Britain detains innocents for IRA bombings
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Britain Apologizes for False IRA Bomb Convictions
Wed Feb 9, 2005 09:13 AM ET
By Andrew Cawthorne
LONDON (Reuters) - Three decades after being falsely jailed for detonating IRA bombs at English pubs, the British government apologized on Wednesday to 11 people in one of the nation's worst miscarriages of justice.
Four of them -- the so-called "Guildford Four" -- achieved international fame when their wrongful 15-year jailing was dramatized in the 1993 film "In The Name Of The Father."
"I am very sorry that they were subject to such an ordeal and such an injustice," Prime Minister Tony Blair said in a brief television statement.
"That's why I'm making this apology today. They deserve to be completely and publicly exonerated," he added.
Blair was speaking as some of the former prisoners, their relatives and campaigners, came to London to pressure the government for a first, high-profile apology.
The Guildford Four and Maguire Seven were blamed for the 1974 pub bombs in the southern English towns of Guildford and Woolwich that killed a total of seven people.
Appeal courts overturned the convictions of the four in 1989, and the seven in 1991, amid allegations of falsified evidence and confessions obtained under coercion.
The bombs came at the height of the Irish Republican Army's attacks on mainland Britain as part of its fight to unite Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland to the south.
On cease-fire since the 1990s, the Catholic IRA fought a vicious, three-decade war with British security forces in a sectarian conflict that has cost some 3,600 lives.
Gerry Conlon, the best-known of the Guildford Four, told reporters outside parliament in London that the lack of a top-level apology until Wednesday had perpetuated their suffering.
"We just feel as if we have still been suffering as if we were in prison," said Conlon.
"I am hoping for some sort of closure on this," he added. "This has dominated two-thirds of my life. This happened when I was 20. I am now coming up to 51. I have had no peace from it."
Blair said he understood their suffering.
"Their loss, the loss suffered by their families, will never go away ... It serves no one for the wrong people to be convicted for such an awful crime," he said.
"I recognize the trauma the conviction caused the Conlon and Maguire families and the stigma which wrongly attaches to them to this day."
Blair, who has made a peace agreement in Northern Ireland one of the priorities of his premiership since 1997, campaigned as a young parliamentarian for the release of the Guildford Four.
A deal to seal a final political settlement has stalled after charges the IRA was behind a 26 million pounds bank robbery in the province in December and its withdrawal of a conditional offer to put its weapons beyond use.
-- Additional reporting by Jeremy Lovell