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  British Court Overturns Convictions in IRA Case

By Glenn Frankel
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, October 20, 1989; Page A36

LONDON, OCT. 19 -- A court of appeals, ruling that police had lied and fabricated evidence in their original investigation, today threw out the convictions of four people who spent 14 years in prison for the terrorist bombings by the Irish Republican Army of two crowded British pubs in 1974.

The government endorsed the landmark ruling and announced both a criminal investigation of five police officers involved in the original case and a governmental inquiry into the entire affair. The two officers still on active duty were suspended this afternoon.

"There has been a serious miscarriage of justice which has resulted in wrongful imprisonment of many years," Home Secretary Douglas Hurd told the House of Commons. "Even though that wrongful conviction has now been righted, . . . we must all, I believe, feel anxiety, regret and deep concern at what has occurred."

Three of the "Guildford Four," named after the town where one of the bombings occurred, were released immediately. The fourth remains in prison pending appeal of another conviction for murdering a former British soldier in Northern Ireland.

They had received life sentences for the bombings, in which seven people were killed and dozens of others injured. The prosecution's case was based solely on confessions that the defendants later repudiated and that government officials now concede were tainted.

A new probe ordered earlier this year by Hurd found that police involved in the original investigation had coerced the defendants, fabricated confessions, altered notes from interrogations and concealed evidence that supported the alibis of at least two of the four defendants. The officers also allegedly perjured themselves in court.

"Any evidence which casts real doubt upon the reliability or veracity of the officers responsible for the various interrogations must mean that the whole foundation of the prosecution case disappears," said Lord Lane, the lord chief justice, issuing the judgment by a three-member appeals court.

Carole Richardson, 32, Gerard Conlon, 35, and Patrick Armstrong, 39, left the Old Bailey courthouse this afternoon to jubilant cheers from family members and supporters. Conlon, clutching a large plastic bag crammed with his belongings, told reporters: "I was in prison for 15 years for something I didn't do, for something I didn't know anything about. I was a totally innocent man."

Richardson is English. Conlan, Armstrong and the fourth defendant, Paul Hill, 35, are Irish. All will receive compensation for wrongful imprisonment in amounts to be determined by an independent arbiter.

The campaign to release the four had been spearheaded by a group of prominent Britons, including Cardinal Basil Hume, the Catholic archbishop of Westminster; Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie; two former home secretaries, and several retired senior jurists. Many expressed satisfaction with today's ruling but alarm that it had taken so many years for justice to be done.

Roy Hattersley, deputy leader of the opposition Labor Party, told Parliament that the law should be revised so that "British courts should cease to convict solely or mainly on the evidence of uncorroborated confession. Far too many wrongful convictions . . . have been obtained in this way."

Hurd told Parliament that today's ruling would lead to the reconsideration of the convictions of seven other people -- Gerard Conlon's aunt, Anne Maguire, five members of her family and a family friend, all of whom served prison sentences for allegedly making the bombs used in the attacks. Their convictions were based largely upon Hill's and Conlon's alleged confessions.

Many analysts expect that the ruling also may compel the government to reexamine the cases of six people convicted for bombing two crowded pubs in Birmingham in which 20 people were killed that same year. Their appeal was rejected last year by a review panel.

The Guildford Four were convicted in an atmosphere of public outrage after a 1974 bombing wave by the IRA, which sought to end British rule in Northern Ireland by "bringing the war home" to England.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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