An exorcism in court, a moment of justice

Sarah Helm on the exoneration of the Guildford Four

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The Independent Online

20 October 1989

It was a quiet and tragic exorcism. Before the lies of the past 15 years could be laid to rest, they had to be heard again; the concocted fiction that had been the police case against the Guildford Four had to be painfully laid bare. This time there were no police marksmen at the Old Bailey, no baying crowd, no headlines calling for blood. Court number two was calm as the exorcism began.

The Crown prosecutor and the Lord Chief Justice recited the lies once more. They did so avoiding the eyes of the four in the dock, who sat calmly: emotions yet controlled, still confused. Patrick Armstrong and Paul Hill stared ahead of them, clutching pink carnations. Carole Richardson remained still but her face showed the strain. Only Gerard Conlon looked strong, glancing up to the public gallery, where the relatives – mothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, wives – had to hear, once again, the lies.

There was the lie about the identity of the “courting couple” in the Horse and Groom, said at the time to have been Paddy Armstrong and Miss Richardson. There was the lie about the “bomb factory” where Mr Hill learnt how to make bombs. There was the lie about how Mr Armstrong kept the bombs in two shoe boxes. And there were the lies about how Miss Richardson marked the spot on a police diagram where the bomb exploded.

Amid the fiction there were occasional visions of the horrors from which it had sprung: “It exploded virtually on landing killing two people injuring many others,” said Roy Amlot QC, for the Crown. But he quickly moved on, in tacit acknowledgement that such matters were no longer relevant to the Guildford Four

Then came the truth: it spilled out relentlessly. As the “facts” were established as lies so the “lies” that Miss Richardson was at a pop concert when the bomb went off became fact for the first time yesterday. The “lie” that Mr Armstrong was “dogsitting” in Kilburn when he was alleged to have planted a bomb became a fact. The “lie” about the lifestyle of harmless teenagers living in squats in Kilburn in the early 1970s became poignantly real. The emotion slowly began to build as more of the truth emerged, stark and indisputable. The convictions were “deliberately, clearly, manifestly unsafe”.

And the emotion was there when Mr Conlon, the first to be released, stepped into the daylight … and declared his innocence to a crowd who needed no more convincing … The lies had taken police weeks to concoct in 1974: the truth had taken but half an hour to spell out, 15 years later. But there was no apology from the court. Lord Lane cast his eyes around the court, quashed the convictions and described the case as an “unhappy matter”.

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