Justice and Truth: The Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven, by Patrick Victory

A reminder of the need for vigilance against injustice

By Peter Stanford
Sunday 19 January 2014 03:50

If any novel used a story like that of the Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven – convicted in 1975 as, respectively, IRA bombers and IRA bomb-makers – the plot would be laughed out of court. What happened to these 11 people, however, is no laughing matter. They served up to 14 years in prison. Giuseppe Conlon died in jail while a vulnerable 13-year-old boy, Patrick Maguire, was sent to an adult prison for four years. All the survivors and their families carry psychological scars. For they were utterly innocent, as the courts grudgingly acknowledged in 1989, with the Guildford Four, and 1991, with the Maguire Seven.

Several have already written accounts of their ordeal. What Patrick Victory's book adds is an insider's view of the fight to get the authorities to recognise these appalling miscarriages of justice. Victory was an assistant to the late Cardinal Basil Hume, who headed a deputation of two former Home Secretaries and two senior ex-Law Lords concerned by the cases. The book draws heavily on files of their work.

It reveals that there was a tendency at the highest levels to hide or rubbish or ignore evidence that showed these people were innocent. As Lord Denning wrote in 1980, to face up to the scale of the error "is such an appalling vista that every sensible person in the land would say: it cannot be right that these actions [the appeals] should go any further". Depriving innocent people of their liberty was, in this mind-set, a price worth paying.

Victory reveals how the police knew almost from the start that Gerry Conlon, one of the alleged bombers, had a strong alibi. They had interviewed Charles Burke, who had been with him in a London hostel at the crucial moments. Burke's statement was never revealed to the defence. Since Conlon could not remember Burke's name, his own team could not pursue him. Though they tried for 14 years. All this time the vital statement was being passed from investigating police force to Home Office review team and back again.

From the early 1980s, there was overwhelming scientific evidence that the tests which had shown explosives on the hands of the Maguire Seven – carried out by an 18-year-old trainee – were flawed. The Home Office repeatedly rejected this new evidence without explanation. Reading Justice and Truth, their reason is all too plain.

No one in authority has been punished for what happened – not the police who beat up the Four and Seven and fabricated confessions, not those who later suppressed evidence that showed their innocence, and not officials and ministers who twisted and turned to avoid admitting the awful truth until the very last moment. Douglas Hurd, in particular, Home Secretary from 1985 to 1989, comes out of this account badly, the very embodiment of the closed official mind.

We are told that lessons have been learnt, but Victory's detailed book is a reminder that we should all remain vigilant. The shocking nature of what he recounts in measured tones keeps you turning the pages in shame and outrage.

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