by Brian Dooley
TWO former Law Lords and two ex-Home Secretaries accompanied Cardinal Basil Hume last week to the Home Office to urge Douglas Hurd to remedy alleged injustices in the conviction of the "Guildford four" and the "Maguire family".
The four were convicted of the murder of five people in the Guildford bombing of October 1974, while the Maguires were found guilty of killing two people with a bomb at Woolwich the following month. They have all repeatedly denied the crimes, and their cases have been taken up by politicians of all parties and by other leaders, amongst whom Cardinal Hume has been prominent.
Lord Scarman, Lord Devlin, Roy Jenkins and Merlyn Rees were joined by the cardinal at the Home Office to present "substantial documentation" on the cases to Mr Hurd. Exact details of the new evidence has not been revealed, but a Home Office spokesman confirmed that it included "a statement from Yvonne Fox, who claims that she was with Paul Hill, one of those jailed for life, on the night of the Woolwich bombing." Her testimony was first aired publicly on Yorkshire Television's First Tuesday in March. Although present at the trial, she was never called to
Merlyn Rees, Labour Home Secretary 1976-79, told the Catholic Herald that when the delegation met at the Home Office "every member presented Mr Hurd with a different angle on the cases." Mr Rees was especially concerned with the conviction of Carole Richardson for the Woolwich bombing. "I doubt that she had anything to do with it at all," he told the Catholic Herald.
Also present at the Home Office meeting was author and broadcaster Robert Kee, whose book Trial and Error called the convictions into question.
Forensic evidence used in the trials was gained by now discredited methods, Mr Kee wrote,while the "contradictory" nature of the "confessions" by the Guildford four would suggest that they had been extracted under pressure. Another group of convicted IRA bombers — found guilty after the 1975 Balcombe Street siege — have descri5id the Guildford crime in detail and admitted to it, while disassociating themselves completely with those found guilty of the bombing.
Cardinal Hume has decribed Mr Kee's book as having reflected serious anxieties felt by
many about a miscarriage of justice. Mr Kee told the Catholic Herald that he had been "impressed by the quality of the cardinal's concern and the clarity of his mind on the issues."
Mr Hurd is thought by many MPs concerned over the case, to be in a difficult position in regard to these two cases since to reopen either or both of them would be to call the original trials and verdicts into question. In both cases the presiding judge was Sir John Donaldson, now Master of the Rolls, while the lawyer for the prosecution was Sir Michael Havers, now Lord Chancellor and Mr Hurd's Cabinet colleague.
Earlier this year, Mr Hurd announced to the Commons that he was asking the Court of Appeal to reconsider the case of the "Birmingham six", whose original convictions in 1975 of murder have been called into question by new evidence.
The case will be heard from November 2. Catholic MP David Alton suggested that the sentences in all the cases were "unsafe." He explained to the Catholic Herald: "The climate of the time was unsafe. The implied connection between Irishmen and atrocities might have coloured the juries' judgement. Since the trial, I've seen evidence which has led me to substantially doubt the verdicts".