Leading Article: Guildford Four still await justice

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The Independent Online
THREE Surrey police officers will, understandably, be relieved by their acquittal yesterday, as will be their families and friends. They can enjoy retirement after public acknowledgement that they did not conspire to pervert the course of justice in the case of the Guildford Four. It is a terrible burden for innocent people to stand trial.

Few people can understand this trauma better than the Guildford Four themselves. Patrick Armstrong, Gerard Conlon, Carole Richardson and Paul Hill, vilified as IRA terrorists, spent nearly 15 years in jail for murders they did not commit. There is a danger that, following yesterday's verdict, doubt may linger about their innocence. This would be a gross injustice.

The Guildford Four have relived the trauma of wrongful conviction for the past month as lawyers for the three officers repeatedly alleged that they were guilty after all. The defence used the allegations to back up the three officers' case that they had not fabricated Patrick Armstrong's confession. The Guildford Four were not present to defend themselves at what amounted to a retrial. Nor was the evidence of a miscarriage of justice presented: the case centred simply on whether the three officers fabricated one confession.

There is a larger problem. More than three years after the acquittals, no official body has made public all the evidence that led to the quashing of the Guildford Four convictions. It was not detailed by the Court of Appeal, which did not hear a full appeal, because the judges were so convinced of the innocence of the four. Subsequently, the evidence was kept from the four to ensure that the three officers were given a fair trial.

If all the evidence had been heard in open court, many of the authorities involved in this case would hang their heads in shame. They would have to explain why for 15 years the existence of Gerard Conlon's alibi for the night of the bombings was suppressed. The authorities would have to reveal why they did not reopen the case after the convicted Balcombe Street IRA gang confessed to the Guildford bombings. There was scientific evidence to support these confessions. The only evidence against the Guildford Four was the confessions, now accepted to have been false.

In spite of this and other evidence that removed all doubt in the minds of the Court of Appeal judges, these four people are left with a slur on their characters. Their one hope has been that Sir John May's judicial inquiry into several miscarriages of justice would let the truth be known. Instead, he has received details of their case in private, once more to ensure that the officers' defence was not prejudiced. However, that imperative no longer exists. Sir John's inquiry must now focus on clearing the names of the Guildford Four in a public manner so that no whispering campaign or revisionism can cast further aspersions on their characters. The Maguire Seven, wrongly convicted in the Birmingham bombings case, have already received this vindication.

Sir John should hold the rest of his hearings in public so that no one can doubt how public authorities were responsible for a miscarriage of justice.

As the three Surrey police officers would no doubt acknowledge, it is bad enough to be wrongly accused once. To go through the same experience twice must be intolerable.