According to the discussion of the case in Minds on Trial, what evidence was used to convict the Guildford Four and what evidence or facts were ignored in this wrongful conviction?
INSTRUCTIONS: Read The Guildford Four (9 pages). Be thorough and complete. Put effort into creating thorough and well-developed answers. Be sure to answer all parts of each question.
You can only use one quote of 3 sentences or less. You do not have to include a quote. If you do, be sure to put it in quotation marks and cite it. If you use a quote, you must also then explain it in your own words as well.
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QUESTION: According to the discussion of the case in Minds on Trial, what evidence was used to convict the Guildford Four and what evidence or facts were ignored in this wrongful conviction? I am looking for multiple things that were ignored according to the reading.
THE GUILDFORD FOUR
“You Did It, So Why Not Confess?”
One of the most controversial issues raised in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, was whether terrorists should ever be tortured to obtain information about future attacks. The “ticking time bomb scenario” is characterized as a hypothetical problem involving a terrorist possessing direct knowledge about the location and detonation time of a bomb that could kill thousands of individuals. This ethical and moral problem is often used in discussions about how to deal with terrorism. The “ticking time bomb” question is meant to challenge people to think how far measures should go in order to save innocent lives.1 Scholars continue to debate the moral, ethical, and legal implications of difficult problems that we now face in our efforts to defeat terrorism. If the loss of innocent lives could be prevented by obtaining information through physical torture, could the practice ever be legally, ethically, and morally justified?
The legal issues involved in the interrogation of criminal suspects have long been of concern to counterterrorism experts. Although the prospect of torturing terrorist suspects is extreme, an equally challenging question, and more common concern, is: “Would a terrorist suspect confess to committing an act of violence that he or she did not commit?” Most people assume that a person would never confess to a crime that he or she did not commit. But real-life experiences indicate that this belief is wrong, since there are several legal cases where individuals have, in fact, confessed to a crime they did not commit. Several high-profile cases, such as the Central Park Jogger case, involved suspects who were convicted on the basis of a confession but later exonerated when new evidence was uncovered of actual innocence.
The criminal justice system in Great Britain is one that bears many similarities to the United States system and provides us with one of the most infamous cases of wrongful conviction and a gross miscarriage of justice based on false confessions in an investigation into terrorist violence. Throughout the twentieth century, Great Britain had waged its own “war on terrorism” against the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Since the signing of the Anglo-Irish treaty in 1921 that partitioned Ireland into the twenty-six independent southern counties and the six counties of Northern Ireland under British control, the IRA has been responsible for numerous bombings and other acts of terror aimed at trying to unify the country into a single, thirty-two-county Republic of Ireland. For decades, the terrorist violence waxed and waned. However, in the 1970s the IRA began a bombing campaign that saw the violence move from concentrated attacks in the northern counties of Ireland to England in an effort to force the British to confront the problem of Irish independence.
On October 5, 1974, the IRA bombed two pubs in Guildford, England. Both of the pubs were popular with members of the British military and therefore the IRA viewed them as prime targets. The first of these attacks occurred at 8:30 P.M. when an explosion ripped through the Horse and Groom pub without any warning. Five people died in the attack, including four members of the British armed forces, and several others were injured. The explosion caused widespread panic. Thus, when the second IRA bomb went off at the Seven Stars pub in Guildford about an hour later, no one was injured because evacuations were initiated immediately after the Horse and Groom bombing.
At 10:00 on the evening of November 7, 1974, another IRA bomb exploded at the King’s Arms house in South London. Two people died and another 27 people were injured when nuts and bolts packed around two pounds of plastic explosive ripped through the public gathering spot. A week after the King’s Arms attack, an IRA operative by the name of James McDade was killed on November 14, when the bomb he was trying to place in a telephone booth in Coventry, England, accidentally detonated. The IRA was so angered by the failure of their mission that they perpetrated their most serious attack. On November 21, two bombs exploded at a pair of pubs in the city of Birmingham, England. One at the Tavern in the Town pub killed eleven people and the other at the Mulberry Bush pub killed ten. Another 161 people were injured, many seriously, in these two attacks.
As commonly occurs in the wake of terrorist attacks, the widespread fear among citizens of England quickly turned to outrage. There were acts of retaliation against the Irish community, including attacks on a Catholic school and pub, and fights broke out between British and Irish workers at an automobile plant. However, the anti-Irish sentiments in Great Britain soon prompted a formal legal response. In a rapid legislative effort, similar to passage of the U.S. Patriot Act that followed in the wake of the September 11 attacks, a bill known as the Prevention of Terrorism Act passed through both houses of British Parliament in less than twenty-four hours. By November 29, just eight days after the Birmingham bombings, the Prevention of Terrorism Act was in full effect. Provisions of the law granted sweeping powers to law enforcement officers:
The [Prevention of Terrorism Act] made membership of and support for the IRA an offense. It also introduced exclusion orders which gave the British government powers to restrict the movements of designated citizens within its own borders. Additionally, the police were empowered to arrest without warrant anyone they reasonably suspected of being concerned in terrorism, but against whom they had not assembled sufficient evidence in regard to a specific offense. Police could detain someone arrested under this provision for forty-eight hours; but the Home Secretary could permit an extension of the detention for a further five days.
With such broad powers being granted to law enforcement officials, concerns about possible abuses of civil liberties and the targeting of innocent individuals were raised. And, in fact, the investigation into the bombings soon led to arrests and a legal case that would span decades and result in what is often viewed as one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in recent history.
An Irishman named Paul Hill became the first person arrested under the provisions of the newly enacted Prevention of Terrorism Act. Given that the legislation granted law enforcement officials a large measure of secrecy in their efforts to combat terrorism, police officers were only required to admit vaguely that their interest in Hill was based on information they had received. However, the reason police focused their attention on Hill was the fact that he had apparently been present at a Belfast, North Ireland pub on July 20, 1974, when a former British soldier named Brian Shaw had been abducted by the IRA and executed.
Hill would later claim that police officers used a number of tactics to intimidate and brutalize him during their questioning. While being transferred from one police station to another, for example, officers drove Hill pastthe Horse and Groom pub and told him they knew he had blown it up. Hill also claimed that he was physically beaten, had a gun held to his head during the interrogation, and was told that his girlfriend—who was pregnant with Hill’s child at the time—would be harmed.
After being interrogated for nearly twenty-four hours, Hill provided a full written confession to the Guildford bombings. In his statement to police, he also implicated one of his friends named Gerry Conlon. Two days after Hill’s arrest and interrogation, Conlon was arrested and questioned by police. He was also subjected to the same kind of interrogation as Hill over a period of two days. Conlon was threatened, intimidated, and warned that his father would be arrested if he did not cooperate.
The information police obtained from the interrogation of Hill and Conlon provided them with a lengthy roster of friends and relatives who were purportedly involved in the IRA and terrorist activities. Hill and Conlon each gave police officers an address where bomb-making activities were supposed to have occurred. However, the subsequent investigation revealed that neither location contained any evidence of illicit activity. The address Conlon provided was where his aunt, Annie Maguire, lived and even though no evidence of bomb-related materials were found at the address, several of Conlon’s family members were detained and questioned.
Conlon’s interrogation yielded the names of two people who were supposed to have been involved in the Guildford bombings: Paddy Armstrong and his seventeen-year-old girlfriend Carole Richardson. Approximately three days after Conlon confessed, Richardson and Armstrong were arrested and within forty-eight hours they also admitted to being involved in the bombings. All four suspects—Hill, Conlon, Armstrong, and Richardson—came to be known as the Guildford Four after the name of the town where the first bombing occurred.
Several other individuals were arrested in connection with the case, including four who were implicated in the Guildford bombings as a result of Conlon’s coercive interrogation. Conlon’s aunt, Annie Maguire, John McGuiness, Brian Anderson, and Paul Colman were charged with possessing explosives but none of these individuals admitted any involvement with either the Guildford bombings or IRA activities. In fact, Maguire had an airtight alibi for the evening of October 5: she had attended a birthday party for one of her neighbor’s children. Moreover, despite the fact that police had charged Maguire, McGuiness, Anderson, and Colman with possession of bombing materials, there was no physical evidence uncovered in any of their homes. Macguire was subjected to intensive and coercive questioning by police but never provided any incriminating statements. She was held for several months before all criminal charges against her, McGuiness, Anderson, and Colman were dismissed due to a lack of evidence.
On the other hand, Hill, Conlon, Armstrong, and Richardson were tried in September 1975 for their admitted involvement. At their trial, the prosecution alleged that all four were members of the IRA, yet no evidence was ever introduced that proved they were members of the terrorist group. The primary evidence against each of them was their confessions and, as research has shown, confession evidence is given the greatest weight by juries. Although other forms of evidence are weighed heavily by juries as proof of a person’s guilt—including eyewitness testimony and physical evidence linking a defendant to the scene of the crime—it is confession evidence that juries view as the greatest indication of a person’s guilt. After all, who would confess to a crime that he or she did not commit?
The Guildford Four challenged the admissibility and reliability of their confessions. They had each been denied access to an attorney during their questioning by police, a practice that was permissible under the recently acted Prevention of Terrorism Act. Moreover, each of the defendants provided strong alibi witnesses who testified that they were nowhere near the bombings at the time they occurred.
Richardson had one of the strongest alibis; there was photographic evidence showing she had been at a concert nearly forty miles away on the evening of the first two bombings. Several eyewitnesses to the bombing at the Horse and Groom, which Richardson was alleged to have helped commit, failed to identify her from a police line-up. To make matters worse, a witness for the defense attested to the fact that Richardson was nowhere near the Guildford pub on the evening of the bombing. Frank Johnson, a friend of Richardson, went to police before trial and told them they had the wrong person because Richardson had been with him. Instead of creating doubt in the minds of police officers investigating Richardson, Johnson found himself intimidated and threatened with possible prosecution. He later claimed that police officers had detained him on a couple of different occasions for questioning, had hinted that he had bomb residue on his hands, and had threatened to push him out of a window, shoot him, and set his handicapped mother on fire. He was ultimately coerced into providing a statement that Richardson’s alibi had been something they concocted together. Finally, Johnson said that when he was eventually released by the police they threatened to charge him with obstructing justice if he ended up testifying at Richardson’s trial. Nevertheless, at trial he resorted to his original claim that Richardson was with him and nowhere near Guildford at the time of the bombings. However, the prosecution argued that Richardson still had enough time to leave the concert and travel to Guildford in order to set off the first bomb.
Hill, Conlon, and Armstrong also presented evidence of an alibi at trial. Conlon said he had been at a lodge in London and provided the names of the people who could vouch for his whereabouts. Even though police officers had a statement from a witness who confirmed Conlon’s alibi, they never turned it over to the defense. Armstrong also provided names of witnesses who could vouch that he was elsewhere at the time of the Guildford bombings, but police could verify only some of the details. Finally, Hill claimed that he was in Southampton, England, with his girlfriend at the time of the bombings, but he withdrew his claim during questioning by police. Although there was a witness who could apparently verify Hill’s alibi, the person was never called to testify.
In all, there were over one hundred inconsistencies between the confessions of Hill, Conlon, Armstrong, and Richardson, and the manner in which the bombings were said by the prosecution to have taken place. For example, forensic evidence showed that the individuals responsible for the first bombing in Guildford on October 5 did not have enough time to plant the second bomb that was detonated almost a half-hour later on the same evening. Also, Richardson said in her confession that she had thrown one of the bombs, even though the prosecution argued that the bombs were planted. In addition, Conlon had implicated McGuiness, Anderson, Colman, and his aunt Annie Maguire in his confession. Yet, police dropped the charges against these four alleged accomplices, suggesting that details of Conlon’s confession could not be proven by physical evidence. Moreover, none of the confessions provided by the Guildford Four contained any information or details about the bombings that were unknown to the police. In short, it was quite possible that the police merely fed details of the bombings to each of the suspects as they were interrogated to make the confessions look authentic.
During the trial, Armstrong was given a sodium amytal interview at the request of his attorney under the presumption that Armstrong would be more likely to tell the truth about the circumstances surrounding his interrogation by police. A psychiatrist from the London Hospital administered the interview one evening after trial proceedings had ended for the day. The results of this interview indicated that Armstrong had been coerced into confessing. The use of a drug-assisted interview was apparently intended to help Armstrong’s attorney garner more faith in his client’s claim that he had been coerced into making a false confession. However, the validity of drug-assisted interviews is questionable because various factors can influence the results, including increased suggestibility of the subject and the possibility that the person can make up details in their altered state of awareness. Therefore, the results of Armstrong’s drug-assisted interview played no significant role in his defense at trial.
Despite numerous inconsistencies in the confessions of the Guildford Four and the many alibi witnesses who testified on behalf of the defendants, Hill, Conlon, Armstrong, and Richardson were all convicted of murder and conspiracy charges after the jury deliberated for twenty-seven hours. Since there was no death penalty in Great Britain, none of the Guildford Four could be sentenced to death. Although all four received a life sentence, under British law the presiding judge recommended a minimum term that each convicted terrorist would have to serve before becoming eligible for parole. Conlon received a recommended sentence of thirty years to life and Armstrong was sentenced to thirty-five years to life. Due to her age, Richardson would have to serve at least twenty years before she would be eligible for parole. However, Judge Donaldson made it clear during his sentencing of Conlon, Armstrong, and Richardson that the minimum term was not meant to imply that the three would ever be released from prison. The lower terms were only intended as an absolute minimum term in prison. He told the three that they might never be released.
Judge Donaldson saved his harshest words for Hill, who received a life sentence without the possibility of parole because he was implicated in the third bombing. The judge said at sentencing that the only hope Hill might ever have of being released from prison was if he were extremely old or sick and near death. The sentences received by the Guildford Four were purported to be the longest ever in the history of the modern British courts.
Believing an injustice had been done, several groups started to fight for the release of the Guildford Four as they began serving their sentences. Meanwhile, in December of 1975, four IRA members were arrested following a high-speed car chase through the streets of London that ended with a police raid at a house on Balcombe Street in Marylebone. The four IRA suspects, who came to be known as the Balcombe Street four, were captured. Three of the suspects—Joseph O’Connell, Eddie Butler, and Harry Duggan—implicated another IRA suspect, Brendan Dowd, who was already in custody on another charge. O’Connell and Dowd confessed to the Guildford bombings and informed police that Armstrong, Conlon, Hill, and Richardson had nothing to do with the IRA or the bombings.
Although this new evidence was presented at an appeal for the Guildford Four, their convictions were upheld. As part of his preparation for the appeal, Armstrong’s lawyer hired Dr. Lionel Haward, a psychologist and professor at the University of Surrey in Guildford, to provide a hypnotically assisted interview in October 1977 to learn more about the terrorist bombings and Armstrong’s police interrogation in 1974. Once again, the interview indicated that Armstrong had confessed because of the intense anxiety and fear that he experienced in response to pressure put on him by the police during his interrogation. Nevertheless, the sparse experimental evidence supporting the validity of hypnosis as an interview aid, as well as the fact that many courts do not allow hypnotically facilitated testimony to be admitted in court, contributed to this new piece of forensic psychological evidence having limited impact on the success of Armstrong’s appeal.
Ongoing efforts to free the Guildford Four continued over the next several years, but it was not until 1986 that additional forensic psychological evidence was produced. In April of that year, two well-known forensic psychologists who are experts on disputed confessions, Drs. Gisli Gudjonsson and James MacKeith, examined Carole Richardson at the request of the medical service at the prison where she was being held. One of the physicians at the prison was apparently concerned that Richardson might have been wrongly convicted on the basis of a false confession. One of the crucial issues that arose during this examination was the effect that certain medications Richardson was taking had on her mental state during her interrogation in 1974.
The results of the examination by these two noted forensic psychologists revealed that Richardson was vulnerable to interrogative pressure and that she was prone to avoid conflict and please others when faced with social pressure. Richardson’s mental state at the time of Dr. Gudjonsson’s and Dr. MacKeith’s evaluation was found to be “impressive,” but one of the things that concerned the psychologists was Richardson’s mental state in 1974 when she was going through drug withdrawal while being questioned by police. During their questioning of the convicted Guildford bomber, Gudjonsson and Mac-Keith asked difficult and challenging questions that were intended to uncover evidence of lying or inconsistencies. However, the examiners noted that Richardson was “spontaneous” and “unguarded” in her answers to their questions. Both experts expressed doubts about the reliability of Richardson’s confession to the Guildford bombings.
More specifically, a review of Richardson’s confession revealed that she had been in the custody of police for several days and was subjected to repeated questioning. For several months leading up to her arrest, Richardson had been abusing various drugs and she claimed that just prior to being taken into police custody she had taken twenty capsules of a barbiturate that she had been using. When questioning began by the police, Richardson was almost certainly undergoing physiological and psychological withdrawal from the drug. As result, she was often confused, had difficulty remembering, and experienced heightened distress during questioning. During the first three days of her detainment, Richardson was apparently focused on securing her release, but she found the police pressure difficult to resist. Although she initially denied any recollection of being involved with the bombings, over a period of several days she came to actually believe she was involved and was blocking out the details from her memory.
Gudjonsson and Mackeith defined this process as “memory distrust syndrome,” where an individual comes to have little faith in his or her memory for a crime and succumbs to police pressure by internalizing, or believing, that he or she committed the crime despite having no recollection of the details. This process leads to a form of false confession that occurs when a suggestible person is influenced by coercion exerted during intense police questioning. Although Richardson reported that she had been hit by a woman police officer during questioning and came to realize that her interrogators were in full control of her, she apparently realized that her only hope was to go agree with whatever the police wanted her to say. However, Gudjonsson and Mackeith also observed that the mental and physical effects of drug withdrawal, accompanied by the stress of the interrogation and the long period of time she was subjected to intense questioning, contributed to Richardson internalizing the belief that perhaps she had, indeed, committed the bombings. Once the police had their confession from Richardson and the interrogative pressures relaxed, Richardson’s confidence about her innocence returned.
The case of the Guildford Four was re-opened in 1988. An intensive review of the case revealed more than just the possibility that all four defendants had falsely confessed to the bombings. In October of 1989, an appeals court ruled that police had lied and fabricated
evidence during the original investigation. A criminal investigation was undertaken into the behavior of five police officers who had originally worked on the Guildford bombing case. Fourteen years had passed since the Guildford Four had been convicted and only two of the five police officers under question were still on active duty. Both of the officers were placed on suspension following the announcement of the appellate court.
In addition, new evidence came to light that the prosecution had failed to disclose the fact that a witness had been identified who could corroborate Conlon’s alibi. As a result of the appellate court’s ruling, the convictions of the Guildford Four were all overturned. Conlon, Armstrong, and Richardson were released from prison immediately following the announcement by the appellate court. Hill had to remain in prison while he awaited the appeal of his conviction in the murder of Brian Shaw, the former British soldier whose murder in Northern Ireland years earlier had led police to suspect Hill of the Guildford bombings in the first place. In 1994, Hill was cleared of any involvement in Shaw’s murder and he was released from prison.
Since the Guildford Four were released after an appellate court reviewed their case and ordered their convictions overturned, there was no new trial at which formal evidence was presented to prove their confessions were all false. Still, the subsequent evaluation of Richardson by Gudjonsson and Mackeith, and the detailed explanation of how Richardson was affected psychologically by the intense police questioning, provides an explanation of how coercive interrogation techniques, unique psychological vulnerabilities in a criminal suspect, and police officers who are unwilling to consider any possibilities other than a given suspect’s guilt can lead people to confess to a crime they did not commit. It happened not once but four times in the case of the Guildford bombings.
The case is one of the most infamous occurrences of wrongful conviction based on a false confession and was one of the worst miscarriages of justice in recent history. The 1994 film In the Name of the Father, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, dramatized the plight of the Guildford Four, particularly the story of Conlon who watched his father die in prison during his fifteen years of wrongful imprisonment. Furthermore, Conlon detailed the “dreadful experience” that he and the others had during their years of incarceration. After his release, Conlon said to the press: “We were sent into a prison which was totally hostile towards us, we were being attacked by prison officers and cons, people urinated in our food, people put glass in our food and then when we came out onto the street there was no care from the government.”
Each of the Guildford Four was later given monetary compensation for their ordeal, although it took years for some of them to reach a final settlement. Over twenty years passed before they were able to clear their names, but a formal apology was issued to them by British Prime Minister Tony Blair in June 2000. In his apology, Blair stated: “I believe that it is an indictment of our system of justice and a matter for the greatest regret when anyone suffers punishment as a result of a miscarriage of justice.” The Prime Minister sent his letter of apology to Hill’s wife, Courtney Kennedy Hill, who is the daughter of the late Robert F. Kennedy.
In looking back on the fact that each of the Guildford Four were coerced into providing a false confession that ultimately led to their conviction, it is interesting to note that there was no other evidence tying the suspects directly to the bombings. Several inconsistencies existed between the confessions and the physical evidence and testimony of several witnesses. The case raises questions about the reliability of confession evidence and supports changes in the way criminal suspects are interrogated and questioned by police. One of the the best ways to preserve evidence of confession, and to ensure that police do not use coercive tactics, is to have all interrogations videotaped so a record is preserved of the entire process. Both true and false confessions would benefit from this process. Factors contributing to false confessions could be identified and studied during subsequent court proceedings. Likewise, the validity of accurate confessions would not be undercut by false claims of police coercion or intimidation.
Finally, it is worth reflecting back on the words of Judge Donaldson as he passed sentence on the Guildford Four at the conclusion of their trial. The judge noted that if capital punishment had been available in Great Britain, all four would have received the death penalty and “you would have been executed,” the judge told the four convicted bombers. If the death penalty had been in effect and the Guildford Four had been sentenced to death, it is quite possible that the ultimate miscarriage of justice would have been committed: Four innocent individuals would have been executed as a result of having falsely confessed to crimes they did not commit.
According to the discussion of the case in Minds on Trial, what evidence was used to convict the Guildford Four and what evidence or facts were ignored in this wrongful conviction?