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22 October 2009 Edition

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Remembering the Past: Release of the Guildford Four


IN THE closing years of Margaret Thatcher’s reign as British Prime Minister, the British judicial system became increasingly discredited as high-profile cases exposed how the British Establishment had perverted justice to secure convictions of Irish people at any cost. Foremost among such cases were those of the Guildford Four, the Maguire family and the Birmingham Six.
On 5 October 1974, IRA bombs exploded in two pubs in Guildford, Surrey, killing five people, four of them British Army personnel and one civilian, and injuring many others. On 7 November, a British soldier and a civilian were killed in a similar attack in Woolwich, south London. In the aftermath of the attacks, a number of innocent Irish people were rounded up, including Carole Richardson, Paul Hill, Paddy Armstrong and Gerry Conlon – the Guildford Four. Also caught in the web of frame-ups were Gerry Conlon’s father, Giuseppe, and six members of the Maguire family, who were falsely accused of making the Guildford bombs.
The Guildford Four were brutally treated in custody and after a virtual show trial they were sentenced to life imprisonment. The Maguires and Giuseppe Conlon were also convicted and given long prison sentences. A similar fate befell the Birmingham Six, the men wrongly convicted of the Birmingham bombings of November 1974.

At their trial, in 1977, the four members of the IRA unit captured by British police in the December 1975 siege in Balcombe Street, in London, admitted they had been responsible for the Guildford and Woolwich bombs and that those previously convicted were totally innocent. Despite this, the Guildford Four remained behind bars.
In 1980, Giuseppe Conlon died in prison and it seemed that there was little hope for any of the Irish frame-up victims in Britain. Campaigns for their release grew during the 1980s and in January 1989 the frame-ups began to unravel when the British Home Secretary announced the referral of the Guildford Four case to the Court of Appeal.
In October 1989, it was announced that the appeal was to be brought forward and the Director of Public Prosecutions for England and Wales announced it would be “wrong for the Crown to sustain their convictions”. This made the appeal hearing a formality and on 19 October the Guildford Four walked free.

When the frame-up victims were released their first public comments were in support of the Birmingham Six who remained in jail and whose appeal had been turned down the previous year.
The release of the Guildford Four threw a spotlight on a British judicial system in which Irish people charged with offences connected with the conflict could not expect justice. And that system was exposed just as the Fianna Fáil government of Charles Haughey was stepping up the process of extraditing political prisoners to the Six Counties and Britain. At the time of the Guildford Four release there were eight political prisoners facing extradition.
Paul Hill addressed thousands of people in front of Dublin’s GPO on 4 November 1989 and condemned political extradition:
“There are still people being handed over to the jurisdiction that treated us so barbarically.”
The Guildford Four were released on 19 October 1989, 20 years ago his week.

An Phoblacht Magazine


  • The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
  • It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
  • There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtarán Mary Lou McDonald.

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