Northern Ireland news

No Guildford pub bombings evidence destroyed by police, inquest told

The aftermath at the Horse and Groom pub in Guildford, Surrey, where an IRA bomb attack killed four soldiers and a civilian and injured dozens more 
Thomas Hornall, PA

No evidence relating to the 1974 Guildford pub bombings is being "destroyed or withheld" by police, a pre-inquest hearing has been told.

The reassurances came after lawyers for the family of a victim of the atrocity raised concerns about Surrey Police leading on the disclosure of materials, before the inquests resume more than 40 years after they were suspended.

Counsel to the inquest Oliver Sanders QC told Surrey Coroner's Court on Wednesday that submissions had been made by lawyers KRW, acting for the family of Ann Hamilton.

He said: "They say it is problematic for Surrey Police to be undertaking these roles on your behalf because Surrey Police is an interested person and their submission is that Surrey Police may be facing considerable scrutiny for its actions before, during and after the bomb.

Read More: Gerry Conlon blew almost £1 million after his release from prison

"The premise of KRW's submission is that Surrey Police may itself somehow have a conflict of interest."

But he said the concerns were "misplaced" and there was "no matter for concern" given the narrowed scope of the inquest, adding: "Nothing is being destroyed, nothing is being withheld."

Flanked by his sisters, Gerry Conlon emerges from the Old Bailey in October 1989, after the Guildford Four's convictions were quashed. Picture by Hugh Russell

Surrey coroner Richard Travers told a previous hearing the resumed inquests will investigate issues including: "The time of the blast, the respective locations of the bomb and its victims, who was with the victims at the time of the blast, whether each of the deceased died immediately and, if not, how long they survived for, whether they said anything to anybody prior to their deaths and the response of first aiders and emergency services."

It will not have the scope to explore who was responsible for the bomb, the composition of the explosive device or any claims that police lied during the trial of the Guildford Four.

Read More: Concerns raised after Guildford Four files closed

Soldiers Caroline Slater (18), William Forsyth (18), John Hunter (17), and Ann Hamilton (19), and civilian Paul Craig (22), died in the first of two blasts in the town on October 5 1974.

The fatal bombing - carried out by the IRA at the height of the Troubles - happened at the Horse and Groom pub, which was popular with soldiers.

Original inquest proceedings were opened and suspended after the Guildford Four - Gerry Conlon, Paul Hill, Paddy Armstrong and Carole Richardson - were convicted over the bombings in 1975.

They were handed life sentences but had their convictions overturned in 1989 - the case becoming one of the best-known miscarriages of justice in British legal history.

KRW submitted it wanted a "phased disclosure" process, but the coroner said "piecemeal disclosure" could be unhelpful and cause confusion, saying he preferred documents to be disclosed in "more significant tranches".

He added: "It is more important that we get it right than rush it and find mistakes have been made."

Mr Travers also expressed regret that legal aid had not been granted to the families despite his support for an application, saying: "Granting of legal aid is sadly not within the gift of the court so I'm not in a position to give legal aid."

Fiona Barton QC, for Surrey Police, said there was potential for further criminal investigations into the bombings depending on what emerges from the inquests.

The coroner said another pre-inquest hearing would take place on the week commencing May 18.

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