The verdict reopened the controversy that has dogged the case for the past 19 years. While the former officers and police leaders welcomed the verdicts, the Four and their lawyers condemned the trial proceedings as 'an attempt to reconvict' them of the 1974 pub bombings.
The judge, Mr Justice Macpherson, urged that it was time to stop 'gazing over the entrails,' and Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary, entered the debate saying: 'I am always glad to see innocent people being acquitted - that is the verdict in a very difficult case. I hope it enables everybody to get that particular instance back in proportion and see the criminal justice system working. I think the British system in that kind of case is quite impeccable.'
The jury of six men and six women had taken more than eight hours over two days to acquit the three of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice by manufacturing interview notes with Patrick Armstrong - one of the Four.
During the month-long trial it had been alleged that the three former policemen - Thomas Style, 59, John Donaldson, 57, and Vernon Attwell, 52 - lied on oath that interview notes with Mr Armstrong were contemporaneous when in fact they had been compiled later from rough notes.
In the interviews Mr Armstrong was said to have confessed to the Guildford bombings in which five people died and many maimed. Confessions of the Four were to prove the only evidence against them and following a campaign by leading churchmen, politicians and former Law Lords, their case was eventually reinvestigated. In 1989, the Four were freed by the Court of Appeal.
The Court of Appeal was then told an investigation by Avon and Somerset police had uncovered 'clear prima facie evidence that a total of five (Surrey) officers seriously misled the court' and the Four's convictions could no longer be regarded as safe and satisfactory. Only the three who interviewed Mr Armstrong were subsequently charged.
They chose not to give evidence at their trial but, in statements, insisted the written notes were a true account of Mr Armstrong's confession.
Yesterday, Mr Armstrong said he was very angry that he had not been called to give evidence at the officers' trial to answer suggestions from other policemen who told the jury that he 'had sung like a canary'.
The three former officers were visibly relieved after three-and-a half years of strain caused by the case. Mr Style said: 'It is such a tremendous relief for ourselves and our families, a long ordeal. I think the jury verdicts speak for themselves.'
Key questions over the Guildford affair remain - not least who carried out the bombings.
'Guildford retrial', page 2
Leading article, page 25
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