October 19

This Day in History

General Interest

Oct 19, 1989:

Guildford Four are cleared

The Guildford Four, convicted of the 1975 IRA bombings of public houses in Guildford and Woolwich, England, are cleared of all charges after nearly 15 years in prison.

On October 5, 1974, an IRA bomb killed four people in a Guildford pub frequented by British military personnel, while another bomb in Woolwich killed three. British investigators rushed to find suspects and soon settled on Gerry Conlon and Paul Hill, two residents of Northern Ireland who had been in the area at the time of the terrorist attack.

Under the recent Prevention of Terrorism Act, British investigators were allowed to hold and interrogate terrorist suspects for five days without any hard evidence. Conlon and Hill, who were nonpolitical petty criminals, were among the first suspects held under the new law. During their prison stay, investigators fabricated against them an IRA conspiracy that implicated a number of their friends and family members. The officers then forced the two suspects to sign confessions under physical and mental torture. In 1975, Gerry Conlon, Paul Hill, Paddy Armstrong, and Carole Richardson were sentenced to life in prison. Seven of their relatives and friends, called the Maguire Seven, were sentenced to lesser terms on the basis of questionable forensic evidence.

In 1989, in the face of growing public protest and after the disclosure of exonerating evidence, including the admittance of guilt in the bombings by an imprisoned IRA member, the Guildford Four were cleared of all charges and released after 14 years in prison. In the next year, a British appeals court also overturned the convictions of the Maguire Seven, who were jailed on the basis of forensic evidence that was shown to have no relevant scientific basis.

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