Sep 012019


Picture sourced from The Mirror by John Carter 

The Guildford pub bombings occurred on the 5th October 1974 when a subgroup of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) detonated two 6-pound gelignite bombs at two pubs in Guildford, Surrey, England. The pubs were targeted because they were popular with British Army personnel stationed at Pirbright barracks. Four soldiers and one civilian were killed. Sixty-five people were wounded.

The bomb in the Horse and Groom detonated at 8:30 pm. It killed Paul Craig (a 22-year-old plasterer), two members of the Scots Guards and two members of the Women’s Royal Army Corps. The Seven Stars was evacuated after the first blast causing no serious injuries when the second bomb exploded at 9:00 pm.

These attacks were the first in a year-long campaign by an IRA Active Service Unit who became known as the Balcombe Street Gang – who Police arrested in December 1975 after the Balcombe Street siege leading to their trial and conviction for other murders and offences.

A similar bomb to those used in Guildford, with the addition of shrapnel, was thrown into the Kings Arms pub in Woolwich on 7th November 1974. Gunner Richard Dunne and Alan Horsley, a sales clerk, died in that explosion. On August 27th, 1975 the same IRA unit detonated a bomb in Surrey at the Caterham Arms pub which injured over 30 people, Surrey police said it was “a carbon copy of the Guildford bombs”.

The bombings contributed to the speedy and unchallenged passing of the Prevention of Terrorism Acts in November 1974, which were then misused by the Metropolitan Police to force false confessions from the “Guildford Four”

The Guildford Four

The bombings were at the height of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The Metropolitan Police were under enormous pressure to apprehend the IRA bombers responsible for the attacks in England. In December 1974 the police arrested three men and a woman, later known as the Guildford Four. They were Gerry Conlon, Paul Hill, Patrick Armstrong and Carole Richardson.

Conlon had been in London at the time of the bombings, and had visited his mother’s sister, Annie Maguire. A few days after the Guildford Four were arrested, the Metropolitan Police arrested Annie Maguire and her family, including Gerry Conlon’s father, Patrick “Giuseppe” Conlon – the “Maguire Seven”.

The Guildford Four were falsely convicted of the bombings in October 1975 and sentenced to life in prison. The Maguire Seven were falsely convicted of providing bomb-making material and other support in March 1976 and sentenced to terms varying between four and fourteen years.

The Guildford Four were held in prison for fifteen years, while Giuseppe Conlon died near the end of his third year of imprisonment. All the convictions were overturned years later in the appeal courts after it was proved the Guildford Four’s convictions had been based on confessions obtained by torture (as were some Maguire Seven confessions), whilst evidence specifically clearing the Four was not reported by the police.

During the trial of the “Balcombe Street Four” in February 1977, the four IRA members 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.

The Balcombe Street Four were never charged with these offences. The 1993 movie In the Name of the Father is based on these events.

Falsely Accused 

The Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven were the collective names of two groups whose convictions in English courts in 1975 and 1976 for the Guildford pub bombings of the 5th October 1974 were eventually quashed after long campaigns for justice.

The Guildford Four were wrongly convicted of bombings carried out by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), and the Maguire Seven were wrongly convicted of handling explosives found (where?) during the investigation into the bombings.

Both groups’ convictions were eventually declared “unsafe and unsatisfactory” and reversed in 1989 and 1991 respectively after they had served up to 15–16 years in prison. Along with the Maguires and the Guildford Four, a number of other people faced charges against them relating to the bombings, six of them charged with murder, but these charges were dropped.

No one else was charged with the bombings, or supplying the material; three police officers were charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, and found not guilty.

Defendant Paul Michael Hill, age at time of trial 21 was Convicted of the Guildford pub bombings,
Woolwich bombing, and (separately) of the murder of British soldier Brian Shaw, he confessed to during the same questioning.

Defendant Gerard “Gerry” Conlon, age at time of trial 21 was Convicted of the Guildford pub bombings.

Defendant Patrick “Paddy” Armstrong, age at time of trial 25 was Convicted of the Guildford pub bombings, Woolwich bombing.

Defendant Carole Richardson, age at time of trial 17 was Convicted of the Guildford pub bombings.

After their arrest, all four defendants confessed to the bombing under intense coercion by the police.

These statements were later retracted but remained the basis of the case against them. They would later be alleged to be the result of coercion by the police, ranging from intimidation to torture—including threats against family members—as well as the effects of drug withdrawal.

Conlon wrote in his autobiography that a key factor in his purportedly coerced confession was the fact that strengthened anti-terrorism laws passed in the early 1970s allowed the police to hold suspects without charges for up to a week, rather than the previous limit of 48 hours and that he might have been able to withstand the treatment he had received had the original time limit been in effect.

The four were convicted on the 22nd of October 1975 for murder and other charges and sentenced to life imprisonment – mandatory for adults convicted of murder.

Richardson, a minor at the time of the bombings, received an indeterminate “at Her Majesty’s pleasure” sentence for murder and a life sentence for conspiracy. Mr Justice Donaldson, who also presided over the Maguire Seven trial, expressed regret that the Four had not been charged with treason, which still had a mandatory death penalty.

No hangings had been carried out in the UK since 1964, treason still carried the death penalty until 1998. The normal practice was for judges to be consulted by the Home Secretary when considering release from a life sentence, rather than giving a tariff at trial but the judge, believing he might be dead by the time they were released, recommended 30 years for Conlon, 35 for Armstrong and until “great age” for Hill.

The Guildford Four did not “fit the bill” of IRA involvement according to the way they lived. Paddy Armstrong and Carole Richardson, an Englishwoman, lived in a squat and were involved with drugs and petty crime.

Conlon asserted at several points in his autobiography that the IRA would not have taken him due to his record for shoplifting and other petty crimes and that he had been expelled from Fianna Éireann, an Irish republican youth organisation with strong ties to the Provisional IRA.

Hill was born and raised in Belfast in a mixed-religion marriage.


On the night of the attacks, Richardson was in London seeing the band Jack the Lad at the South Bank Polytechnic. She was unable to recall this upon being arrested but witnesses came forward.

The prosecution put together a version of events in which she left for Guildford at high speed by car. Hill and Armstrong also presented alibis, with Hill’s placing him in Southampton.

A witness named Charles Burke placed Conlon in a London park, specifically on a bench where Burke was accustomed to sleeping as a tramp; his evidence was not presented at trial due to a miscarriage of justice (vague) forced by a trio of detectives. (unconfirmed) Robert King, a local journalist, went to Guildford police station to verify that one of the defendants “had been up north”; he was detained there and threatened for several hours, until he promised not to divulge his information to anyone.

He remained silent for many years until he eventually told his father and later spoke of this in an interview with the Surrey Advertiser. (unconfirmed) King was the first journalist on the scene of the bombings.

The Maguire Seven were charged with possessing nitroglycerine allegedly passed to the IRA to make bombs after the police raided the West Kilburn house of Anne Maguire on 3rd December 1974. (why?)

They were tried and convicted on 4th March 1976 and received the following sentences:

Maguire Seven

Anne Maguire 40, received 14 years

Patrick Maguire Anne’s husband 42, received 14 years

Patrick Maguire Son of Anne and Patrick 14, received 4 years

Vincent Maguire Son of Anne and Patrick 17, received 5 years

Sean Smyth Brother of Anne Maguire 37,received 12 years

Patrick O’Neill Family friend 35, received 12 years

Patrick “Giuseppe” Conlon Brother-in-law of Anne 52, received 12 years

Giuseppe Conlon had travelled from Belfast to help his son, Gerry Conlon, in the Guildford Four trial. Conlon, who had troubles with his lungs for many years, died in prison in January 1980, while the other six served their sentences and were released.


The Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven sought leave to appeal their convictions immediately and were refused. Despite this, a growing body of disparate groups pressed for a re-examination of the case.

In February 1977, during the trial of the Balcombe Street ASU, the four IRA men instructed their lawyers to “draw attention to the fact that four totally innocent people were serving massive sentences”, referring to the Guildford Four. Despite claims to the police that they were responsible they were never charged with these offences and the Guildford Four remained in prison for another twelve years.

The Guildford Four tried to obtain from the Home Secretary a reference to the Court of Appeal under Section 17 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1968 (later repealed), but were unsuccessful. In 1987, the Home Office issued a memorandum recognising that it was unlikely they were terrorists, but that this would not be sufficient evidence for appeal. (unconfirmed)


Following the failure of the 1977 court appeal a number of ‘lone voices’ publicly questioned the conviction; among them David Martin in The Leveller, Gavin Esler and Chris Mullin in the New Statesman and David McKittrick in the Belfast Telegraph.

On 26th February 1980, BBC One Northern Ireland aired ‘’Spotlight: Giuseppe Conlon and the Bomb Factory’’ which contained an interview by Patrick Maguire and the BBC’s Gavin Esler.

Quashing of the Guildford Four verdict

In 1989, detectives from Avon and Somerset Constabulary, investigating the handling of the case, found significant pieces of evidence in relation to Surrey Police’s handling of the Guildford Four and their statements. Typed notes from Patrick Armstrong’s police interviews had been extensively edited.

Deletions and additions had been made and the notes had been rearranged. The 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 notes presented had been described in court as contemporaneous records. Manuscript notes relating to an interview with Hill showed that Hill’s fifth statement was taken in breach of Judges’ Rules and may well have been inadmissible as evidence.

The information was not made available to the DPP or the prosecution and the officers involved had denied under oath that such an interview had happened. Detention records were inconsistent with the times and durations of the claimed interviews, as reported by the Surrey police.

An appeal was already under way on the basis of other evidence. Lord Gifford QC represented Paul Hill and others were represented by human rights solicitor, Gareth Peirce.

The appeal hearing had been adjourned to January 1990 at the request of the Guildford Four but once the findings of the Somerset and Avon report were available, the hearing was resumed, with the Crown stating that it did not wish to support the convictions.

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Lane, concluded that, regardless of the impact of the content of the material discovered by Somerset and Avon or the alibis or additional evidence the appellants wished to introduce, the level of duplicity meant that all the police evidence was suspect and the case for the prosecution was unsafe.

Lane remarked

We have no doubt that these events make the convictions of all of these four appellants in respect of the Guildford and the Woolwich events unsafe, even though the latest revelations have no direct bearing on the evidence relating to the Woolwich bombing.

The Four were released on 19 October 1989, after having their convictions quashed. Paul Hill had also been convicted of the murder of a British soldier, Brian Shaw, based on his confession while in the custody of Surrey Police. This did not fall under the ambit of the Lane appeal but he was released on bail, pending his appeal against this conviction. In 1994, Her Majesty’s Court of Appeal in Belfast quashed Hill’s conviction for Shaw’s murder.

Quashing of the Maguire verdicts

On 12th July 1990, the Home Secretary David Waddington published the Interim Report on the Maguire Case: The Inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the convictions arising out of the bomb attacks in Guildford and Woolwich in 1974, which criticised the trial judge Mr Justice Donaldson and unearthed improprieties in the handling of scientific evidence, declaring the convictions unsound and recommending referral back to the Court of Appeal.

The report “strongly criticise (d) the decision by the prosecution at the Guildford Four’s trial not to disclose to the defence a statement supporting Mr Conlon’s alibi”.

The convictions of the Maguire Seven were quashed in 1991.


Neither the bombings nor the wrongful imprisonment resulted in convictions. The bombings were most likely the work of the Balcombe Street Siege gang, who claimed responsibility. They were already serving life sentences, but were released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. Three British police officers—Thomas Style, John Donaldson and Vernon Attwell—were charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice but each was found not guilty.

On 9th February 2005, Tony Blair, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, issued an apology to the families of the eleven people imprisoned for the bombings in Guildford and Woolwich and those related to them who were still alive. He said, in part, “I am very sorry that they were subject to such an ordeal and injustice… they deserve to be completely and publicly exonerated”.

Anne Maguire was awarded a Benemerenti medal by the Roman Catholic Church for her “remarkable ability to forgive” and her community work.

In 1993, Paul Hill married Courtney Kennedy, a daughter of assassinated American senator Robert F. Kennedy and a niece of assassinated president John F. Kennedy. They had a daughter in 1999 but legally separated in 2006.

Their daughter, Saoirse Kennedy Hill, died in August 2019, aged 22.

Hill had a televised meeting with the brother of murdered soldier Brian Shaw, who continued to accuse him.

He travelled to Colombia to attend the trial of the Colombia Three.

Gerry Conlon’s autobiography Proved Innocent was adapted into the Oscar and Bafta award-nominated 1993 drama In the Name of the Father, with Daniel Day-Lewis, Emma Thompson and Pete Postlethwaite. The film depicts Conlon’s attempt to rebuild his shattered relationship with his father but is partly fictional, Conlon never shared a cell with his father.

He is reported to have settled with the government for a final payment of compensation in the region of £500,000.

His mother Sarah Conlon, who had spent 16 years campaigning to have the names of her husband and son cleared and helped secure the apology, died on 20 July 2008.

Conlon gave support to Tommy Sheridan in relation to the charges brought against him. Conlon had been working to have the conviction of the Craigavon Two overturned prior to his death in June 2014.

Paddy Armstrong had problems with drinking and gambling. He eventually married and moved to Dublin. Carole Richardson married and had a daughter soon after her release. She kept out of the public eye and died in 2012 aged 55.

The autobiography of the youngest member of the Maguire Seven, Patrick Maguire, My Father’s Watch: The Story of a Child Prisoner in 70s Britain was released in May 2008. It tells his story before, during and after his imprisonment and details its impact on his life and those of his family.

Gerry Conlon later joined a campaign to free the “Craigavon Two”, Brendan McConville and John Paul Wootton, convicted of the murder of a police officer in Northern Ireland. Conlon died at home in Belfast on 21st June 2014. His family issued a statement: “He brought life, love, intelligence, wit and strength to our family through its darkest hours.

He helped us to survive what we were not meant to survive. We recognise that what he achieved by fighting for justice for us had a far, far greater importance – it forced the world’s closed eyes to be opened to injustice; it forced unimaginable wickedness to be acknowledged; we believe it changed the course of history”.

Sir John Donaldson went on to an illustrious judicial career and became Master of the Rolls, Head of the Appeal Court. The appeal case itself for R v Maguire 1981, is now the leading case for disclosure to the defence. In November 2018 the BBC broadcast a documentary A Great British Injustice: The Maguire Story, with the involvement of surviving members of the Maguire family. 

In popular culture

In March 1991 Paul Hill appeared on the Channel 4 discussion programme After Dark with, among others, Patrick Cosgrave, J. P. Donleavy, David Norris, Emily O’Reilly and Francis Stuart.

In May 1994 Paul Hill gave a half-hour Opinions lecture televised on Channel 4 and subsequently published in The Independent as “Prisoners on the Outside”.

The film In the Name of the Father starring Daniel Day-Lewis was based on the story of the Guildford Four. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards.

The Guildford Four are mentioned in the track “Fifty in Five” from the Australian hip-hop album State of the Art which compiles major events of the past fifty years condensed into a five minute song.

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Sourced from Wikipedia