Friday 23 March 2018

Flashback 1989 - the release of the Guildford Four

Gerry Conlon (centre), outside the Old Bailey in London with his sisters, after being released for being wrongly convicted of the Guilford pub bombings.
Gerry Conlon (centre), outside the Old Bailey in London with his sisters, after being released for being wrongly convicted of the Guilford pub bombings.

Ger Siggins

It is 26 years this weekend since three Irish men and an English woman were released from prison in Britain. Their jailing for a pub bombing in the Surrey town of Guildford, south of London had been exposed as a gross miscarriage of justice in which police statements were shown to be fiction, confessions secured under duress, and forensic evidence concocted to jail the four. But it took almost 15 years for the truth to emerge.

At the time of their conviction they were very young men and women - Gerry Conlon and Paul Hill were 21, while Paddy Armstrong was 25 and living in a squat with a 17-year-old English girl, Carole Richardson. "I was a young hippie who took acid and smoked hash," Armstrong said last year.

They were convicted of the 1975 bombing which killed five people, and Armstrong and Hill of another in Woolwich which killed two. The trial judge said he was disappointed they hadn't been charged with offences which carried the death penalty. The four strongly protested their innocence, and long-running campaigns to secure their release gathered support in Britain and Ireland.

A police review found statements had been doctored and an appeal judge quashed the convictions and released them on October 19, 1989. Hill threw a pink carnation to the press bench.

Richardson and Armstrong wanted to avoid the crowds and left by a back exit from the Old Bailey, while Hill was rearrested and detained for two more days because he had also been convicted - wrongly - for a murder in Belfast.

So Gerry Conlon was the only person to emerge from the courthouse, and he emerged as an angry, passionate victim of years of injustice. In the photo, with his sisters Bridie and Ann on either side, he ran the wrong way down the street before turning back, shirt and hair flying.

"I'm in prison for 15 years for something I didn't do, something I didn't know anything about," he called out. "I'm a totally innocent man - I watched my father die in a British prison for something he didn't do. He is innocent, the Maguires are innocent, let's hope the Birmingham Six are next to be freed."

Conlon's father, Giuseppe, had travelled to England to visit his son in jail and was arrested and tried with the Maguire family. He died in prison in 1980. All involved in that case, and the Guildford Four, were officially exonerated by British PM Tony Blair in 2005.

Carole Richardson slipped back quietly into living privately in England and died of cancer in 2013, aged 55. The same disease claimed 60-year-old Gerry Conlon last year after long struggles with alcohol and drug dependency.

Paul Hill was married to Courtney Kennedy, daughter of the former US presidential candidate Robert Kennedy, from 1993 to 2006, when they separated. He still lives in the US and last year said that the Guildford Four had suffered a "greater miscarriage of justice than those who died in the Guildford, Woolwich and Birmingham bombings".

Paddy Armstrong now lives in Dublin with his wife Caroline and their two children.

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