The Guildford Four were Paul Hill, Gerry Conlon, Patrick (Paddy) Armstrong and Carole Richardson, who were wrongly convicted in the United Kingdom in October 1975 for the Provisional IRA's Guildford pub bombing which killed five and injured over one hundred people. They were imprisoned for over 15 years. On February 9, 2005, British Prime Minister Tony Blair issued an apology to the families and those still alive of the eleven imprisoned for the bombings in Guildford and Woolwich, saying in part that "I am very sorry that they were subject to such an ordeal and injustice ... they deserve to be completely and publicly exonerated".
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There was never any evidence that the Four had been involved with the IRA — and they certainly did not "fit the bill" in terms of lifestyle. Patrick Armstrong and Carole Richardson lived in a squat and had involvement with drugs and petty crime.
At their trial the Guildford Four claimed they had been tortured by police until they signed a confession. After they were convicted of murder and received the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment, the judge expressed regret the Four had not been charged with treason, which then still had a mandatory death penalty.
During the trial of the Balcombe Street gang in February 1977 the four IRA men instructed their lawyers to "draw attention to the fact that four totally innocent people were serving massive sentences" for three bombings in Woolwich and Guildford. They were never charged with these offences. However, no evidence has ever been presented that proves the involvement of the four men, they never actually admitted any personal responsibility, and the IRA never identified the true perpetrators of the attack.
The Four tried to make an appeal under Section 17 of Criminal Appeal Act 1968 (later repealed) but were unsuccessful and, in 1987, the Home Office issued a memorandum recognizing that it was unlikely that the Four were terrorists but that this would not be sufficient evidence for appeal.
Further evidence and a final appeal
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. The implication of this was 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. The Lord Chief Justice said the police had either;
- completely fabricated the typed notes, amending them to make them look more effective and then creating hand-written notes to give the appearance of contemporaneous notes; or
- had started off with contemporaneous notes, typed them up to make them more legible, amended them to make them read better and then converted them back to hand-written notes.
Either way, the police had lied, and the conclusion was if they had lied about this, the entire evidence was misleading and the Four were released.
Several family members of Gerry Conlon, including his father Giuseppe, his aunt and his 14- and 16-year-old cousins (the Maguire Seven), were also imprisoned in the same case (mainly for explosives offences). Giuseppe Conlon died in prison.
After the appeals
- Life for a life sentences to warn the IRA — A report on the sentencing phase of the original trial, The Guardian, October 23, 1975
- British Prime Minister apologises, The Guardian, February 10, 2005
- Summary of the cases from the BBC
- [http://republican-news.org/archive/1998/May07/07balc.html An Phoblacht/Republican News, (May 7 1998)