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Irish Republicanism, Cardinal Basil Hume RIP and the Guildford Four Trial

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  • Author: Richard Michael Lamb


The dreadful derailing of the criminal justice process in the Guildford four trial.



I begin with Cardinal Basil Hume who was badly advised over this so called miscarriage of justice. Hume went out of his way to meet Gerry Conlon in prison after his conviction (one of the Guildford Four). A very unwise thing to do as Conlon was a convicted murderer and Hume had no locus standi yet he was the most senior Roman Catholic Prelate in England and well esteemed in Rome. I would say Hume would have been well advised to stay away from Conlon knowing he was seeking to overturn his convictions for the worst crime in the English Criminal Calendar currently and then. His interference placed him in the wrong role. He was a priest not an advocate. He overstepped the mark in using his spiritual office to achieve a temporal result - a very important distinction in these circumstances.


The Appeal Court released all Guildford Four prisoners convicted on the grounds the convictions were unsafe. That does not mean they should not have been found guilty by the Guildford Four Jury in the Old Bailey. Only a Jury may bring in a not guilty verdict at that time even now I believe. Bluntly Cardinal Hume should have been more circumspect with Conlon who “entrapped” him basically. Militant Irish Republicans wished to “derail” and “sabotage” English Criminal Justice and regarded Hume’s role as part of their improvised “plan”. Did Hume allow himself to be manipulated by these agitators? Whether Hume knew it or not the answer is yes. Clearly a man of Hume’s intelligence and sincerity would always put others first. He was a Man of God first and foremost.


In the Irish Troubles of 1970’s and 1980’s everyone was in danger of becoming one sided. Essentially Basil Hume’s intervention distracted the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) from considering the matter dispassionately and at its own pace. You cannot force the speed of justice. Justice must take its own due course. Only the British Court of Appeal Judges could deliver their Judgement. No one could speak for them – mercifully for us. Many tried in this case in the 1980’s to speak for this correctly constituted Court of Appeal. Cardinal Basil Hume bordered on this encroachment himself. It is very vital to respect the boundary between the Spiritual and the Temporal. (Bishop Christopher Butler - 1960’s and 1970’s Westminster Auxiliary and Downside Abbot) or “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s” – New Testament. Christ.


Many were “crowing” over these releases and appeals when they came about in the 1980’s. Not Basil Hume our Cardinal – he knew the terrible affliction of a miscarriage of justice in every sense. He had lived through the Christie case and Ruth Ellis and Hanratty cases. The driving force has to be conciliation in Ireland of 1970’s based on Justice delivered by our English Trial Judges and Juries. Hume knew this and there is no doubt he condemned Irish Republican terrorism at the time of the cruel murder by the IRA of Captain Robert Nairac G.C. in 1975 (Old Amplefordian and known to Basil at Ampleforth College, Yorkshire where Nairac had been a pupil). Basil Hume could see both sides but was unfamiliar with the English Criminal Justice adversarial process. We cannot expect otherwise – he was no criminal lawyer. My final word to Basil: thank you for your efficacious prayers for all connected to the Guildford Four case and its sequel – then, now and forever.


Essentially the Woolwich and Guildford Bombings attributed to the Guildford Four in their 1974 trial was a classic attempt by the Provisional IRA apparatus to discredit the English Trial by Jury process and the English Police not to mention Sir Michael Havers himself who led for the Crown in that trial. (Michael Hill was his eminent Junior Counsel) by getting the wrong suspects convicted. It was agent provocateur stuff and tactics and the long term aims were to have the police officers at least punished. The Provo Commanders were using their authority to bring disrepute on our Criminal Justice process which they abhorred. In part they have achieved their goal in bringing a lot of this discredit upon our police and Courts and Counsel through this trial and Appeal later. The Four accused deliberately refused to fully cooperate in the police investigation at the police station (one female). Their retractions at trial of their “confessions” in contemporaneous notes format recorded by the police detectives demonstrated their fickle approach to these very grave allegations. They also produced post 1975 very serious allegations of police maltreatment in the police station which had not been properly debated in the Jury Trial at the Old Bailey in 1974. Indeed they were not even raised as I understand it. Were they timidly afraid their previous convictions would be revealed if they attacked the police? In all likelihood yes. Yet this was a very grave murder trial based on political terror which demanded honesty from these accused whatever the consequences if they were not to effectively connive at the agent provocateur tactics. They were bound to show clear water between themselves and the terrorist organisation who perpetrated these atrocities. These four accused came nowhere near these objectives and brought “a ton of bricks” upon themselves to discredit the English Bar and our police force not to mention the Judge and Jury. They would wish to do a lot of harm to the British Crown having come from Irish Republican and nationalist Catholic Northern Irish backgrounds. Regrettably their behaviour and conduct from the moment of their particular arrests to final release by the Court of Appeal Criminal Division in London and afterwards when at liberty had one purpose. (One accused was released later by Belfast Appeal Court for shooting a British Soldier on duty in Northern Ireland).


The end desired by Conlon and Co was to bring great obloquy upon the England and Wales Judicial System, the Rule of Law and our Jurisdiction. It is very plain if you examine the facts they may not (I emphasise may) have committed the atrocities but they took it upon themselves to make maximum Irish political Republican capital out of their trial and so called wrongful prosecution and arrests and convictions for murder. They considered their arrests for these murders at the height of the Troubles gave them a carte blanche opportunity to go “down this road”. No one can help an accused who behaves so recklessly with no regard for his liberty and safety. They simply “cocked a snook” at the Court which could only come to one reasonable and proper result – guilty as charged of murder at both Public Houses. (Guildford and Woolwich) These accused threw caution to the wind in the trial and negated all sincerity. The verdicts of the Jury were entirely justified and called for. The Defendants did not engage with the Court in any respect.


If a Defendant is accused in England and Wales there has to be a prima facie case (a case to answer). In this Guildford Four trial the prima facie case against all four accused was based on their confessions in the contemporaneous notes resiled from by the accused at trial. An attempt was made by Conlon in particular to argue in the 1980’s subsequent to trial that these “notes” had been corrupted and virtually “invented” against Conlon at least by the detectives. Several police officers were indicted later on perjury charges arising out of these allegations by Conlon (and possibly his co-accused). Those officers were never convicted or put on trial. Therefore the combination of the late and uncorroborated allegations regarding police maltreatment, the existence of the purported contemporaneously recorded confessions and the failure to convict the interrogating officers later of perjury regarding these interview notes supposedly contemporaneously recorded and the failure of the four accused to “come clean” with the Court lead me to infer and believe there was certainly a prima facie case against all four accused at trial.


It looks as though Conlon did not disclose his alibi in detail before trial and thus he only had himself to blame for Sir Michael’s non-disclosure of that potential alibi witness. Apparently Conlon had not revealed his detailed alibi in police questioning either – even he would concede that. There would be no further questioning of Conlon before Trial as it was a short form committal from the Magistrates Court and he therefore gave no evidence at Committal proceedings to Crown Court. That would have been his opportunity to disclose his alibi to police and Crown not done in police station. Clearly he could not care less. He had his own fish to fry. He was not interested in justice for himself or anyone else.


I take it the lead accused Conlon did not deny at trial he had “made” a “confession”. He simply resiled from it saying it was incorrect and should not be relied upon. How did it come to be recorded against him? As we now (post trial) know he says it had been literally “fabricated” by police or “invented”. Did he say this in evidence at trial? Unlikely as his Counsel would warn him if he attacked the police witnesses his most recent conviction for burglary and other convictions in his past would be put to him by Sir Michael subject to the consent of trial Judge if he dropped this guard. Thus Conlon stayed quiet on the “invention” point knowing he could raise it later to upset the apple cart in the Appeal. He wanted the greatest disharmony and embarrassment for British Justice as a Provo IRA sympathiser but no activist and was prepared to sacrifice his liberty for that aim. He had nothing to lose and as he correctly foresaw the tide would turn for Conlon, Nationalist Republican politics in Northern Ireland and Sinn Fein. His release was always probable.


To penetrate this scenario and trial in 1974 now is very important for historians of Criminal Justice. Irish Republican terrorism and its sympathisers are inactive presently. It would be foolish to imagine the IRA Provo operatives in the 1970’s and later acted complete alone. They needed and received civilian support in Northern Ireland and the mainland during the Troubles. Whether this support was wanted or not it was there. It is well known there were numerous IRA sympathisers in Birmingham and London in the 1970’s. Sympathisers did not need express orders. They could act off their own bat to support “the boys” as the “Provos” were called. When the occasion arose there was a whole body of sympathisers: of men and women who would not neglect their “duty” if the chance occurred even though they were not operatives. They remained un-enlisted and in background. Conlon and his cronies were sympathisers of this kind without doubt. He was unlikely to be an elite operative he admitted. 1974 was the height of Interment. Once he was in the Criminal Justice process his instructions to his Counsel were plainly wanting and confused. He did not rise to the challenge and suffered the fate of the weak and vanquished. If he had given proper instructions to his Counsel and his defence had been put to the witnesses - He may even have been acquitted in a trial in which he engaged with the Court properly. Why did he not raise the counter allegation his confession had been manufactured (at trial) and furthermore why he did not disclose his detailed alibi before trial and nor did he bring up his allegations of gross mistreatment by the police in the station at trial:-
In those circumstances of his case being put truly to the Crown witnesses the Court of Appeal would have had little to go on because his Counsel would have done his job. But Conlon was playing the long game – or as they say with “fire” risking conviction. He wanted maximum disruption by holding back until he saw the whites of the eyes of the Appeal Judges. He knew he was “innocent” and in effect would not “tell” his Counsel intelligently or the Court of that because he wished to deliver the knockout punch himself not Sir Michael. Conlon was highly unreliable as Sir Michael knew. Sir Michael would not descend to such machinations – he rightly let the Appeal Court decide and did not dissent from their Judgement. He had no qualms.