Smearing The Guildford Four: A Reprise

: The Court of Appeal was not really what we were looking forward to, at any stage. It was a police investigation, it was documents that were found.. that had been marked blatantly not to be shown to the defence, that eventually released us, and the weight of a campaign that was gathering momentum as each year went by, and a campaign that was driven and had the motion of ordinary people. Ordinary people, and Gerry will be the first to say this, that it was the ordinary people in England, it was the ordinary people in Ireland, and at that time, the ordinary people who were involved were being called the fellow travellers of the men of violence.

Ó Mongáin: But that campaign on the outside, what kind of a morale boost was it for you inside the prison, that people hadn’t forgotten, there were still people out there, despite the establishment view, that believed in your innocence.

Hill: It gave us great fortitude. It gave us great fortitude to receive mail from all parts of the world. I received mail and so did Gerry, from, you know, all corners of the globe. So we knew that the story was out there. What we really needed was political leverage, and political leverage didn’t come until very, very late.

Ó Mongáin: Do you think..

Hill: And I’m not trying to score political points, but it has to be said that people in positions of power did very little for Gerry Conlon, for myself, for the Birmingham Six, for Judith Ward, for the Maguire family. They languished in prison during a period when everybody knew that we were completely and absolutely innocent. And when he’s being eulogised today, those people should look in the mirror and say: what did I do for those individuals?

Ó Mongáin: And do you mean governments..?

Hill: And you know, I’m not casting it on everyone because there were individuals, you know, who chipped away, who believed in us, but it was incredibly hard, as Seamus [Mallon] has just explained, because the British said it was a judicial matter and it wasn’t a matter of politics.

Ó Mongáin: And what about the Irish government, or as Seamus Mallon mentioned, indeed, the IRA?

Hill: Well, I’ve just explained that the Balcombe Street people came forward, you know, it’s not a time for scoring political points-

Ó Mongáin: Sure.

Hill: A man has died. What happened to myself and Gerry Conlon was a greater miscarriage of justice than those who died in Guildford and died in Woolwich and in Birmingham. We had absolutely nothing to do with that. And when we hear, “well what about the IRA?”, then no, it’s like, political point scoring. What do we say?

Ó Mongáin: Sure.

Hill: We were not involved in it. What do we say?

Transcript of excerpt of interview with Paul Hill, conducted with Colm Ó Mongáin, on RTÉ’s This Week, Sunday 22nd June.

Following this interview, the Irish Independent ran two stories in connection with it.

The first, uncredited appeared on its website, appeared thus:
The second, credited to Sam Griffin, was headed ‘Victim’s family enraged over ‘injustice’ comments by Hill’

It began:

The family of a teenager murdered in the Birmingham bombings has criticised remarks by Paul Hill, one of the Guildford Four, who claimed that those wrongly imprisoned for bomb attacks in the UK suffered a greater injustice than those killed in the bombings.

It continued:

Family members of those killed in the atrocities yesterday criticised the remarks which they described as “deluded” and “thoughtless”.

It quoted Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson:

“The families of the innocent people, who died as a result of those dreadful bombs, must find these remarks nauseating and deeply hurtful,” he said

The article also quoted SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell:

“No injustice, no matter how severe of that nature, equates with taking somebody’s life.

“Loss of life, and depriving someone of their life, is the greatest injustice of all.”

Let’s look closely at what has happened here.

Paul Hill, anxious to make clear that the moment of Gerry Conlon’s death was not a time for political point scoring, nonetheless felt compelled to observe, in light of the eulogies for Gerry Conlon, that people in positions of power had shown little concern for the Guildford Four, the Birmingham Six, for Judith Ward, or for the Maguire family at a time when it was common knowledge that they were innocent. He refused to be drawn into commenting on the role of the IRA, other than to say that those IRA members captured at Balcombe Street had highlighted their innocence.

A moment’s reflection should make it obvious why Paul Hill might refuse to partake in what he described as “political point-scoring” when called upon to offer judgment on the IRA’s role. Given that Paul Hill was absolutely innocent of any involvement in the IRA bombings, and was victim of a miscarriage of British justice, why should he be called upon to comment at all on what the IRA did or did not do?

Moreover, why should he be expected to let those who either did nothing or were complicit in his continued incarceration, off the hook? Why should he do anything to serve the purposes of those who cast as “the fellow travellers of the men of violence” those ordinary people who tried to get him and Gerry Conlon and others freed ?

Chris Mullin describes what happened with the IRA in relation to the Guildford Four:

‘from the moment that the IRA unit arrested at Balcombe Street were first interviewed, everyone concerned – up to and including the Director of Public Prosecutions – knew there was something wrong with the Guildford and Woolwich convictions;

.. rather than face up to the possibility of a serious miscarriage of justice, they chose instead to doctor the evidence…

I submit that from soon after the arrest of the Balcombe Street IRA unit it is inescapable that those in authority, up to the highest level, realised that innocent people may have been convicted of the Guildford and Woolwich bombings and were anxious to avoid facing up to that possibility.’

‘Miscarriage of justice’ is a precise legal term. It refers to a formal judicial process, and here, in particular, to the conviction and continued imprisonment of the Guildford Four. In these precise terms, it is indisputable that what happened to Paul Hill and Gerry Conlon was indeed, as Paul Hill describes, “a greater miscarriage of justice than those who died in Guildford and died in Woolwich and in Birmingham”. If the expectation was for justice to be served for the victims of the bombings, this did not happen because the British establishment opted not to pursue the IRA unit who had already claimed responsibility, and instead opted to keep innocent people locked up. In their proper context, there is nothing “deluded”, “thoughtless”, “nauseating” or “deeply hurtful” about Paul Hill’s remarks.

For those who died, justice was not, nor can it ever be, served by the imprisonment of innocent men and women. But the effects of the process were a great deal worse for those innocents who were imprisoned: torture, prolonged incarceration, solitary confinement, -in the case of Gerry Conlon, the imprisonment and death of his father. These effects were compounded by a refusal on the part of the Irish political and media establishments to pay heed to their predicament or recognise their innocence.

What the Irish Independent has done with these reports is to decontextualise and twist Paul Hill’s remarks. It has conflated the formal judicial process by which justice was supposed to be served –hence ‘miscarriage of justice’- with a far broader and more abstract interpretation of justice, and sought out voices to decry Hill, based on this broader interpretation.

The effect –the intended effect– is that Hill appears to say that those who were killed in the bombings were more deserving of what happened to them than what happened to him and Gerry Conlon, that they were not entirely innocent whereas he and Conlon were.

Hill is made appear as one of the stock “fellow travellers of the men of violence” that Ireland’s media used against the Guildford Four, and have used ever since as a control mechanism.

If you take journalism seriously, you might be inclined to believe that journalists have an ethical obligation to make sure that they are capturing the precise sense of what a person is saying. You might be inclined to believe, furthermore, that this ethical obligation is all the more binding when dealing with a person who has been coerced into making false confessions by the police -at gunpoint- and jailed for 15 years as a result.

Moreover, you might see this obligation as particularly important when the remarks are made in the context of the death of someone who was allowed to languish in prison, and whose life was probably cut short as a consequence, precisely because Irish political and media establishments did not take his claims seriously, and smeared those who did.

Well, any such inclinations you might have count for nothing when it comes to the Irish Independent’s drive to police what ordinary people think and protect the powerful from criticism.


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4 responses to “Smearing The Guildford Four: A Reprise

  1. The comments were made at a time of high emotion. I think the birmingham 6 , the guildford 4 the Maguire family and the families of all the innocent victims of all those atrocities were let down a suffered great injustice by the british legal system and any anger should be directed at those responsible the dpp etc not at a man quoted at the funeral of his friend deprived of 1 quarter of his life .
    One of the men involved Lord Denning had this to say
    In the summer of 1990 he agreed to a taped interview with A.N. Wilson, to be published in The Spectator. They discussed the Guildford Four; Denning remarked that if the Guildford Four had been hanged “They’d probably have hanged the right men. Just not proved against them, that’s all”.[94] His remarks were controversial and came at a time when the issue of miscarriage of justice was a sensitive topic.[95] He had expressed a similar controversial opinion regarding the Birmingham Six in 1988, saying: “Hanging ought to be retained for murder most foul. We shouldn’t have all these campaigns to get the Birmingham Six released if they’d been hanged. They’d have been forgotten, and the whole community would be satisfied… It is better that some innocent men remain in jail than that the integrity of the English judicial system be impugned.”[96][97]
    I think that says more than I can say…All of our anger should be against the perpetrators of injustices of all types against all people.

  2. Pete Fitz

    Hi a paragraph of this piece:

    “Moreover, you might see this obligation as particularly important when the remarks are made in the context of the death of someone who was allowed to languish in prison, and whose life was probably cut short as a consequence, precisely because Irish political and media establishments did not take his claims seriously, and smeared those who did.”

    Was pasted into a comment I left on broadsheet about Gerry Conlon. I wanted to make the same point and had left at the bottom of my comment when revising but forgot to delete. Apologies.

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