Guildford Four and Maguire Seven

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Group.png Guildford Four and Maguire Seven  Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
Two groups of people wrongly convicted of carrying out bombings for the Provisional IRA.
Based on the Guildford Four's life story

The Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven were two sets of people wrongfully convicted for the Guildford pub bombings in the 1970s by English courts and who later had their convictions quashed. The Guildford Four were convicted of bombings carried out by the IRA and the Maguire Seven were convicted of handling explosives found during the investigation into the bombings. Both groups' convictions were declared unsafe and reversed after they had served extensive time in prison.[1]

On 21 June 2014, Gerry Conlon of the Guildford Four died of cancer at home in his native Belfast, aged 60. His lawyer Gareth Peirce, who was with the Conlon family when Gerry died, added her own tribute. She said:

"Once a community has been made suspect en masse every organ of the state will feel entitled, in fact obliged, to discover proof of their suspicions. The example of what happened to Gerry and his entire family should haunt us forever. Sadly these lessons are jettisoned when the next suspect community is constructed.
"Lessons should have been learned. One of the campaigns that Gerry was most strongly articulating at the time of his death was pointing out what is being done to the Muslim community today. He was the bravest of fighters, not just for himself and his family but, by virtue of his victory, he took on the fight for others."[2]

The Guildford Four

The Guildford Four were charged with direct involvement with the IRA attacks. They were:

  • Paul Michael Hill, aged 21 at the time of trial, convicted of the Guildford pub bombings, the Kings Arms, Woolwich bombing and, separately, the murder of British soldier Brian Shaw, confessed to during the same questioning.
  • Gerard "Gerry" Conlon, 21, convicted of the Guildford bombings.
  • Patrick "Paddy" Armstrong, 25, convicted of the one Woolwich and two Guildford bombings.
  • Carole Richardson, 17, convicted of the Guildford bombings.

After their arrest, all four defendants confessed to the bombing. These statements were later retracted, but nonetheless formed the basis of the case against them. They would later be explained as 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.[3]

In October 1975 They were convicted of murder and other charges and sentenced to life imprisonment. Richardson, a minor at the time of the bombings, received an indeterminate sentence for murder but 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 then still carried the death penalty. At the time, 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. By comparison, the guilty Balcombe Street gang received recommendations of 30 years; the Birmingham Six trial judge chose not to give a recommendation.

There was never any evidence that any of "The Four" had been involved with the Provisional IRA. Furthermore, they did not 'fit the bill' in terms of lifestyle. Paddy Armstrong and Carole Richardson, an Englishwoman, lived in a squat, and were involved with drugs and petty crime. Paul Michael Hill was born and raised in Belfast in a mixed-religion marriage, as a boy he participated in the widespread rioting at the time[4].

The Maguire Seven

The Maguire Seven were charged with possessing nitroglycerin allegedly passed to the IRA to make bombs after the police had raided the West Kilburn house of Anne Maguire on 3 December 1974.

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

  • Anne Maguire, aged 40, was sentenced to 14 years
  • her husband Patrick Maguire, aged 42, was sentenced to 14 years
  • their son Patrick Maguire, aged 14, was sentenced to 4 years
  • their son Vincent Maguire, aged 17, was sentenced to 5 years
  • Sean Smyth, brother to Anne Maguire, aged 37, received 12 years
  • Patrick O'Neill, a family friend, aged 35, received 12 years
  • Patrick "Guiseppe" Conlon, brother-in-law to Anne Maguire, aged 52, received 12 years. Conlon had travelled from Belfast to help his son Gerry Conlon in the Guildford Four trial.

Giuseppe 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.


On the night of the attacks, Carole 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. However, the prosecution were able to put together a version of events whereby she left for Guildford at high speed by car. Hill and Armstrong also presented alibis, Hill's placing him at Southampton. A witness named Charles Burke placed Conlon at a London hostel, but his evidence was not presented at trial.


Both the Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven unsuccessfully appealed against their convictions immediately afterwards. 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 gang, 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.[5] Despite claims to the police that they were responsible they were never charged with these offences and the Guildford Four remained imprisoned for another twelve years.

In 1986 Robert Kee published Trial & Error: the Maguires, the Guildford pub bombings and British justice.

The Guildford Four tried to lodge an appeal under Section 17 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1968 (later repealed), but were unsuccessful and, in 1987 the Home Office issued a memorandum, recognising that it was unlikely the Four were terrorists but that this would not be sufficient evidence for appeal.

It came to light later that Gerry Conlon and Paul Hill had an alibi in the form of fellow Irish street vagabond Charlie Burke, who were all settling in for the night on London park benches at the very moment the Guildford pubs were blasted by IRA bombs. The prosecution hid that key evidence from the defence. There were also allegations of torture and coerced confessions, to which Justice Donaldson paid no heed whatsoever.

Quashing of the Guildford verdict

In 1989, a detective looking at the case found 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, 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 implication of this was that the police had manipulated the notes, to fit with the case they wanted to present.

An appeal was granted on the basis of this new evidence. Lord Gifford QC represented Paul Hill and others were represented by noted human rights solicitor, Gareth Peirce. The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Lane, said that the police had either:

  • "completely fabricated the typed notes, amending them to make them look more effective, and then creating hand-written notes to give the appearance of contemporaneous notes"; or
  • "started off with contemporaneous notes, typed them up to make them more legible, amended them to make them read better, and then converted them back to hand-written notes."

Either way, the police had lied. The conclusion was that, if they had lied about this, their entire evidence was suspect. The convictions were overturned and the four were released in 1989.

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. He was released on bail, pending his appeal against this conviction. In 1994, the Court of Appeal in Belfast quashed Hill's conviction for Brian Shaw's murder.

On 12 July 1990, the Home Secretary David Waddington published an 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 [6]. It criticised the trial judge Lord Donaldson and unearthed improprieties in the handling of scientific evidence and declared the convictions unsound recommending referral back to the Court of Appeal.

Quashing of the Maguire verdicts

The convictions of the Maguire Seven were quashed in 1991. The court held that members of the Metropolitan Police beat some of the Seven into confessing to the crimes and withheld information that would have cleared them.[7]


Neither the bombings nor the wrongful imprisonment resulted in convictions. The Balcombe Street gang – Martin O'Connell, Edward Butler, Harry Duggan and Hugh Doherty – an IRA unit cornered at a siege in west London after a long mainland bombing campaign, admitted the Guildford and Woolwich bombings after they were arrested in 1975. Government scientists admitted that forensic evidence to support the gang's claims was suppressed. They were already serving life, but were released under the terms of the April 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

In April 1993, three British police officers: Thomas Style, 59, a former detective chief inspector, John Donaldson, 57, a former detective sergeant, and Vernon Attwell, 52, a former detective constable, were charged with lying under oath about vital notes of confessions claimed to have been made by Paddy Armstrong, one of the Guildford Four, to 'bolster their evidence' at his 1975 trial. Armstrong was said to have confessed to the bombings during interviews with Scotland Yard officers, including Sir Peter Imbert, former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, then a Detective Superintendent.[8] The three former detectives were cleared at the Old Bailey of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. Alastair Logan, solicitor for Paddy Armstrong and Carole Richardson, said:

"The only chance the police had to be acquitted was to put Armstrong and Gerry Conlon on trial. That's what they have done. It's been a nonsense of a criminal trial. It is a con-trick, a dirty lousy con-trick. It is an attempt to re-write history, an attempt to reconvict the Four."[9]


In 1997, Gerry Conlon was given half a million pounds in compensation. Giving money to victims of miscarriages of justice is likened by Conlon to giving them a "bottle of whisky and a revolver":

"They may as well say: 'here's the money, now go and kill yourself'. They gave me £546,000 - for taking me, torturing me and framing me; taking my father, torturing him and having him die in prison; then leaving me sinking in the quicksand of my own nightmares."[10]


On 9 February 2005 the Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven finally got a personal apology from Tony Blair:

"I am very sorry that they were subject to such an ordeal and injustice...they deserve to be completely and publicly exonerated."

Gerry Conlon told the then Prime Minister that the apology would only mean something if it came with more help for the victims:

"Blair turned to his parliamentary private secretary David Hanson and said:
'David, get on to this right away.'
"Since then we've had no help. We followed up on Tony Blair's promise and were basically told to get lost. He lied to us - the apology means nothing.
"If there was a trauma centre, within a year, you could probably be living a normal productive life rather than being haunted by nightmares."[11]

What happened next

Paul Hill married Courtney Kennedy, daughter of assassinated American senator Robert F. Kennedy, and niece of assassinated president John F. Kennedy. He has had a televised meeting with the brother of Brian Shaw, who continued to accuse him[12], and has travelled to Colombia to attend the trial of the Colombia Three.[13]

Gerry Conlon's autobiography Proved Innocent was adapted into the Oscar and BAFTA Award -nominated 1993 film In the Name of the Father, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Emma Thompson and Pete Postlethwaite. The film depicts Conlon's attempt to rebuild his shattered relationship with his father.[14] 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.[15].

Paddy Armstrong had difficulty with drinking and gambling. He later married and moved to Dublin.

Carole Richardson married and had a daughter soon after her release. She has kept a low profile.[16]

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 published in May 2008. It tells his story before, during and after his imprisonment and its impact on his life and the lives of his family.[17]

See also

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