The death of Gerry Conlon in Belfast has been met with mass sympathy across the world as people are reminded of the vile injustice of the British capitalist state against the Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven.
Conlon and three other Irish immigrants were arrested by police following the IRA bombing of a pub in Guildford in 1974 resulting in the deaths of four British soldiers and one civilian. Without any evidence of any involvement in the bombing, the Guildford Four were tortured and coerced (including threats against family members) into signing confessions while in custody. Conlon later wrote that they may had been able to withstand the beatings and not confessed if the Prevention of Terrorism Act (1973) had not extended detentions from a maximum of 48 hours to 5 days. This repressive legislation was passed in response to the IRA’s individual terrorist campaign. The consequent trial was rigged from the start with key evidence and alibis exempted in court. During sentencing, Judge John Donaldson – once a chairman of the Federations of University Conservative and Unionist Associations, regretted that he could not sentence the four to hanging before handing them life sentences.
The Maguire Seven were unjustly sentenced to life imprisonment on the false allegations that they had handled explosives connected with the Guildford bombing. The Maguire Seven included Patrick “Giuseppe” Conlon, father of Gerry, who died after 12 years in prison aged 64.
Throughout the fifteen years that the Guildford Four remained in prison, many organisations ranging from trade unions, socialists to human rights groups campaigned for their release. Incredibly, a statement issued by four IRA men on trial in 1977 which made it clear that the Guildford Four had nothing to do with the bombing and were completely innocent was ignored. It took 15 years before the Guildford Four were freed after a consistent and determined campaign by the prisoners and their supporters. Despite Tony Blair’s public formal apology in 2007, a 75 year immunity order remains on the case – itself an indication of how high up the chain of power the corruption and injustice went. Judge Donaldson was awarded and promoted to the Head of the Appeal Court. Up to his final weeks, Gerry Conlon tirelessly campaigned against cases of state injustice and also publicly supported struggles of working class people across Britain and Ireland. His fight and that of the Guildford Four and Maguire Seven should be a reminder to all working class people that the capitalist establishment, including the political and judicial elite, are willing to use grotesque methods against anyone they deem a threat.