British Justice: Offsite: Innocent UK
Examining injustice in the UK ♦♦ Review
of the movie which has a good telling of the story of the Guildford
On this site: Guiseppe Conlon ♦♦ Blair's
apology 2005 ♦♦ Birmingham 6
An injustice that still reverberates
A decade after
bombing convictions were quashed, the freed four and the legal
system have not found all the answers
By David Pallister, 19 October 1999
After the incredulity
and then the euphoria of release from jail, the four people who
had served 15 years for the Guildford pub bombings in 1974 had
to find a life. Three are now married with families but the years
of adjustment have been painful.
Ten years ago
today the only thing that mattered was when Lord Lane, the lord
chief justice, pronounced those magic words: the convictions
of Gerry Conlon (above), Carole Richardson, Paul Hill and Paddy
Armstrong were "unsafe and unsatisfactory".
Conlon, a wild
and wiry bundle of suppressed energy with delirious sisters on
either arm, was the only one to face the crowds outside the front
door of the Old Bailey. He punched the air in defiance and ran
the wrong way down the street. Just like a confused animal, his
lawyer thought. Conlon was then 35.
17 at the time of her arrest, was shocked and weak at the knees.
She and her former boyfriend, Armstrong, disappeared separately
out the back. She just wanted to hide. Hill, who was still serving
life for a murder in Northern Ireland, was taken to Crumlin Road
prison in Belfast and bailed two days later.
the first of the momentous Irish miscarriage of justice cases
which convulsed the criminal justice system and led to a rare
royal commission. The crisis of confidence was encapsulated in
one of Lord Lane's concluding remarks: "The officers must
- on disclosure of evidence, the right to silence and to jury
trials, the credibility of the police, the quality of forensic
services and the question of racism - are still reverberating.
the four people who had lost their youth, a personal trauma of
equal intensity lay in store. As Gareth Peirce, Gerry Conlon's
solicitor, put it: "They come out with no money and no counselling.
They have no references, it's difficult to open a bank account,
you can't get a mortgage. They have no GP. You don't belong."
- the pace of life and the gadgetry invented since 1974 - caused
panic. They found the noise of traffic and crossing the road
frightening. "You're inadequate, you've no skills,"
But the most
serious effects of 15 years in prison, most of them in category
A, was psychological. Three years ago Adrian Grounds, a psychiatrist
at the Institute of Criminology at Cambridge, examined Conlon
and four of the Birmingham Six who were released in 1991. He
found that they were suffering from irreversible, persistent
and disabling post-traumatic stress syndrome. He compared their
mental state with that of brain damaged accident victims or people
who had suffered war crimes. "It often made them impossible
to live with," he said.
Some have fared
worse than the others. After some manic trans-Atlantic campaigning
for the Birmingham Six and other victims of injustice, Conlon
descended into a cocaine haze, from which he is only now emerging.
"I've been off it since last November," he says. He
is on the dole in a one bedroom flat on the south coast, and
seeking the counselling that he realises he needed long ago.
"For a while the cocaine took away the nightmares."
48, tried to settle into work but got caught up in the temptations
of drink and gambling. He is now married and living in Dublin
with a child. He's unemployed and friends say "just coping".
Hill, 44, who
had his Belfast conviction quashed, famously married Courtney
Kennedy, the daughter of Robert Kennedy who was assassinated
in 1968. They live with their three-year-old child in Washington.
But their marriage has had its strains to the extent that they
sought help. Richardson, who has kept the lowest profile, has
probably emerged the strongest, despite eight years on category
A in grim Durham prison. She is happily married with an eight-year-old
daughter, says her solicitor Alastair Logan.
All four received
ex-gratia compensation payments after several years negotiating
with the government's assessor, Sir David Calcutt. Three have
agreed a settlement of around £500,000 but Hill's final
figure has still to be arrived at. All the solicitors believe
Calcutt has been mean with his awards. Oliver Kelly, Hill's Belfast
lawyer, describes him as "stingy, uncooperative and inaccessible".
Mr Kelly says:
"His assessments fall far short of what a reasonable person
would expect. In these cases there should be no penny pinching."
Mrs Peirce says his "miserly" approach was the final
insult. Mr Logan, for Richardson, believes that Calcutt should
have awarded punitive damages.
The case and
those that followed contributed to a change of culture in the
system. Police and forensic science witnesses were no longer
considered infallible. Confessions alone meant risky justice.
There was a recognition that terrible mistakes had and could
be made. Prosecutors had to be more open and judges more sensitive.
The high point
in this sea change, it is widely held, was the 1992 court of
appeal judgment in the Judith Ward M62 coach bombing case which
delivered a searing indictment of police, crown lawyers and scientists
for their failure to disclose relevant material. Twelve soldiers
and members of their families, returning to Catterick camp in
North Yorkshire, were killed in the explosion.
government's response was Lord Runciman's royal commission which
reported in 1993 - ironically the year of the bungled Stephen
Lawrence murder investigation and the appointment of the reactionary
home secretary Michael Howard. Its key proposal, a criminal cases
review commission, was up and running three years later. Despite
early criticism of its lack of independent investigative powers,
its robust approach in sending many cases back to the court of
appeal has been applauded.
now environment minister and the former chairman of the home
affairs select committee which championed the Birmingham Six,
said the commission was "a large step forward which had
to be hard fought for. Most of the changes have been undoubtedly
for the better."
But some of
the other laws that have flown from its recommendations have
been seen as retrograde. Defence barristers and civil liberties
groups unanimously criticised the erosion of the right to silence.
A judge can now draw adverse inferences from a defendant's refusal
to answer police questions, although Mr Mullin argued that it
was not unreasonable to expect a person to give an account of
themselves if they were innocent. The critics also condemned
disclosure rules that say the defence has to reveal its case
while the prosecution retains the right to hand over only what
it thinks is relevant.
says: "The royal commission was illiberal. Things have got
worse now as any defence lawyer will tell you."
the director of Liberty, added: "The Guildford Four were
the first people detained under the prevention of terrorism act
and it is disappointing that this legislation remains in place,
despite the peace process and the government's commitment in
opposition not to renew it. In addition, the government's proposal
to remove the defendants' right to elect jury trial in "either
way" cases will add to the number of miscarriages of justice."
the director of Justice which campaigned on unpopular cases years
before the Guildford appeal, was more sanguine. "On balance
I think things have got better," she said. "Juries
treat police evidence in a very different way. But there has
been a political dynamic with both main parties wanting to be
tough on crime that has led to regressive legislation. Now the
pendulum now seems to be swinging back because of the impending
human rights act."
about whether the balance on disclosure is right have spawned
a plethora of internal reviews. At the last count these were
being conducted by the home office, the Royal Academy of Forensic
Scientists, the Criminal Bar Association, the crown prosecution
service, the police and the Law Society.
Four, who launched this legislative ferment, may be forgiven
for still feeling let down and left behind. The state simply
hoped they would go away. "The government still owes us
an apology," said Gerry Conlon. "We were four nonentities
and we were ignored by the establishment. We have been disgustingly
Blair's apology to Guildford Four
6 June 2000
years after four young people were wrongfully convicted of the
Guildford pub bombings in 1974, Tony Blair has become the first
person in authority to apologise for the miscarriage of justice.
In a letter
to Courtney Kennedy Hill, the American wife of Paul Hill, one
of the Guildford four, he said he was "very sorry"
they were wrongly imprisoned.
the apology were revealed in a special two-part edition of BBC
Northern Ireland's Spotlight programme last night which told
Mr Hill's story.
Mr Hill, Gerry
Conlon, Patrick Armstrong and Carole Richardson were given life
sentences for bombing public houses in Guildford, Surrey. Each
spent 15 years in prison before their convictions were overturned
by the court of appeal in 1989.
Mr Hill and
Mr Armstrong were also wrongfully convicted of a bomb attack
in Woolwich, south-east London. A total of seven people died
in both bombings.
told the Guardian last night that he was delighted with the news
but he expressed anger at the belated timing of the apology and
the fact that he and his family had never received one.
have had an apology a long time ago, as well as proper compensation,"
he said. "It's been driving me mad that there has not been
an apology so this thing can be put to bed. My mother in particular
should have had one. I'm still going through a terrible time,
getting dreadful flashbacks.
tells me he has never experienced a worst case of post-traumatic
stress syndrome, worse even than those soldiers in the Falklands
Mrs Hill is
the daughter of the assassinated American attorney general, Robert
Kennedy, and niece of the murdered president, John F Kennedy.
says the prime minister wrote: "I believe that it is an
indictment of our system of justice and a matter for the greatest
regret when anyone suffers punishment as a result of a miscarriage
were miscarriages of justice in your husband's case, and the
cases of those convicted with him. I am very sorry indeed that
this should have happened."
It is understood
that Mr Hill, 45, has received £200,000 as interim compensation
for the time he spent in prison and is still awaiting a final
He told the
programme: "No one knows the monetary value you can put
on 15 years. I don't think there is anybody alive who can come
out of that experience and not be scarred.
who would begrudge me my compensation - their minds are smaller
than peas. To those who say, 'Oh, he's living well,' you have
He said he
was numbed by his conviction. "I stood in the court. I was
numb. I had no feelings whatsoever. I wasn't sad; I was not depressed;
I was cold and numb.
"And I think the most poignant thing was that the judge expressed regret
that the death penalty was not an option."
Guildford Four members demand settlement
BBC, October 19, 1999
Two of the
so-called Guildford Four say they are still waiting for justice
ten years after being cleared of the 1974 English pub bombing
which killed five people.
and Paul Hill, both from Northern Ireland say they have not received
the final settlement of their claims for compensation.
Four were freed by the Court of Appeal along with Carole Richardson
and Patrick Armstrong, after each serving 15 years in prison.
said that he had been compensated in part by the Home Office,
but that the 500,000 final settlement they were proposing to
offer him would amount to less than 90 for every day he spent
price do you put on someone who spent the best years of his life
in prison, watched his family disintegrate and watched his father
die in prison," he said.
"There are very few people walking around today who have gone through
the dreadful experience that we went through: years of solitary
"We were sent into a prison which was totally hostile towards us, we were
being attacked by prison officers and cons, people urinated in
our food, people put glass in our food and then when we came
out onto the street there was no care from the government.
"We are all walking around badly scarred by this experience."
A Home Office spokesman said that Gerry Conlon's claim "has been settled
apart from a tiny amount which relates to some travelling expenses".
The spokesman said they are waiting for Paul Hill's solicitor to file a final
claim and that the amount could not be calculated until the submission
Call for transparent system
However, Mr Conlon added that he and Mr Hill are calling for an official apology from the government as much as for compensation.
They also want the compensation process for victims of miscarriages of justice to be made public.
Gerry Conlon said: "There are still certain people in Ireland and England who judge me as being guilty.
"When we came out within a very short period of time the judiciary started a whispering campaign and the papers picked it up.
"I think they were trying to clear their own conscience about what they
knew they had done wrong and that's why an apology is most important.
And certainly an apology for the way my father died."
MP backs campaign
Labour MP John McDonnell, who was involved in the campaign for the release of the Guildford Four is supporting their call for changes to the compensation system.
He said: "I have a suspicion that following the release of the Guildford Four, the Birmingham Six and others that the system tried to clam up to protect itself.
"We can't find out even at this stage how these assessments are made because you can't enter into discussion.
"It is not an open and transparent and therefore fair system.
"These are people who in many instances have been pressurised into settling for sums of money when they are in no fit conditions to make those agreements.
"There is no support for them when they come out of prison, so we are asking now for the Home Secretary to review the whole system."
would be fair settlements? | Gregory Parsons starved into accepting inadequate settlement