Tuesday 16 January 2018

From the archives: Strong suspicions convicted father and son were innocent

Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

THE Government feared as early as 1980 that the convictions of individuals such as Gerry Conlon over the IRA's British bombing campaign most likely represented serious miscarriages of justice.

Newly released State archives revealed that the Government were aware of strong suspicions that some of the convictions were unsafe and those involved were, most likely, innocent.

However, the Government was reluctant to openly question the validity of British court judgments on the basis London might then feel compelled to challenge Irish court rulings.

In a memo dated September 15, 1982, then-Taoiseach Charles Haughey was informed by his special adviser on Northern Ireland, Dr Martin Mansergh, of concerns in relation to the convictions of Gerry Conlon and others.

This followed Department of Foreign Affairs concerns noted in 1980.

Mr Conlon was convicted of the Guildford Pub bombings in October 1975 and sentenced to life imprisonment.

He vehemently protested his innocence.

But his conviction was only quashed in 1989 after it was finally proven that the police had manipulated crucial interview notes.

However, Mr Conlon's father, Giuseppe, who had travelled to the UK to support his son only to be convicted in relation to alleged IRA activity in north London, died in 1980 four years into a 14-year prison sentence.

His conviction was subsequently quashed after it was shown the forensic test kits central to the case were contaminated.

The case became the inspiration for the Daniel Day Lewis film, 'In The Name of the Father'.

In the 1982 memo, Dr Mansergh informed Mr Haughey of concerns over the Guildford convictions.

"There appears to be a significant possibility that there was a miscarriage of justice," he said.

The Irish embassy, he added, was considering a way of getting the cases re-opened but the families were not being informed of this.


Gerry Conlon's mother, Sarah, was waging a determined campaign to get her son and husband freed and was writing letters to senior Fianna Fail and Fine Gael officials.

As an interim measure, she was pleading for their repatriation to a prison in the North.

The Government, in a Department of Foreign Affairs memo dated in September, again raised the issue of a miscarriage of justice.

"For your information, as you are no doubt aware there is a large question mark over the guilt of Conlon and other prisoners convicted at the time of the Guildford, Woolich and Birmingham bombings," the memo read.

"We recently asked the London embassy to carry out a review of the relevant cases with a view to considering what action, if any, might be open to the Government in seeking vis-a-vis the British Home Office to have these cases re-examined. "As you will appreciate, however, this is an extremely difficult area and one in which we would be very slow to step."

Greatest concern was focussed on the reaction of Prime Minister Maragret Thatcher's government to any public questioning of British judicial rulings.

The memo added that any such measure could prompt London to focus on issues involving the Irish courts.

"We continue, however, to monitor the situation and if any significant new evidence were to emerge in these cases we would be prepared to add our weight towards ensuring that such evidence was given proper consideration by the British authorities," it added.

Both the families and their supporters, including Dublin TD Tony Gregory, were assured Dublin was working to back a prison transfer.

Mr Haughey issued a personal assurance that the Government: "will continue to raise the issue of transfer requests with from a humanitarian viewpoint both in general terms and in relation to individual cases brought to our attention."

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