IRA Bomb Guildford
During the 1970s The Troubles in Northern Ireland were reducing Belfast and Derry to rubble. Once the sun went down, the darkness was punctuated by helicopter searchlight. Daylight was little better; shops were shut as the economy fled an endless procession of bombings.
The Provisional IRA were approaching a turning point in their strategy, their campaign against the British Army and state was reaching a stalemate, and the loyalist/republican cycle of violence enveloped in on itself as the province tore itself apart. The IRA decided that their activities in Northern Ireland were essentially limited, the threat of terror to the British on the mainland was a vicarious one; if they were to truly force the hand of the government, they would have to bomb targets in England.
Guildford , Surrey, with a number of British Army garrisons close-by, was popular with service personnel. On the 5th October 1974, the IRA bombed two pubs – the Horse And Groom on North Street, and the nearby Seven Stars – killing five and injuring 65 others. At 8.30p.m. on a Saturday, the Horse And Groom was packed; four soldiers from the Scots Guards and the Woman’s Royal Army Corps were killed, while plasterer Paul Craig, 22, also died in the blast. The second bomb at the Seven Stars, detonated half-an-hour later, mercifully did not share the same devastation – the pub had been evacuated after hearing of the Horse And Groom bombing.
The bombings were part of a trend that brought the horror of paramilitary violence to the British mainland. The year previous, the Old Bailey had been bombed; Birmingham , Woolwich, and London would all be bombed shortly after the dust had settled at Guildford. The police were under a hitherto unexperienced pressure to bring those responsible to justice. In the process, one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in British legal history would be made when Gerry Conlon, Paul Hill, Patrick Armstrong, and Carole Richardson were arrested, charged and found guilty of the Guildford bombings. The Guildford Four, as they became known, gave confessions after being tortured, and evidence which would have cleared them was withheld by the police.
In 1987, with new evidence available to the court, the case was reopened, and on the 18th October 1989 their convictions were quashed by the Court Of Appeal. Gerry Conlon’s father, Guiseppe, was also wrongly imprisoned along with six others. They were known as the Maguire Seven, and were charged with possession of nitro-glycerine which was alleged to have been used in the manufacture of IRA bombs. Guiseppe Conlon died in prison.
In 2005, prime minister Tony Blair made a public apology for the miscarriage of justice. The case was immortalised in the film, ‘In The Name Of The Father’, starring Daniel Day Lewis as Gerry Conlon, and would have great resonance when the wrongly convicted Birmingham Six were fighting for their freedom.
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