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Friday 29 August 2014

Gerry Conlon

Published 21/06/2014 | 14:41

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Gerry Conlon and the Guildford Four were convicted at the height of Northern Ireland's Troubles, after the IRA carried out a UK mainland bombing campaign targeting pubs.

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But the high-profile deadly attacks in Guildford, Woolwich and Birmingham in 1974 became better known for the huge miscarriages of justices they led to in the aftermath, with the public demanding the perpetrators be brought to justice.

Their plight was also highlighted by the 1993 film In The Name Of The Father, in which Conlon and his father Giuseppe were played by Oscar-nominated Daniel Day-Lewis and Pete Postlethwaite respectively.

Gerry Conlon, Paddy Armstrong, Paul Hill and Carole Richardson were jailed in 1975 for the attack on the Horse and Groom pub in Guildford which killed four soldiers and a civilian and injured scores more. Mr Hill and Mr Armstrong were also jailed for the Woolwich bombing in which two people died.

In a separate trial, The Birmingham Six - Paddy Joe Hill, Hugh Callaghan, Richard McIlkenny, Gerry Hunter, Billy Power and Johnny Walker - were convicted for carrying out the Midlands bombings.

Later Giuseppe, and members of the Maguire family - who became known as the Maguire Seven - were arrested and jailed for possessing and supplying the IRA with the explosives for the bombs.

But all those involved protested their innocence and after years of campaigning their convictions were overturned.

In October 1989 the Court of Appeal quashed the sentences of the Guildford Four after they had served 14 years behind bars, amid doubts raised about the police evidence against them.

An investigation into the case by Avon and Somerset Police found serious flaws in the way Surrey Police handled the case.

Emerging from the Court of Appeal a free man, Mr Conlon declared: ''I have been in prison for something I did not do. I am totally innocent.

''The Maguire Seven are innocent. Let's hope the Birmingham Six are freed.''

In July 2000 the Prime Minister Tony Blair became the first senior politician to apologise to the Guildford Four.

In a letter sent to Paul Hill's wife - one of the American Kennedy clan - he wrote: "There were miscarriages of justice in your husband's case, and the cases of those convicted with him. I am very sorry indeed that this should have happened."

Giuseppe Conlon died in prison in 1980, still protesting his innocence, and never saw his son freed.

In June 1991 Giuseppe's sentence was posthumously overturned by the Court of Appeal along with those of the Maguires.

The Birmingham Six also had their convictions overturned on appeal in 1991.

Although the Guildford Four scandal has been known for 30 years the case files remain classified.

Along with the Birmingham Six the material associated with the investigation and prosecution is held under the Official Secrets Act where it can remain shut to the public for 75 years.

Mr Conlon in recent years took up the cause of a number of dissident republicans jailed in Northern Ireland including Marian Price.

She was found guilty of offences linked to paramilitaries including providing a phone used by the Real IRA hit squad that murdered two British soldiers at the Massereene barracks in Co Antrim in 2009.

He insisted his approach was not one of political motivation but for the right of people to have a fair trial and the right for justice to be seen to be done in public.

Press Association

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