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Guildford Four Case Study

Derek Bentley

Derek Bentley, a 19-year-old robber, was under arrest when his younger accomplice, Chris Craig, shot and killed police officer Sidney Miles in 1952.

In a trial just six weeks later, police said Bentley had shouted: "Let him have it, Chris!" in a plea to open fire, rather than to hand over the weapon. Bentley was hanged on January 28 1953 - the day after the home secretary, Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, rejected a clemency plea from MPs. Craig escaped the gallows because he was a minor.

It took just 88 days from the shots being fired before Bentley was hung in Wandsworth jail. The trial lasted barely two-and-a-half days, and the jury heard no evidence of Bentley's medical condition. He had a mental age of 11.

Three court of appeal judges cleared his name in 1998, declaring he had been denied "the fair trial which is the birthright of every British citizen".

The Guildford Four

Paul Hill, Gerard Conlon, Patrick Armstrong and Carole Richardson spent 14 years in prison before their convictions for two IRA bomb explosions in Guildford on October 5 1974 were quashed by the court of appeal in 1989.

Five died in the bombings and 50 others were injured. Mr Armstrong and Mr Hill were also convicted of murdering two people in a pub bombing in Woolwich in November 1974.

In 1993, three retired Surrey detectives were acquitted by a jury of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice by fabricating evidence.

Mr Hill, who was aged 21 when he was arrested, spent more than 1,600 days in solitary confinement. Gerry Conlon's father, Guiseppe, was falsely imprisoned for an IRA bomb conspiracy (see the Maguire Seven) and died in prison in 1980. He was cleared posthumously.

Sir John May's four-and-a-half-year inquiry into the Guildford and Woolwich bombings, which was published in 1994, made damning criticism of every stage of the process that led to the arrest, conviction and finally acquittal of the Guildford Four.

The Maguire Seven

Convictions against the Maguire Seven were ruled unsafe in 1990 after an inquiry exposed disturbing holes in the police's forensic evidence.

The seven - who included Gerard Conlon's father, "Guiseppe", and his ailing aunt - were convicted of running an IRA bomb factory in north London in 1974.

Mr Conlon died in prison in 1980 while serving his 12-year sentence. He was cleared posthumously.

However, three appeal court judges found that traces of nitroglycerine found on their hands and gloves could have been the result of innocent contamination.

The Birmingham Six

Six Irish Catholic men, who had settled in England, were wrongly convicted in 1975 of the murder of 21 people after bombs exploded in the Mulberry Bush bar in Birmingham in 1974.

The six men - Paddy Joe Hill, Hugh Callaghan, Richard McIlkenny, Gerry Hunter, Billy Power, Johnny Walker - served more than 16 years in jail.

When they emerged onto the steps of the Old Bailey in 1991 after the court of appeal had quashed their conviction, psychologists said they were in a condition congruous with those who had been at war.

The men had been vilified for years as Britain's biggest mass murderers. They were partly convicted on forensic evidence of bomb traces which was later discredited. Prosecutions against officers accused of tampering with evidence were halted in 1993 because of "adverse publicity".

Last year, Mr Hill, angrily rejected a compensation offer of more than £900,000 for the time he spent in prison. All six were given £200,000 interim compensation.

Judith Ward

Judith Ward was wrongly convicted in 1974 of the 1972 M62 coach bombing in which 12 soldiers and members of their families as they were returning to Catterick camp in North Yorkshire, were killed in the explosion. At the time it was the worst IRA outrage on the British mainland.

She served 17 years for crimes she did not commit and lawyers at her appeal said there had been "significant and substantial" non-disclosure of information to the defence.

The Bridgewater Three

Three men jailed for the murder in 1978 of the Staffordshire newspaper boy Carl Bridgewater were freed after three appeal court judges were told that two policemen had probably fabricated a vital statement.

As a result of the discovery by forensic scientists, the crown prosecution service accepted that the trial of the four men accused of killing Carl had been "fundamentally flawed". They had spent 18 years in jail.

The three, Michael Hickey, 35, Vincent Hickey, 42, and James Robinson, 63, had their murder convictions quashed in 1997.

The manslaughter conviction against Patrick Molloy, who died in prison in 1981, aged 53, was reversed posthumously. He had claimed a "vein of corruption and dishonesty" ran right through the case.

Carl was aged 13 when he was killed by a single shot to the head at point-blank range as he stumbled across an apparent burglary.

Lawyers have claimed recently released documents concerning the 1974 Guildford IRA pub bombing expose "criminality" by police and prosecutors.

The Guildford Four were wrongfully convicted over the bombings in one of the UK's worst miscarriages of justice.

KRW Law said newly-released archive material contained "evidence of perverting the course of justice" and demanded a new inquiry be launched.

The Attorney General said it had not yet received the application.

Surrey Police said they were aware of the letter and were awaiting any decisions by the Attorney General.

Soldiers Ann Hamilton, 19, Caroline Slater, 18, William Forsyth, 18, and John Hunter, 17, died in the blast at the Horse & Groom on 5 October 1974, along with plasterer Paul Craig, 21.

In a letter to Attorney General Jeremy Wright QC, the law firm urges him to launch a fresh probe into the actions of police and lawyers at the time.

It said its application was being made on the basis of material accessed at the National Archives by the BBC last year.

"On the basis of this material we submit that your offices can review the case in its entirety with a view to directing a fresh criminal inquiry," the firm wrote.

The human rights law firm is representing a former soldier who survived the bombing at the Horse and Groom pub.

KRW spokesman Christopher Stanley said the ex-soldier, who wants to remain anonymous, still suffers from PTSD as a result of the atrocity.

The original convictions had brought her some reassurance, he said, but finding out later they were a miscarriage of justice had led to further trauma.

The law firm also represents Ann McKernan, sister of Guildford Four member Gerry Conlon.

Mr Stanley said she wanted a new inquiry because her late brother had been falsely imprisoned with a wrongful conviction still hanging over him.

No-one has ever been convicted over the bombing.


Guildford Four timeline

  • 5 October 1974 - IRA bombs explode in two pubs in Guildford, Surrey, killing five people and injuring scores more. Guildford was known as a "garrison town", with several barracks nearby, at Stoughton and Pirbright and Aldershot in Hampshire, and a night-life that was popular with the 6,000 military personnel in the area
  • 22 October 1975 - Paul Hill, Gerry Conlon, Patrick Armstrong and Carole Richardson - the Guildford Four - jailed for life at the Old Bailey
  • 19 October 1989 - After years of campaigning, the Court of Appeal quashes the convictions, ruling them as unsafe, and releases them
  • 9 February 2005 - Prime Minister Tony Blair formally apologises to the Guildford Four for the miscarriage of justice they suffered

What the documents say

In 1976 - a year before the Guildford Four were refused leave to appeal - the IRA's Balcombe Street unit had said they were responsible for bombing pubs in Guildford and Woolwich.

KRW said papers at the National Archives indicated "possible alteration or suppression of evidence relating to the admissions made by the Balcombe Street IRA Cell".

A memo contained in working papers released to the BBC last year refers to a request by John Mathew QC to forensic expert Douglas Higgs "to redraft his statements".

But later, after the Guildford Four's convictions were quashed, former judge Sir John May carried out a five-year probe into the case, and wrote in his final report: "Formulation of the Balcombe Street indictment was entirely a matter for John Mathew and his team and it was a task which they carried out with all propriety."

In a statement, Surrey Police said: "We are aware of the letter that has been sent to the Office of the Attorney General, from KRW Law Advocates on behalf of their clients, requesting a new enquiry into the original Surrey Police investigation and alleged actions of the original prosecuting team.

"The investigation was reviewed by Avon and Somerset Police in 1987. As a result of this review, the Court of Appeal decided in 1989 that the convictions in 1975 were unsafe.

"A subsequent judicial enquiry was held by Sir John May, with a report published in 1994, which led to the trial of three Surrey Police officers in 1993 in relation to conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. They stood trial and were acquitted.

"We will wait to hear as to any decisions made by the Office of the Attorney General following this representation, and any subsequent direction made."

A spokeswoman for the Attorney General's Office said: "We have not received an application, but if an application is received we will consider it carefully."


Johnny Depp 'family friend'

The latest legal development has coincided with the publication of a new biography of Gerry Conlon - which has a foreword by US actor Johnny Depp.

Depp describes how he met Mr Conlon by chance and how he became a "100% trusted friend and brother, to the very end".

The film star went on holiday with Mr Conlon and his family in 1991 and also said he had a special place in his heart for Mr Conlon's mother, Sarah, and his sister, Ann.

In the book, he writes: "It is the story of a man I loved and would have taken a bullet for, as I know he would have done for me and all his loved ones."

"It was an honour to have known Gerry Conlon and to call him my friend."

Biographer Richard O'Rawe, former Irish republican prisoner who grew up with Mr Conlon in Belfast, has continually called for the release of hundreds more files that remain closed at the National Archives at Kew.

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