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Guildford Four

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Title: Guildford Four  
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Subject: October 19, 1989, Guildford, Emma Thompson, Daniel Day-Lewis, Capital punishment in the United Kingdom, Michael Mansfield, Balcombe Street Siege, Jim Sheridan, If I Should Fall from Grace with God
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Guildford Four

The Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven were the collective names of two groups of people whose convictions in English courts in 1975 and 1976 for the Guildford pub bombings of 5 October 1974 were eventually quashed after long campaigns for justice. The Guildford Four were convicted of bombings carried out by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), and the Maguire Seven were convicted of handling explosives found during the investigation into the bombings. Both groups' convictions were eventually declared "incorrect and unsatisfactory"[1] and reversed in 1989 and 1991 respectively after they had served 15-16 years in prison. They were not compensated for these years in prison.[2]

Guildford Four

The Guildford Four were charged with direct involvement with the IRA attacks. They were:

Defendant Age at
time of trial
Convicted of
Paul Michael Hill 21
Gerard "Gerry" Conlon 21
  • The Guildford bombings
Patrick "Paddy" Armstrong 25
  • The Guildford bombings
  • The Woolwich bombing
Carole Richardson 17
  • The Guildford bombings

After their arrest, all four defendants confessed to the bombing under intense amount of torture by the police. These statements were later retracted, but nonetheless formed the basis of the case against them. They would later be alleged to be the result of coercion by the police, ranging from intimidation to torture—including threats against family members—as well as the effects of drug withdrawal.[3] Conlon argues in his autobiography that a key factor in his purportedly coerced confession was the fact that strengthened anti-terrorism laws passed in the early 1970s allowed the police to hold suspects without charges for up to a week, rather than the previous limit of 48 hours, and that he might have been able to withstand coercion had the original time limit been in effect.[4]

They were convicted in October 1975 for murder and other charges, and sentenced to life imprisonment, mandatory for adults convicted of murder. Richardson, a minor at the time of the bombings, received an indeterminate At Her Majesty's Pleasure sentence for murder, but a life sentence for conspiracy. Mr Justice Donaldson, who also presided over the Maguire Seven trial, expressed regret that the Four had not been charged with treason, which then still had a mandatory death penalty. At the time, the normal practice was for judges to be consulted by the Home Secretary when considering release from a life sentence, rather than giving a tariff at trial, but the judge, believing he might be dead by the time they were released, recommended 30 years for Conlon, 35 for Armstrong and until "great age" for Hill. By comparison, the Balcombe Street Gang received recommendations of 30 years. The Birmingham Six's trial judge chose not to give a recommendation.

There was never any evidence that any of "The Four" had been involved with the Provisional IRA. Furthermore, they did not "fit the bill" in terms of lifestyle. Paddy Armstrong and Carole Richardson, an Englishwoman, lived in a squat, and were involved with drugs and petty crime. Conlon likewise asserts at several points in his autobiography that the IRA would not have taken him due to his record for shoplifting and other petty crimes, and that he had, in fact, been expelled from Fianna Eireann, a Republican youth organisation with strong ties to the Provisional IRA.[4] Paul Michael Hill was born and raised in Belfast in a mixed-religion marriage; as a boy he participated in the widespread rioting at the time.[5]


On the night of the attacks, Richardson was in London seeing the band Jack the Lad at the South Bank Polytechnic. She was unable to recall this upon being arrested, but witnesses came forward. However, the prosecution put together a version of events in which she left for Guildford at high speed by car. Hill and Armstrong also presented alibis, Hill's placing him at Southampton. A witness named Charles Burke placed Conlon at a London hostel, but his evidence was not presented at trial.

Maguire Seven

The Maguire Seven were charged with possessing nitroglycerine allegedly passed to the IRA to make bombs after the police raided the West Kilburn house of Anne Maguire on 3 December 1974.

They were tried and convicted on 4 March 1976 and received the following sentences:

Defendant Relationship Age at
time of trial
Anne Maguire 40 14 years
Patrick Maguire Anne's husband 42 14 years
Patrick Maguire Son of Anne and Patrick 14 4 years
Vincent Maguire Son of Anne and Patrick 17 5 years
Sean Smyth Brother of Anne Maguire 37 12 years
Patrick O'Neill Family friend 35 12 years
Patrick "Giuseppe" Conlon Brother-in-law of Anne 52 12 years

Giuseppe Conlon had travelled from Belfast to help his son, Gerry Conlon, in the Guildford Four trial. Conlon, who had troubles with his lungs for many years, died in prison in January 1980, while the other six served their sentences and were released.


Both the Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven unsuccessfully sought leave to appeal their convictions immediately. Despite this, a growing body of disparate groups pressed for a re-examination of the case.

In February 1977, during the trial of the Balcombe Street ASU, the four IRA men instructed their lawyers to "draw attention to the fact that four totally innocent people were serving massive sentences", referring to the Guildford Four.[6] Despite claims to the police that they were responsible [6] they were never charged with these offences, and the Guildford Four remained in prison for another twelve years.

The Guildford Four tried to obtain from the Home Secretary a reference to the Court of Appeal under Section 17 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1968 (later repealed), but were unsuccessful. In 1987, the Home Office issued a memorandum recognising that it was unlikely they were terrorists, but that this would not be sufficient evidence for appeal.

Quashing of the Guildford verdict

In 1989, a detective looking at the case found typed notes from Patrick Armstrong's police interviews, which had been heavily edited. Deletions and additions had been made, and the notes had been rearranged. These notes, and their amendments, were consistent with hand-written and typed notes presented at the trial, which suggested that the hand-written notes were made after the interviews had been conducted. This implied that the police had manipulated the notes to fit with the case they wanted to present.

An appeal was granted on the basis of this new evidence. Lord Gifford QC represented Paul Hill, and others were represented by human rights solicitor, Gareth Peirce. The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Lane, said that the police typescripts were either a "fabrication by the police from start to finish, invented by some fertile Constabulary mind" or a "contemporaneous manuscript note ... reduced into typewritten form [and] then amended here and there in order to improve it; and, finally ... reconverted into manuscript by the various Surrey officers involved so that it could be produced as a contemporaneous note".[7]

Either way, the police had lied, and the conclusion was that if they had lied about this, the entire evidence of the police was unreliable. The Four were released on 19 October 1989, after having their convictions quashed.

Paul Hill had also been convicted of the murder of a British soldier, Brian Shaw, based on his confession while in the custody of Surrey Police. He was released on bail, pending his appeal against this conviction. In 1994, the Her Majesty's Court of Appeal in Belfast quashed Hill's conviction for Brian Shaw's murder.

Quashing of the Maguire verdicts

On 12 July 1990, the Home Secretary David Waddington published the Interim Report on the Maguire Case: The Inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the convictions arising out of the bomb attacks in Guildford and Woolwich in 1974,[8] which criticised the trial judge Mr Justice Donaldson and unearthed improprieties in the handling of scientific evidence and declared the convictions unsound recommending referral back to the Court of Appeal. The report "strongly criticise[d] the decision by the prosecution at the Guildford trial not to disclose to the defence a statement supporting Mr Conlon's alibi."[9]

The convictions of the Maguire Seven were quashed in 1991. The court held that members of the London Metropolitan Police beat some of the Seven into confessing to the crimes and withheld information that would have cleared them.[10]


Neither the bombings nor the wrongful imprisonment resulted in convictions. The bombings were most likely the work of the Balcombe Street Siege gang, who claimed responsibility. They were already serving life sentences, but were released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. Three British police officers—Thomas Style, John Donaldson, and Vernon Attwell—were charged, but they were each found not guilty.[11]

On 9 February 2005, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Tony Blair issued an apology to the families of the 11 people imprisoned for the bombings in Guildford and Woolwich, and those related to them who were still alive, by saying, in part: "I am very sorry that they were subject to such an ordeal and injustice... they deserve to be completely and publicly exonerated."[12]

Paul Hill married Courtney Kennedy, daughter of assassinated American senator Robert F. Kennedy, and niece of assassinated president John F. Kennedy, although they have subsequently separated.[13] He has had a televised meeting with the brother of Brian Shaw, who continued to accuse him,[14] and has travelled to Colombia to attend the trial of the Colombia Three.[15]

Gerry Conlon's autobiography Proved Innocent was adapted into the Oscar and BAFTA Award-nominated 1993 drama In the Name of the Father, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Emma Thompson, and Pete Postlethwaite. The film depicts Conlon's attempt to rebuild his shattered relationship with his father, but is partly fictional: for example, Conlon never shared a cell with his father. He is reported to have settled with the government for a final payment of compensation in the region of £500,000.[1] His mother Sarah Conlon, who had spent 16 years campaigning to have the names of her husband and son cleared and helped secure the apology, died on 20 July 2008.[16] Conlon has given support to Tommy Sheridan in relation to the charges brought against him.[17] He has been reported to have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and had involvement with drugs in the aftermath of his release.[18]

Paddy Armstrong had difficulty with drinking and gambling. He later married and moved to Dublin.[18]

Carole Richardson married and had a daughter soon after her release. She has kept out of the public eye since then.[18]

The autobiography of the youngest member of the Maguire Seven, Patrick Maguire, My Father's Watch: The Story of a Child Prisoner in 70s Britain was released in May 2008. It tells his story before, during, and after his imprisonment, and its impact on his life and the lives of his family.[19]

See also


External links

  • The Guardian, October 23, 1975
  • Miscarriages of justice
  • BBC
  • Background to the Irish cases
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