09:46, November 01 66 0 theguardian.com

2017-11-01 09:46:03
Call for inquest into IRA Guildford pub bombings to be reopened

Lawyers representing two individuals affected by the IRA’s 1974 Guildford pub bombings have asked the Surrey coroner to reopen the inquest into the five victims who died, which has never been completed.

The Belfast-based firm KRW Law has written to Richard Travers saying that the victims’ relatives and those who suffered miscarriages of justice have been denied their right to “truth, justice and accountability”.

The move follows the firm’s success in reviving the inquest into the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings, although that process has now been delayed by arguments over the scope of the new investigation.

In the Guildford case, KRW Law has been instructed by Ann McKearnan, the sister of Gerry Conlon, one of the so-called Guildford Four who were wrongfully imprisoned for 15 years for the attacks. It is also working with a former soldier who survived the explosion in the town’s Horse and Groom Pub which killed four soldiers and a civilian.

A second bomb detonated at a nearby pub, the Seven Stars, injuring eight people. One of the survivors of the Horse and Groom bombing, an off-duty soldier, later recalled: “I had just leaned forward to get up to buy my round when there was a bang. I must have gone straight through the window because I was lying outside with my hair and clothes on fire.”

The five deaths, together with two more the following month after a bomb was thrown into a pub in Woolwich, south-east London, resulted in a series of miscarriages of justice that saw four people wrongly convicted of placing the bombs and seven members of an Irish family living in London wrongly convicted of being involved in their construction.

Most spent 15 years in prison before their convictions were quashed, and one died behind bars. The court of appeal concluded eventually that some of the police officers involved in the investigation of the four people accused of placing the bombs must have lied under oath.

Unusually for the IRA,a unit known as the Balcombe Street gang later admitted responsibility for the two bombings. The four members of the group were convicted of a different series of murders and spent 23 years in jail.

The unsound convictions following the Guildford and Woolwich bombings were described as a traumatic blow to the credibility of the British justice system. It was argued that they resulted from political pressure placed on police officers to apprehend IRA bombers in Britain. Gerry Conlon died in 2014.

KRW Law says that is has studied the original inquest papers. Like the Birmingham inquest, the Guildford inquest was stopped when criminal prosecutions began. It never reopened, even after the miscarriages of justice were belatedly acknowledged.

The lawyers say that many questions remain unresolved, including why there was no subsequent police investigation following the release of the Guildford Four, why questions remain over the original prosecution, why the admissions by the IRA’s Balcombe Street gang were never properly followed up and why the subsequent May inquiry took evidence in secret and came to the conclusions it did.

Kevin Winters said: “Our experience of assisting victims and relatives of the Conflict in Northern Ireland, and more recently in relation to The Birmingham Pub Bombings 1974, shows to us that effective victim and survivor participation in a fresh or resumed inquest – as an independent truth seeking mechanism conducted in accordance with human rights standards – can provide an important venue for truth seeking and resolution within the frame of the coronial process.

“The victims the of Birmingham and Guildford bombings – and those communities – are entitled as a matter of law, and indeed internationally binding legal agreement, to have access to a judicially supervised forum which provides unambiguous access to truth recovery.”