: Gerry Conlon, Paul Hill, Patrick Armstrong and Carole Richardson. These four became known as the Guildford Four. They were falsely convicted in October 1975 and were sentenced to life imprisonment. There was no evidence of their involvement with the IRA.

Until December 3, 1974, Patrick Armstrong was an anonymous Irishman residing in north London. This small-time shoplifter's house was not more than dingy squat in Kilburn.

This 24-year-old man from the Falls Road in west Belfast spent his evenings getting high on drugs like acid, speed, hash, or cocaine. He was a petty criminal, and a casual-drug-taking-hippy, but definitely not an IRA freedom-fighting-bomber. Politics and nationalism were not on the agenda of the bohemian subculture that Armstrong mixed with in London in the 1970s. It is important to note that those were the days when network of IRA bombers were running riot across the British mainland.

An IRA Attack

This is not the Guildford pub attack image.
This is not the Guildford pub attack image. | Source

When the bombings occurred, Carole Richardson was in London. She was enjoying a music performance by Jack the Lad (a folk group from North East England). There were witnesses to prove this. Paul Hill was at Southampton and Gerry Conlon was at a hostel in London. Unfortunately, much evidence which would prove their innocence were not presented at the trial.

On the December evening Patrick was arrested, he was coming down off a particularly heavy three-day speed-induced-hallucinogenic-sleep-deprived-drug-bender.

He was held under the newly introduced Prevention of Terrorism Act; an emergency law that permitted the authorities to arrest and detain suspected terrorists - regardless of evidence - for up to one week.

UK Police Inspector Rank Marking

Source

The Guildford Four confessed to the bombing after their arrest. These confessions formed the basis of the case against them. In his memoir, Patrick recalls that the British state used Prevention of Terrorism Act to ruthless levels of excess in those days. British police officers who were interrogating him, and his peers made a mockery of the concept of justice and the rule of law.

Patrick was beaten by police officers, and threatened with his life. Fearing he would lose his mind, or die, he signed a document confessing to the bombings. In October 1975, in the Old Bailey, London, Patrick was convicted of the Guildford bombings and the Woolwich bombings. He was told he would serve 35 years in prison: the longest minimum recommended sentence for any individual in the British state at the time.

It was later proved that convictions were based on confessions obtained by intimidation and torture. Later, the Guildford Four appealed against their convictions unsuccessfully.

Image Courtesy: Erasoft24
Image Courtesy: Erasoft24 | Source

In the meanwhile, members of the general public pressed for re-examination of the case. In February 1977, during the Balcombe Street Gang trial, the four IRA men asked their lawyers to "draw attention to the fact that four totally innocent people were serving massive sentences". They were speaking about the Guildford Four.

Even though the four IRA members claimed that they were responsible for the incident, they were never charged. In fact, Joe O'Connell, from the infamous Balcombe Street Gang - a violent, ruthless, and highly-trained military unit sent to Britain by the Provisional IRA - publicly admitted in 1975 to carrying out both the Guildford and Woolwich bombings respectively.

As a result of this strange approach by the police the Guildford Four had to spend twelve more years in jail. In the year 1986, Robert Kee published a book titled "Trial and Error: the Maguires, the Guildford pub bombings and British Justice". This book had an impact.

Scales of Justice

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In the year 1987, the Home Office issue a memorandum stating that the four may not be terrorists. In the year 1989, a detective found typed notes from police interviews with the four. It was found that many deletions and additions were made. It was proved that the police had manipulated the notes.

Guildford Bombings Movie

An appeal was granted. Paul Hill was represented by Lord Gifford QC and the others were represented by Gareth Peirce (famous human rights solicitor). It was proved that the police had lied. The convictions were overturned and the Guildford Four were released in 1989.

Guildford Four Film

Even though the Guildford Four did not commit any crime, they had to spend 15 precious years of their life in jail. Conlon's father Giuseppe, died in prison in 1980, while serving his sentence.

Romance between Armstrong and his then girlfriend, Carole Richardson, died. Carole was just 17 years of age when she was arrested for her so-called involvement in the bombings.

Patrick recalled in 2017 how the girl he thought he would marry and who would become the mother of his kids, was taken away from him by the sinister forces of the British government. She suffered many nervous breakdowns in prison and died a shell of her former self, at just 55, from cancer in 2013.

The investigation into the case is considered to be the biggest miscarriage of justice in the UK. Who is to blame? Police? People in the upper echelons of the British legal system?

Tony Blair Apologized for the Incident in 2005

Source

On February 9 2005, the then Prime Minister Tony Blair apologized by saying "I am very sorry that they were subject to such an ordeal and injustice...they deserve to be completely publicly exonerated".

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Summary

  • The Guildford pub bombings occurred on October 5 1974.
  • In December 1974, the police arrested four people, who were falsely convicted in 1975 and sentenced to life imprisonment.
  • In the year 1987, the Home Office issue a memorandum stating that the four may not be terrorists.
  • The convictions were overturned and the Guildford Four were released in 1989.
  • Even though the Guildford Four did not commit any crime, they had to spend 15 precious years of their life in jail. released in 1989.

5 Cases of Miscarriage of Justice in the United Kingdom

Defendant(s)
Case Summary
 
Robert Green, Lawrence Hill and Henry Berry
All the three were hanged in 1679 for the murder of Edmund Berry Godfrey based on false evidence.
 
Sally Clark
She was convicted in 1996 of the murder of her two children and released in 2003. Conviction was based on the analysis of the Home Office Pathologist, who failed to reveal relevant information
 
Mahmood Hussein Mattan
He was hanged in Cardiff in 1952. The conviction was overturned in 1998. His family members were compensated.
 
Birmingham Six
They were wrongly convicted in 1975 of placing two bombs in pubs in Birmingham. They were released in 1991.
 
Guildford Four
They were falsely convicted in 1975 and released in 1989.
 

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

— Martin Luther King, Jr.

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