Relatives of one of the five victims of the IRA’s 1974 Guildford pub bombings have criticised the scope of the inquest into the deaths and said they have “unanswered questions” after a coroner delivered a verdict of unlawful killing.
At the conclusion of the inquest, coroner Richard Travers said the victims were killed by a “violent, intense and devastating” explosion caused by a remotely-detonated bomb planted by “a young man and woman often referred to as a ‘courting couple’”.
The inquest had been halted after the so-called Guildford Four were jailed for the bombings in 1975 in a notorious miscarriage of justice, which was overturned by the court of appeal in 1989. A decision was made to reopen it in 2019 after a campaign by relatives of the victims, survivors and the wrongly convicted.
Responding to the verdict, the family of Ann Hamilton, of the Women’s Royal Army Corps, who was 19 when she was killed by the bomb, voiced frustration that the coroner decided not to hold an article 2 (of the European convention of human rights) inquest, which requires an enhanced investigation and can be engaged when there are questions surrounding state involvement. Hamilton’s relatives said that would have allowed issues of foresight and preventability to be examined.
They also lamented the fact that, unlike bereaved relatives in other legacy inquests relating to the Irish troubles, including that into the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings, they were not granted legal aid. Combined, these two decisions diminished the value of the inquest, they said.
“An inquest must serve to allay suspicion and rumour,” said the family. “An inquest must serve the interests of the relatives of victims. We do not think this inquest has served either of these purposes. First, the families were excluded because there was no public funding. Second, the inquest was circumscribed in its scope because of the current state of coronial law and rules. Both must be addressed if this process is to continue with any credibility in the interests of bereaved families. Many of our questions remain unanswered.”
Caroline Slater, 18, also of the Women’s Royal Army Corps, and Scots Guards William Forsyth, 18, and John Hunter, 17, along with a civilian, Paul Craig, 22, were also killed in the no-warning blast on the Horse and Groom, known as an army pub, on 5 October 1974. None of the families were represented in court, except for limited pro bono work by Belfast solicitors KRW Law.
Additionally, Patrick Armstrong, one of the two surviving members of the Guildford Four was denied “interested person” status meaning his lawyer, Alastair Logan, could not participate and provide a balance to lawyers representing the Ministry of Defence and Surrey police and the Met, respectively.
The Hamilton family have previously questioned why the barracks were not on lockdown and the alert state was not changed given IRA bombings on army sites from 1973, preceding the Guildford attack.
Surrey police attracted controversy when it emerged in inquest papers that it had successfully applied to the Home Office for files related to the Guildford bombing, scheduled for release in 2020, to be held back for decades. The files were made available to the inquest should they be required but junior counsel to the inquest, Matthew Flinn, deemed only two to be relevant.
Travers said in his conclusions: “I find that there was nothing specific about the date of the attack or the choice of the pub which could have made the bombings reasonably foreseeable or preventable.”
Speaking outside court, deputy chief constable Nev Kemp of Surrey police, said the force would “consider whether a re-investigation is a viable option”.