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Guildford Four delays attacked

THE FORMER Appeal Court judge heading the inquiry into the miscarriage of justice which befell the Guildford Four yesterday criticised the delays in bringing to trial three Surrey police officers involved in the investigation.

Sir John May said it may be years before he could publish his report into the affair because he is concerned not to prejudice the officers' trial for allegedly conspiring to pervert the course of justice.

Giving a strong hint that the Royal Commission on the criminal justice system - on which he also sits - would be making recommendations to speed up delays in the prosecution process, Sir John said the Commission shared his concerns.

The trial of the Surrey officers has been dogged by a series of delays over the past two years and is now not due to start until April 1993. In July, Sir John announced that because of the delays he had decided to move the Guildford part of his inquiry into private session in order to be able to meet deadlines for the Royal Commission, due to report next year.

His criticisms were sparked yesterday, on the penultimate day of the public part of his inquiry into the related case of the wrongful convictions of the Maguire Seven - who served between four and 14 years for explosives charges, before being exonorated last year.

They followed final submissions on the scientific evidence - the only evidence against the Maguires - from Gareth Peirce, the solicitor involved in both the Guildford and Maguire cases.

She suggested Sir John's inquiry had been 'effectively sabotaged' by baffling delays. Both the prosecution and defence in the officers' trial had been allowed 'unparalleled latitude. . . to defer that trial for an entire year on the basis of the unavailability of counsel', she said.

Jonathan Barnes, counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions, suggested that delay in such cases was inevitable. But Sir John interrupted: 'I don't accept that they are inevitable. They can be dealt with far more quickly.'

Sir John, who will resume his inquiry on Wednesday to decide why it took 16 years for the Maguires case to be referred to the Court of Appeal, said he hoped to bring out his final report on this aspect of his inquiry next month.