After serving 15 years in prison, the Guildford Four, Gerry Conlon, Patrick Armstrong, Carole Richardson, and Paul Hill, are released on October 19, 1989, in what is considered to be one of the biggest-ever miscarriages of justice in Britain.
On October 5, 1974, an Irish Republican Army (IRA) bomb kills four people in a Guildford pub frequented by British military personnel, while another bomb in Woolwich kills three. British investigators rush to find suspects and soon settle on Gerry Conlon and Paul Hill, two residents of Northern Ireland who are in the area at the time of the terrorist attack.
Under the recently rewritten Prevention of Terrorism Act, British investigators are allowed to hold and interrogate terrorist suspects for five days without any hard evidence. Conlon and Hill, who are nonpolitical petty criminals, are among the first suspects held under the new law. During their prison stay, investigators fabricate against them an IRA conspiracy that implicates a number of their friends and family members. The officers then force the two suspects to sign confessions under physical and mental torture. In October 1975, Gerry Conlon, Paul Hill, Paddy Armstrong, and Carole Richardson are sentenced to life in prison – mandatory for adults convicted of murder. Seven of their relatives and friends, called the Maguire Seven, are sentenced to lesser terms on the basis of questionable forensic evidence.
In 1989, detectives from Avon and Somerset Constabulary, investigating the handling of the case, find three significant pieces of evidence in relation to Surrey Police‘s handling of the Guildford Four and their statements.
Firstly, 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, are consistent with hand-written and typed notes presented at the trial, which suggest that the hand-written notes are made after the interviews had been conducted. The notes presented had been described in court as contemporaneous records.
Secondly, a series of manuscript notes relating to an interview with Hill, which show that Hill’s fifth statement is taken in breach of Judges’ Rules, and may well have been inadmissible as evidence. The information is not made available to the Director of Public Prosecutions or the prosecution. Further, the officers involved had denied under oath that such an interview had happened.
Thirdly, detention records are inconsistent with the times and durations of the claimed interviews reported by the Surrey police.
In the face of growing public protest and after the disclosure of exonerating evidence, including the admittance of guilt in the bombings by an imprisoned IRA member, the group’s conviction is declared “unsafe and unsatisfactory.” The Guildford Four are cleared of all charges and released after 15 years in prison. The following year a British appeals court also overturns the convictions of the Maguire Seven, who were jailed on the basis of forensic evidence that is shown to have no relevant scientific basis.
(Pictured: Gerry Conlon on his release from prison in 1989)