In October 1989 I was in Cuenca in southern Ecuador. Cuenca is a sleepy town, Ecuador – for reasons partly to do with climate and partly with the military’s intermittent but pointed interventions in political and economic life – a sleepy country. Once, during a presidential election, the country briefly came out of its quiescence when one of the candidates exhibited worrying signs of sun-stroke. In a television interview he began to boast about his many personal achievements; by the time he got properly into his stride he was insisting he had a better degree than his opponent, a bigger house, a more beautiful wife, taller children and – definitive proof of his fitness to govern – thicker semen. This was too much, even for Ecuadorians long used to the macho exaggerations of the Latin American stump. The electorate woke up, laughed themselves silly for a week and voted in the candidate of the inferior semen. But this was a rare high point: as a rule, it is a quiet country, a fact reflected in the headline of a newspaper I picked up in Cuenca. For reasons best known to himself, the editor had decided to splash with a story headlined, ‘Nothing Unusual Happened Today’. I remember enjoying the story, though I cannot now recall any of the detail. However, another item caught my attention and has stayed with me since: an agency story datelined Londres to the effect that the Court of Appeal had suddenly and unexpectedly freed the three men and one woman known in Britain as the Guildford Four.
My first reaction was disbelief; later, the news confirmed and the cuts from London in my hands, I spent a long time pondering the implications. For almost fifteen years Paul Hill, Gerry Conlon, Paddy Armstrong and Carole Richardson had insisted they were innocent and had been framed by the police. I recalled that Sir Michael Havers, who led for the Crown in the 1975 trial, had reasoned to the jury that if the Four were innocent, a huge conspiracy to pervert the course of justice must have taken place. Where did this leave Havers’s conspiracy? Had the Court of Appeal accepted that such a conspiracy had occurred? What did this all mean – not just for the Guildford Four, but for the closely related cases of the Maguire family, the Birmingham Six, Judith Ward? What did it mean for the system of justice in England? Some years earlier, in a judgment in the Birmingham Six case, Lord Denning, the Master of the Rolls, had summed up the broader significance of such a reversal.
If the six men win, it will mean that the police were guilty of perjury, that they were guilty of violence and threats, that the confessions were involuntary and were improperly admitted in evidence and that the convictions were erroneous. That would mean the Home Secretary would either have to recommend they be pardoned or he would have to remit the case to the Court of Appeal. This is such an appalling vista that every sensible person in the land would say: it cannot be right that these actions should go any further.
With the release of the Guildford Four, Denning’s ‘appalling vista’ had opened up: where was it going to take us?
A distance of four thousand miles and an absence from home of several months can do funny things to one’s sense of perspective. Reading the cuts in a provincial town in a small Latin American country, it was easy to get carried away. It seemed to me then that the impossible had happened and that the unimaginable was about to happen; and all in an ‘Irish’ case, one in which the issues at stake are not just to do with justice, but with politics and polity. I do not think I was being excessively naive, and I certainly wasn’t alone. The tenor of the press coverage was one of outrage and anger. When a leader in the Daily Express states that ‘the process of establishing their innocence took far too long. And those responsible for robbing them of 14 years must be punished,’ one can be forgiven for thinking that some fundamental shift in perceptions must be underway. Other commentators were even more outspoken. Peter Jenkins in the Independent described the law as ‘an enemy of justice’. He went on:
Plainly, after what has happened, radical changes are required in the whole system of police interrogation and in the law relating to confessions. But not only that, the shocking history of the Guildford Four shows that justice must not be left to old men in wigs sitting in judgment over themselves. The authority of the Court of Appeal is in ruins.
In the same reports I read the admissions of Roy Amlot, who appeared for the Crown in the appeal. Material discovered in police files, Amlot told the court, threw ‘such a doubt now upon the honesty and integrity’ of the investigating officers that ‘it would not be right for the Crown to contend that the conviction of any appellant was either safe or satisfactory.’ Lord Lane, the Lord Chief Justice, went further. Delivering the court’s judgment, he said that ‘the officers must have lied,’ and that ‘if they were prepared to tell this sort of lie, then the whole of their evidence becomes suspect.’ He continued: ‘It is of some comfort to know that these matters are now in the hands of the Director of Public Prosecutions with a view to criminal proceedings being brought. We earnestly express the hope that nothing will be allowed to stand in the way of a speedy progress of those proceedings.’ I felt the need to pinch myself. Was this the same Lord Lane I had watched over the course of several weeks in 1987 when he presided over the appeal of the Birmingham Six? Few commended his handling of that case, and no one would say he displayed any obvious sympathy for those before him, or an inclination to believe their allegations of police malpractice. But now Lane, the country’s senior judge, was admitting that a gross wrong had been perpetrated; and he was saying that the policemen responsible should be punished.
With Denning’s appalling vista now wide open, there were renewed demands for a fresh look at other contentious convictions. The Guildford Four’s release was followed by the Crown’s capitulation in the cases of the Maguire family, the Birmingham Six, Judith Ward, the Tottenham Three and the Cardiff Three; all had their appeals upheld. Those fond of broadcasting the virtues of British justice were not shamed into silence, however. An unblushing few even claimed the releases demonstrated the system’s soundness. No sooner had Lord Lane delivered his judgment in the case of the Guildford Four than it began to be whispered in darker corners and cloisters that all was not as it seemed, that public opinion had been led astray by irresponsible journalists who had rushed in without being in full possession of the facts, that some or all of the Four – the versions varied – were guilty.
If, for some, Guildford had become emblematic of the corruption and failure at the heart of the system of criminal justice in this country, for others it represented merely a regrettable failure of nerve on the part of those who should have known better, and who should have been able to resist the blandishments of liberal opinion and put a lid on attempts to sully the name of ‘British justice’. The ‘whispering campaign’, as defenders of the Four described it, mostly took the form of off-the-record briefings to journalists who, though they were unwilling or unable to repeat in their copy the substance of what they had heard, showed signs that they were being influenced. Joshua Rozenberg, the BBC’s legal affairs correspondent, began to wonder aloud about the significance of the wording of Lord Lane’s judgment. When upholding an appeal, Rozenberg said, it was usual for judges to describe convictions as ‘unsafe and unsatisfactory’. Lane had said only that the Guildford convictions were ‘unsafe’. The absence of the full form, Rozenberg suggested, might be evidence that while the judges were not convinced in law that the convictions could be sustained, they weren’t convinced either that the Four were innocent. It seemed to me at the time a very small point on which to base so large a claim, but of such whimsies was the whispering campaign composed. Senior figures in the judiciary were prepared to say in private that the Four were guilty; journalists relayed unchallenged comment and gossip on a lobby basis. Occasionally the whispers were given full barking voice by the more injudicious of the judiciary. On the occasion of his retirement as Recorder of London in July 1990, Sir James Miskin gave a television interview to the BBC. ‘That was a mad decision, was it not?’ he said of the Court of Appeal’s judgment in the Guildford case. ‘They didn’t give any thought to the fact that three years after it had happened there was a full appeal and there was no suggestion from any source that police documentation showed that the confessions had been cooked up.’ After a newspaper article appeared in which some of the Four said they intended to sue, Miskin contacted their lawyers and retracted his statement. Then Lord Denning spoke up, telling the Spectator that it would have been better if the Birmingham Six had been hanged so as to avoid all these damaging campaigns on behalf of plainly guilty men. Like Miskin, Denning apologised after hearing rumours of legal action.
As the debate over Guildford – and, by extension, the cases of the Maguires, the Birmingham Six and Judith Ward – intensified, so it became more politically and ideologically charged. There is a striking homogeneity about the political outlook and identity of those opposed to the Court of Appeal’s verdict: by and large they are the conservative defenders of, and those who have a direct interest in, the institutions of British justice – the judiciary, the police, the political Right. By contrast, supporters of the Guildford Four are a politically heterogeneous bunch: at one end, Cardinal Basil Hume, Robert Kee, Merlyn Rees, Lord Scarman and the late Lord Devlin; at the other, rhetoric-ridden, far-left Trotskyist groupings. And in between the world and its dog. The only thing on which all are agreed – some with more knowledge of the facts than others – is that Paul Hill, Gerry Conlon, Paddy Armstrong and Carole Richardson were not in any way connected with the bombings.
I must declare an interest. I first heard the name of Paul Hill when I was myself in prison. The year was 1975 and the prison Long Kesh, the encampment of Nissen huts and razor-wire hastily assembled by British squaddies to hold the Republican enemies of British rule in Northern Ireland. I heard Hill’s name spoken on the radio the day he was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of five people at Guildford and another two at Woolwich. The judge recommended that he be released only in the event of grave illness or extreme old age. Paul Hill, aged 21, had in effect been sentenced to remain in prison until the morning of his death.
Like Hill and his co-accused, I was released from my wrongful imprisonment by the Court of Appeal, mercifully after a much shorter time inside. I write, then, as a former prisoner, and I write as an Irishman, as someone who believes that the ramifications of the Guildford case say as much about Britain’s unhappy relationship with Ireland as they do about the system of criminal justice in this country. And I write as someone who, six years ago, became involved in the Guildford case (in a peripheral way) at the request of Hill’s family. By then lawyers and journalists had between them uncovered a great deal of new evidence that pointed to the innocence of the Four. The more I read of the documentation, the more I talked to people connected with the case, the more I became convinced the Four were innocent. I was abroad when they were released, but I returned soon afterwards, and in 1990 I collaborated in writing Stolen Years. Hill’s account of his trial and imprisonment. In doing so I learned still more about the case, every detail hardening my belief that not only were the Four innocent but their conviction in 1975 was the result not of error but of deliberate wrong-doing. For all these reasons there is undoubtedly a gap between the way I see the case and what I see in it, and the way the case appears to Miskin, Denning and those who take their view. This gap is bridged by a common interest in the integrity of the law – the law as a set of known rules, agreed rather than imposed, and applicable to all in equal measure.
To both sides, the release of the Guildford Four was Round One; Round Two was the prosecution of those accused of having framed them. For defenders of the Four the prosecution would be the acid test of whether British justice could face up to what had been done in its name. For opponents of the Four the prosecution was unnecessary, a further pointless exercise in undermining the reputation of the legal system and the morale of the police.
The evidence for the prosecution had been uncovered by a team of Avon and Somerset detectives originally formed in August 1987 after Douglas Hurd, then Home Secretary, asked Jim Sharples, then Deputy Chief Constable of the Avon and Somerset Force, to investigate new alibi evidence submitted on behalf of Paul Hill. Two years later, as a result of the inquiry into that evidence. Hurd referred the case to the Court of Appeal. It was only then that detectives from the Sharples team went to Guildford Police Station to collect all the files. The case already had a cast of thousands who between them had generated an astonishing amount of paperwork. The Sharples team found 14 files containing some 29,000 documents, some only a few lines long, others containing many, many pages: handwritten interview notes, typed reports, witness statements, forensic reports, briefs, transcripts, exhibits, internal information documents, minutes of meetings, memos, letters, confidential intelligence reports.
Among the documents, a detective inspector discovered something of interest in Patrick Armstrong’s ‘personal file’: a set of typed notes containing many handwritten amendments. In their amended form, the typed notes were an almost word-for-word match with manuscript notes of three interviews with Armstrong on 4, 5 and 6 December 1974. These rough typed notes, as they became known, aroused the interest of the Sharples team because the officers who had conducted the interviews had always maintained that the manuscript notes had been made contemporaneously, that they had been written down as the questions were put and the answers given. But if the manuscript was a contemporaneous note of the interviews, what were the rough typed notes for? And how was it that the manuscript – which, if the interviewing officers had been telling the truth, must have come first – contained many of the handwritten amendments found on the rough typed notes? Surely, the Sharples team reasoned, it is more usual for the draft document to contain the amendments and deletions: the rough typed notes gave every appearance of being a draft for the supposedly contemporaneous manuscript.
The team immediately appreciated that if this was true – if the rough typed notes were a draft – then the manuscript could not have been recorded contemporaneously. But the three officers connected with these documents – Vernon Attwell, John Donaldson and Thomas Style – had signed witness statements in December 1974 stating that the manuscript notes were contemporaneous, and they had repeated this on oath in the trial in 1975. If the rough typed notes were indeed a draft from which the manuscript notes were later composed, Attwell, Donaldson and Style had seriously misled the court about the nature of the interviews.
In the summer of 1989 the Sharples team invited Attwell, Donaldson and Style to give an explanation of the rough typed notes. Nothing is known of what went on in these interviews, except that the three men were not cautioned. It may be assumed that whatever they said convinced neither the Sharples team nor the DPP that there was an innocent explanation for the rough typed notes because the DPP then requested a hearing before the Court of Appeal. On 19 October, Roy Amlot, counsel for the Crown, announced that his instructions were not to seek to uphold the convictions. Amlot addressed the judges on the discovery of the rough typed notes:
Amongst the papers that had been kept by the Surrey police, the Avon and Somerset officers discovered the following documents: first, rough draft notes of each of the three interviews with Armstrong over three days. The notes were type-written with a large number of alterations in manuscript ... In their altered form they match almost word for word a separate set of manuscript notes of interview used by the officers in the trial. In the trial the officers planned that the manuscript notes were made during each interview as contemporaneous notes. If that were so, it is difficult to see why the set of draft notes was brought into existence. It is impossible to see why the draft notes take the form they do unless they were made before the manuscript notes. If they were, the manuscript notes cannot have been made during the interviews, nor can the officers offer a satisfactory explanation now. The inescapable conclusion is that no contemporaneous notes were made of each interview, as indeed was suggested by the defence at the trial, and that the officers seriously misled the court ... The Crown says that not only did the officers, all three of them – and not just junior officers – mislead the court, but that because of the way the notes had been prepared, and because of the statements that those officers made in 1974 for the purposes of the trial, it is clear that they agreed together to present their notes to the court in this fashion.
Amlot was alleging that the three officers had entered into a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. The judges agreed, condemned the officers in ringing terms and quashed the convictions of the Four.
Although Lord Lane went on to express the hope that prosecution would follow speedily, Regina v. Vernon Weir Attwell, John Sutherland Donaldson and Thomas Lionel Style was a long time coming. It was not until the summer of 1990, a year after the discovery of the suspect notes, that the three detectives were invited to attend a formal interview in London, accompanied by then solicitors. The three men declined to say anything, taking advantage of the rule against self-incrimination so often attacked by the police themselves. Another four months passed before, on 22 November 1990, the Crown Prosecution Service announced that the three detectives were to be charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
Under normal circumstances – more accurately, with normal, non-police defendants – a trial could be expected within six to nine months. In June 1991, however, lawyers for the detectives made an abuse of process application, arguing that the case be dismissed on the grounds that their clients could not expect a fair trial after the adverse publicity and after such a lapse of time; and further protesting that when originally questioned, in the summer of 1989, by members of the Sharples team, the three detectives had not been cautioned. On 11 June 1991 the stipendiary magistrate, Ronald Bartle, upheld the application and dismissed the case. The following month, the DPP sought leave for judicial review of Bartle’s decision; this the High Court granted in October. In January 1992 the High Court reversed Bartle’s decision and the charges were reinstated. In normal circumstances a trial would have taken place soon afterwards. Yet in March 1992 the defence succeeded in having the trial fixed for April 1993 – an extraordinary delay.
One of those who complained about the postponements was Sir John May. Sir John, a retired Court of Appeal judge, had been appointed by the Government to head a judicial inquiry into the Guildford case after the release of the four (his report is expected later this summer). The delays forced Sir John to suspend his public hearings and interrupted other aspects of the inquiry’s work. When Sir John complained to Barbara Mills, the DPP, that the case against the three detectives could have been heard ‘far more quickly’, he received a letter in which he was reminded in curt tones of the case’s ‘sensitivity’, and ‘respectfully’ requested to correct any impression he may have given that he had been ‘criticising the Director for the delay which had occurred’.
So it was that not until 20 April 1993, almost four years after the rough typed notes had first come to light, did Attwell, Donaldson and Style take their place in the dock of Court Eight at the Old Bailey. The length of time it had taken to get the men to trial was interpreted by some as indicating a certain lack of enthusiasm for the task in hand on the part of the Crown. And there were other, graver doubts about the prosecution: first, why was the case restricted to Attwell, Donaldson and Style? (The DPP has acknowledged that 13 of the investigating officers had been under suspicion and examined by the Sharples team.) In the 1989 appeal, Amlot had told the court that the rough typed notes were only one of several sets of suspicious documents:
Other records have revealed disquieting aspects of the case. The detention sheets for each appellant (which do not appear to have been either required or made available in the trial) – and they record the suspect’s movements around the police station – reveal a disturbing difference between the number and times of interviews according to the sheets, and the number and times of interviews according to the officers in evidence. Interviews are shown on the sheets which were never given in evidence or revealed to the Director of Public Prosecutions or prosecuting counsel. Interviews are shown on the sheets as taking place at markedly different times from those given in court by the interviewing officers, and the discrepancies apply to each appellant.
Amlot cited one example in which the detention sheets showed up a nine-hour interview with Hill not recorded by the police or revealed by the relevant officers in court. It had always been Hill’s case that during his interrogation in Guildford Police Station he had been questioned for lengthy periods, and that some of these interviews had not shown up in the official record. The police had always denied this. What the Sharples team had found was the documentary evidence – including duplicate detention sheets – to support Hill’s version.
Nor did it end there. Amlot went on to tell the appeal judges:
The Avon and Somerset officers discovered a set of manuscript notes relating to [another] interview with Hill. The notes have been identified by one of the officers concerned. The interview as revealed by the notes was never tendered in evidence and had not been disclosed to the Director of Public Prosecutions or to prosecuting counsel. It relates to relevant and significant matters. It is clear from the content of the notes that it took place two days after Hill had been charged and led to his fifth statement under caution. It is clear that these officers also seriously misled the court. The content of the notes bears no resemblance to the evidence given by the officers as to the way in which they claim Hill ‘volunteered’ to make his fifth statement. The inescapable conclusion is that the true interview was suppressed and a false version given by the officers in court ... one is driven to the inescapable conclusion that this piece of evidence was concocted.
As with the duplicate detention sheets, and the discrepancies between them and the evidence given in court, the notes relating to this interview with Hill did not lead to charges against any of the officers concerned. The DPP decided privately that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute the officers who had, in Amlot’s words, ‘seriously misled the court’. Nor could this additional evidence be used to further the case against Attwell, Donaldson and Style, since the DPP had decided to prosecute the narrower and more specific conspiracy based solely on the alleged fabrication of Armstrong’s interview notes.
And there is more. I have been shown two sets of documents, not mentioned by Amlot, whose relevance was either not noticed or not appreciated by the Sharples team. The first is a photocopy of the original handwritten note of an interview with a young Irishman named John McGuinness, one of several friends and acquaintances of Armstrong, Hill, Conlon and Richardson taken into custody in December 1974. Although he was later cleared of any involvement, at the time of his detention the police seemed to think McGuinness an important suspect. Present at one interview were a senior officer and two constables, one of whom recorded the interview contemporaneously – at least that was what the police claimed in their section nine witness statements. (Sometimes called ‘police witness statements’, these are typed versions of the manuscript notes prepared in the police station by civilian typists for use in later proceedings, and normally relied on – for ease of reading – in the trial.) The typed police witness statement relating to the McGuinness interview – a photocopy of which is the second set of documents I have been shown – was made on 8 January 1975. It was based on the manuscript note supposedly recorded during the interview. The interview took place in Woking Police Station on 7 December 1974. The first question runs:
Sit down J weve spoken to Pad & Carol & they have put U right in it. & said U were involved in bombing the 7 Stars PH in gld at 9:30 pm on 5 Oct 75
In the typed police witness statement the ‘contemporaneous’ manuscript is rendered:
Sit down John, we’ve spoken to Paddy and Carol and they have put you right in it and said you were involved in bombing the Seven Stars Public House in Guildford at 9.30 p.m. on the 5th October 1974.
The only discrepancy of any significance is in the date of the bombings. In the typed version it is given correctly: ‘5th October 1974’. In the manuscript note – which, remember, the three officers claimed was recorded at the time of the interview, on 7 December 1974 – the year of the bombing is wrong: ‘5 Oct 75’. Someone noticed the mistake and wrote a 4 over the 5 of 75. The amendment is of significance, for it leads to the question: how did the officer, writing in December 1974, come to write ‘1975’? We frequently persist in lagging a year behind when dating our letters and cheques in January or February; but we rarely, if ever, leap forward a year when writing at the beginning of December. Is it possible that these three officers – as in the allegation against Attwell, Donaldson and Style – were putting together a manuscript note sometime after the interview, which they then passed off as a contemporaneous record? The confusion over the year suggests that if this was the case, the ‘contemporaneous’ note may have been written in 1975, possibly around the time the civilian typist was preparing the police witness statements (8 January), but in any case long after the actual interview.
What conclusions are we to draw from the existence of so many sets of amended documents? Does it suggest that the practice of doctoring interview notes and their supporting documentation was so common as to be almost routine? Does it point to a wider conspiracy within the Guildford police? Certainly there is enough suspect material – involving a very large proportion of the interviewing officers – to suggest that something very odd was going on, and that it was not just confined to the alleged conspiracy of Attwell, Donaldson and Style. This material implies an exercise of considerable complexity, one requiring a high degree of co-ordination. In which case, should the charge of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice have been restricted to only three officers? Should the whole body of evidence relating to suspicions of wider wrongdoing not have been adduced in a more broadly focused trial? And should the prosecution have been limited to police officers?
In the 1989 appeal, Amlot had been careful to place the blame entirely on the police. More than once he emphasised that officers had withheld significant material from the DPP and prosecuting counsel. Yet it has been fully demonstrated that the DPP and prosecuting counsel themselves withheld significant material from the defence at the time of the trial in 1975 and subsequently. Amlot was silent on this point. In particular, he failed to explain how crucial alibi evidence for Gerry Conlon had not been disclosed to his lawyers before the trial. At the time of the Guildford bombings, Conlon had been staying at a hostel in Kilburn run by the Catholic Church for young Irishmen. In January 1975, after Conlon had been charged, the police arrived at the hostel to question the residents. One, Charles Burke, gave a statement in which he said he had seen Conlon asleep in bed on the night of the bombing. The police passed Burke’s statement to the DPP, who subsequently sent it to the prosecution team, led by the late Sir Michael Havers; the juniors were Michael Hill, Paul Purnell and Philip Havers (Sir Michael’s son). The three juniors at a later point signed a note listing, among others, Conlon’s alibi witnesses. They included Burke’s name on the list. However, a separate list later made available to the defence unaccountably omitted any mention of Burke.
Neither the DPP nor any of the prosecution team told Conlon’s lawyers of the existence of Burke’s statement. Many years later, Gareth Peirce, Conlon’s solicitor, discovered in Guildford Police Station an interesting bundle of documents, labelled in typescript: ‘Not to be disclosed to the defence’. The bundle included Charles Burke’s statement. In the trial Conlon told the jury that he spent the night of the bombing in bed after a heavy after noon drinking session. He was unable to call Burke – who had since returned to Ireland – because the DPP and the prosecution team had kept Burke’s statement to themselves. In his summing up, Mr Justice Donaldson drew the jury’s attention to the fact that although Conlon had claimed to have an alibi, there was no ‘independent witness to support him’. Although Michael Hill, Purnell and Havers are said to be ‘furious’ about any hints of impropriety (Hill, a former chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, is reported as saying the case was conducted ‘not just in accordance with the rules, but in the spirit behind the rules’), no explanation has been made public for the astonishing failure of the police, the Crown and the DPP to inform Conlon’s legal advisers of their client’s alibi.
The matter of Conlon’s alibi does not rest there. When the police visited the hostel in January 1975, they also removed records relating to the residents, which they refused to return when Peirce was trying to trace those who had been staying in the hostel in October 1974. It was not until 1988, after Father Frank Ryan, the hostel’s head, had sued the police, that copies – not the originals – were returned. Peirce was then at last able to start tracing potential witnesses. It emerged that a nun working in the hostel in 1974, Sister Power, had also given a statement to the police about Conlon’s movements. This statement was similarly suppressed, and was discovered in the same bundle as Burke’s – the bundle marked ‘Not to be disclosed to the defence’. What possible reason was there for not disclosing this information? Until the matter is clarified in public, it is difficult to interpret it as anything other than a willingness on the part of some of the police, the DPP and the prosecution team to withold evidence from the court about Conlon’s whereabouts on the night of the bombings. Gareth Peirce is convinced that the DPP’s failure to defend the appeal in October 1989 was an attempt by the authorities to avoid having to explain in public the misconduct of the police. Not only that. The brevity of the hearing, she also says, prevented the appellants from bringing out what would seem to be the much larger and still more serious evidence of misconduct by the DPP and prosecuting counsel over non-disclosure. Peirce insists that a full hearing of all the evidence in 1989 would have incontrovertibly demonstrated the innocence of the Guildford Four. At the very least the Crown made sure that the wider body of evidence of malpractice and wrongdoing was not fully aired in open court; and by limiting the prosecution for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice to just three officers, the DPP made sure that the larger body of suspect material never saw the light of day in Court Eight.
Asked how he fell about the three officers, Paddy Armstrong replied simply that he hoped they would get a fair trial. He need not have worried on that score. From the beginning, scrupulous care was paid to their rights and well-being. When, in the summer of 1990, the Sharples team got round to confronting them with the rough typed notes, the three suspects were invited – not brought – to London. The suspects’ lawyers were in constant attendance; and when the suspects took full advantage of the right to silence they were not locked up in an effort to encourage them to change their minds, but immediately set free on bail, and not just bail but unconditional bail. After paying a sum into court (later returned), they were granted legal aid. And when the time at last came for trial, they were not driven at breakneck speed through the streets of London to the Old Bailey in an armoured police van – motorcycle outriders alongside, helicopters above and police marksmen on the roof of the court – but invited to attend by letter. I would be the last to say this is a bad thing: I would be the first to say that it is far from the norm.
The full text of this essay is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.