Solicitors have called for a fresh criminal investigation into the alleged “suppression of forensic evidence” in the prosecution of the Guildford Four, more than 40 years ago.
The request, sent to the English attorney general, follows the discovery by author and former IRA prisoner Richard O’Rawe of archive material, released from an official inquiry, during a joint trawl of files with the BBC.
Mr O’Rawe outlines the revelations in a new book In The Name of the Son — The Gerry Conlon Story which includes a foreword by Johnny Depp.
The author told the Irish Examiner he and a BBC journalist were wrapping up their examination of six files, which had been released from the 700 embargoed files of the John May Inquiry, when he saw a particular document.
It referenced a statement from forensic expert Douglas Higgs, made before the then-upcoming trial of the Balcombe Street IRA gang in 1977.
It said: “After April 76: Manuscript note by Mr Mathew [the leading Crown Counsel at the Balcombe Street trial] indicates request to Mr Higgs to redraft his statements of 24-1-75 and 19-2-76 omitting Woolwich.” This referred to the bombing at Woolwich, in November 1974, and connecting it with the Balcombe Street IRA gang, apprehended in December 1975.
Mr O’Rawe said: “Higgs said in a statement [to the May inquiry] the five bombs, including Woolwich, were carried out by the same people: the same modus operandi, same timers, same clocks, same amount of explosives, same kind of explosives and in his professional opinion these were carried out by the same people.”
He noted Mr Higgs’ statement was made in January 1975, long before the Guildford convictions in October 1975 and the Maguire Seven in 1976. He said Mr Higgs was not a witness at the Guildford Four trial.
“I was absolutely flabbergasted by the document,” said Mr O’Rawe.
“You don’t expect to find a golden nugget. It made the hair stand up on the back of my head.”
He claimed the document showed that there was an attempt by the Crown Prosecution Service to “manufacture evidence to convict the Guildford Four”.
He said he rang Kevin Winters, a solicitor with KRW Law, human rights lawyers based in Belfast, which is representing both Anne McKernan, sister of Gerry Conlon and survivor Yvonne Tagg.
“His view is that this is proof manifest that the Crown perverted the course of justice,” said Mr O’Rawe.
In its letter to the English AG, KRW said the archive material outlined “a basis upon which you can direct a new investigation into alleged criminality on the part of the original Surrey Police investigation team and prosecutors which whom they worked in securing the wrong conviction” of Mr Conlon and others.
The firm said the request of Mr Higgs — which was complied with — to omit any mention of the Woolwich bombing amounted to “suppression of forensic evidence”.
The Guildford Four —Gerry Conlon, Paul Hill, Patrick Armstrong and Carole Richardson — served 15 years by the time their convictions were overturned.
Gerry’s Dad, Patrick ‘Giuseppe’ Conlon, one of the Maguire Seven, died in prison.
In The Name of the Son (Merrion Press) had its Belfast launch last Friday and its London launch on October 20.
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