The Guildford Four Win Right to Appeal
LONDON (AP) _ Four people jailed for life in the bombing of British pubs during a 1974 wave of Irish terrorism will have their case reopened, the government announced Monday.
Responding to pressure that has made the ″Guildford Four″ a cause celebre in Britain and Ireland, Home Secretary Douglas Hurd told Parliament that new information had emerged meriting the case being heard by the Court of Appeals.
The Irish government welcomed the decision, while Cardinal Basil Hume, the Roman Catholic churchman who was among many public figures who campaigned for a retrial, said he was delighted.
Carole Richardson, 29; Patrick Armstrong, 36; Paul Hill, 34; and Gerry Conlon, 33, were convicted of planting bombs in two pubs frequented by British soldiers in Guildford, southwest of London, in October 1974. Five people, including two soldiers, were killed and 65 injured.
Armstrong and Hill also were convicted of a pub bombing in the London suburb of Woolwich a month later in which the bartender and a soldier died and 26 people were injured.
They were sentenced to life imprisonment in 1975. Two years later, a court rejected their appeal.
In a written reply to a lawmaker’s question, Hurd said he was satisfied that ″there are new and substantial points which clearly ... are best considered by the court.″
These, he said, included apparent alibis for Hill and Miss Richardson that never had been put to a court, and indications that Miss Richardson was injected with drugs during her interrogation while suffering symptoms of withdrawal from barbiturates.
″The possible effects of these drugs on the reliability of her statements were not adequately exposed to the jury or the Court of Appeal,″ Hurd said.
He declined, however, to act on a point of law raised by Lords Leslie Scarman and Patrick Devlin, senior jurists who argued the appeals court ruled against the four despite being aware of confessions by two Irish Republican Army men that it was they who planted the bombs.
The campaign for the Guildford Four has attracted the attention of two former home secretaries, the heads of the Anglican and Catholic churches, and newspapers on the left and right.
It is the second time in two years that the government has reopened a case involving convicted Irish terrorists claiming to be victims of a miscarriage of justice.
The ″Birmingham Six″ - six Irishmen serving life terms for pub bombings in Birmingham in 1974 that killed 21 people - went before the Court of Appeal following a similar campaign but their convictions were upheld last year.
The Guildford Four similarly have figured strongly in Anglo-Irish relations. They are held up as examples by those who claim British courts are biased against the Irish, and that Ireland should therefore refuse to extradite IRA suspects to Britain.
An Irish government statement said: ″The government has consistently conveyed serious concern about the Guildford Four case to the British authorities.
″This concern is shared across the political and legal spectrum in Britain and Ireland. A very wide range of people in both countries will therefore be heartened by today’s decision.″
Sinn Fein, the legal political wing of the outlawed IRA, said the decision was ″long overdue,″ but noted that Hurd had used similar grounds to open the case of the Birmingham Six, ″and the negative outcome of that appeal was and remains a scandal of international dimension.″
Gerard Conlon’s brother-in-law, Joe McKernan, said: ″It is time the government stood up and admitted, ‘OK, we made a mistake.’ It may cause a certain amount of embarrassment, but it is better to be embarrassed than to continue governing knowing there are innocent people behind bars.″