“Who will you believe, the police or the suspects?” Justice John Donaldson is not the first judge to undermine defense lawyers with a question like that but he made this biased statement and others while he was presiding over the trial of Paul Hill, Paddy Armstrong, Carole Richardson, and Gerry Conlon – a group of Irish suspects who were also known as the Guildford Four. The highly publicized case was covered widely and all of the judge’s snide remarks and opinions were too. This pointed question for the jury was the last nail in the coffin for the Guildford Four. When their guilty verdicts came back, Donaldson wished that he could hang the suspects and went on the record saying so during sentencing. The bully judge imposed the longest sentence in the history of English law (at the time) against Paul Hill saying, “Your crime is such that life must mean life, and if the death penalty had not been abolished, you would have been executed.” The other members of the Guildford Four didn’t fare much better when the sentencing came down and in the subsequent case where many of their friends and family members were accused of bomb making (known as the Maguire Seven) similarly harsh and opinionated sentences were handed down. Donaldson had no pity for one suspect’s serious illness and another being only fourteen years of age. He just handed out lengthy sentences and cruel comments to everyone. He never backtracked from his dubious remarks even after he was heavily criticized for them. In fact, the only times he was silent during this entire ordeal were when the IRA claimed responsibility for the bombs years later, when it was proven that the police had suppressed evidence and lied throughout the trials, and when those he had so gravely threatened were declared innocent fifteen and sixteen years later, respectively. Continue reading
On October 5th in 1974, two bombs rocked Guildford, an area south of London. The Provisional Irish Republican Army’s bombing campaign had begun in England and it was brutal and effective. The Guildford pubs were targeted because they were popular with the British Army and the explosions injured about 75 people and killed a handful more. This highly publicized incident aided in the passage of the far-reaching Prevention of Terrorism Act in the United Kingdom shortly thereafter.
Some of the most widely abused provisions under this act were that anyone could be stopped and searched and those arrested could be detained for up to 7 days, rather than the original limit of 48 hours. During that detention, many rights were misplaced and extensive and brutal methods of interrogation were used in an attempt to get confessions from prisoners. As the bombing campaign continued, it led to suspicion, violence and racism within the communities, whether the authorities were involved or not. It was not a good or safe time to be Irish in Britain.