Northern Ireland

Police find new Guildford pub bombing evidence but will not investigate because of Troubles Legacy Act

Surrey Police tell victim’s family that no new inquiries are planned

Five people were killed and 65 injured in the bomb attack on the Horse and Groom pub in Guildford in 1974
Five people were killed and 65 injured in the bomb attack on the Horse and Groom pub in Guildford in 1974 (PA/PA)

The family of a British soldier killed in the 1974 Guildford pub bombing have been told by police that they have a new “viable line of inquiry” but will not be investigating because the new Legacy Act means any such probes into cases relating to the Troubles are to end on May 1.

Soldiers Caroline Slater, 18, William Forsyth, 18, John Hunter, 17, and Ann Hamilton, 19, and civilian Paul Craig, 21, died and 65 people were injured in the blast – carried out by the IRA during the height of the Troubles – at the Horse and Groom pub in the Surrey town on October 5 1974.

They were found at an inquest in 2022 to have been “unlawfully killed” by the bomb, equivalent to 18 sticks of dynamite, at around 8.50pm, after it was placed in the pub by a young man and woman.

Now the family of Private Hamilton have received a letter from Surrey Police stating that following an evidential assessment, the force had “identified a potential forensic line of enquiry and the next step would be a new criminal investigation”.

But Surrey Police also informed the family that it would not be advancing any further investigations prior to the start of the Legacy Act.

Under the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act, all investigations into cases relating to the Troubles are to end on May 1, 2024 including civil cases and inquests which have not reached their findings stage.

The Act offers a limited form of immunity from prosecution for such offences for those who co-operate with a new body aimed at truth recovery.

KRW Law, acting on behalf of Pte Hamilton’s family, are now seeking clarification on the nature of the new evidence including whether it involves a fingerprint or DNA profile, how long Surrey Police had known about it and how often the case had been reviewed since 1974.

They have also asked the force when the decision was taken not to reopen any investigations prior to the commencement of the Legacy Act and whether the new clue could lead to possible arrests.

They also ask if Surrey Police could continue an investigation after May 1 which they say is allowed as advised by the Home Office.

The wrecked Horse and Groom public house in Guildford which was bombed in 1974
The wrecked Horse and Groom public house in Guildford which was bombed in 1974 (PA/PA)

Cassandra Hamilton, a sister of Ann Hamilton, said: “Four years after the resumed inquest into the murder of our sister in which we could not participate because we were disgracefully refused legal aid, we are now confronted with the Surrey Police producing ‘new’ evidence – 50 years after Ann’s murder.

“A deputy chief constable of Surrey Police wrote in his letter to us that ‘I can only image how the death of Ann has impacted on you and your family, and how the publicity surrounding this case has affected you over the years’.

“First, this policeman cannot begin to imagine the impact of Ann’s violent murder and those of four others on our families.

“Second, it has been the support of the public and their anger at those responsible for the investigation that has been important and kept this catastrophic failure of policing and criminal justice alive for us.

“Now we are being told that this ‘new’ forensic evidence cannot be investigated because of the Legacy Act which the British Government is imposing upon all relatives despite huge opposition and a successful legal challenge and an application by the Irish Government against the UK to the European Court of Human Rights.

“The Legacy Act appears to provide Surrey Police with another reason not to do anything – despite now telling us, out of the blue and a month before the Legacy Act comes into force, that there is ‘new evidence’.

“This letter from Surrey Police raises more questions for us, questions we want Surrey Police to answer and to be responsible for.

“This is before any responsibility for these failures is conveniently transferred to a new investigatory body.”

Solicitor Barry O’Donnell, from KRW, said: “The timing by Surrey Police in this matter raises too many questions which the family of Ann Hamilton want answered.

“There is the question of the nature of this ‘new’ evidential lead, the question of how long this new evidence has been available to Surrey Police, when decisions were taken not to investigate this ‘new’ forensic evidence, and why beyond the coming into force of the Legacy Act and whether, now given the legal challenges to the Legacy Act, Surrey Police should and could continue its investigation?”

Last month, the United Nations Human Rights Committee said it was “particularly concerned” about the controversial legal provision of the Legacy Act.

The Act received royal assent last autumn despite widespread opposition from political parties and victims’ organisations in Northern Ireland as well as the Irish government.

The Government is currently appealing against a ruling by a judge at Belfast High Court who found that the provision for conditional immunity was not compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Surrey Police has been approached by the PA news agency for comment.