The Provisional Irish Republican Army detonated two 6-pound gelignite bombs at two pubs in Guildford, England. The pubs were targeted because they were popular with British Army personnel. Four soldiers and one civilian were killed, whilst a further sixty-five were wounded. The bomb in the Horse and Groom detonated at 8:30 pm. It killed Paul Craig (a 22-year-old plasterer), two members of the Scots Guards and two members of the Women’s Royal Army Corps. The Seven Stars was evacuated after the first blast, and thus there were no serious injuries when the second bomb exploded at 9:00 pm. These attacks were the first in a year-long campaign by an IRA Active Service Unit – who were eventually captured after the Balcombe Street Siege.
The dreadful bombings led to another long running saga and miscarriage of justice.
In October 1975, Paul Hill, Gerard ‘Gerry’ Conlon, Patrick ‘Paddy’ Armstrong and Carole Richardson were convicted of murder and other charges and given life sentences. On the night of the attacks, Richardson was in London seeing the band ‘Jack the Lad’ at the South Bank Polytechnic. She was unable to recall this upon being arrested, but witnesses came forward. However, the prosecution put together a version of events in which she left for Guildford at high speed by car. Hill and Armstrong also presented alibis, Hill’s placing him at Southampton. A witness named Charles Burke placed Conlon at a London hostel, but his evidence was not presented at trial. Despite the fact that a number of IRA men, later arrested, admitted to the bombings, it would be fifteen years before the “Guildford Four” could prove their innocence.
Giuseppe Conlon had travelled from Belfast to help his son, Gerry Conlon, in the Guildford Four trial. Conlon, who had troubles with his lungs for many years, was arrested as one of The Maguire Seven and died in prison in January 1980, while the other six served their sentences and were released.
The film In the Name of the Father starring Daniel Day-Lewis was based on the story of the Guildford Four. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards.
Gerry Conlon died at home in Belfast on 21 June 2014. His family issued a statement: “He brought life, love, intelligence, wit and strength to our family through its darkest hours. He helped us to survive what we were not meant to survive. We recognise that what he achieved by fighting for justice for us had a far, far greater importance – it forced the world’s closed eyes to be opened to injustice; it forced unimaginable wickedness to be acknowledged; we believe it changed the course of history”.
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