Northern Ireland news

Plans to release Guiseppe Conlon before his death kept secret

Guiseppe Conlon died while serving a prison sentence in 1980
Connla Young

THE British government tried to keep details of a plan to release Guiseppe Conlon from an English prison before his death under wraps.

Mr Conlon was wrongly jailed after the IRA set off bombs in two pubs in Guildford in 1974, killing five people.

He was one of the 'Maguire Seven' who were all convicted but later proven to be innocent of any part in the attacks.

His son Gerry, one the Guildford Four, was also wrongfully convicted and spent 15 years behind bars.

Their plight was told in the award-winning film In the Name of the Father starring Daniel Day Lewis and Pete Postlethwaite.

During his time in prison Guiseppe Conlon suffered from ill health and was the focus of a campaign to have him released before his death aged 56 in January 1980.

It was previously known that the British government was planning to release him if he had recovered from a bout of tuberculosis which ultimately claimed his life.

However, what was not known was that the British government had tried to keep details of the plan private.

Then British Home Secretary William Whitelaw decided to grant Mr Conlon parole in 1980 while he was being treated in hospital.

Richard O'Rawe

In a letter the day after his death to Cardinal Basil Hume, who campaigned for the Maguire Seven and Guildford Four, Mr Whitelaw said it would be as no comfort to the family but he had “in fact already come to the conclusion that should Mr Conlon recover sufficiently to be discharged from hospital, it would not be right to return him to prison”.

It was also revealed that details of the plan were leaked to the press after the government tried to keep details secret.

In a subsequent letter, recently discovered by BBC Surrey, Mr Whitelaw expressed his disappointment that it had become made public.

Mr Conlon’s granddaughter Sarah McIlhone last night said: “My grandfather and uncle were framed by the British and they have not even the decency to put their hands up and admit it.

“Our family still deserves truth and if they had decency at all they would give us it.”

Gerry Conlon’s biographer Richard O’Rawe also asked "how many other little secrets are hidden in the vaults at Kew (National Archives)”.

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