Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 27 December 2014

Blair set to agree Commons apology to Giuseppe Conlon

British Prime Minister Tony Blair will tell the Taoiseach today that he has no difficulty making a public statement on the innocence of Giuseppe Conlon, who died in prison six years after he was arrested in connection with the 1974 Guildford pub bombings.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair will tell the Taoiseach today that he has no difficulty making a public statement on the innocence of Giuseppe Conlon, who died in prison six years after he was arrested in connection with the 1974 Guildford pub bombings.

It is understood that Mr Blair is prepared to concede that Mr Conlon was wrongly jailed in a speech from the despatch box in the House of Commons.

The Taoiseach is committed to raising the issue of Giuseppe Conlon, whose son was a member of the wrongly-jailed Guildford Four, with the Prime Minister after meeting son Gerry Conlon in Dublin last week.

North Secretary Paul Murphy said yesterday he believed Mr Blair would offer a public apology to Mr Conlon and his family.

"He has already written, of course, to the family expressing his view that there was a very serious miscarriage of justice - he very much regrets that and he is very sorry for the hurt and suffering of the family," Mr Murphy said during a BBC interview.

"I have no doubt that if asked the same in public he would make a similar public apology," he said.

Mr Blair acknowledged in a private letter to SDLP leader Mark Durkan last year that Giuseppe had been wrongly jailed.

Mr Conlon Sr died in prison in 1980, convicted as part of an alleged conspiracy to cause explosions.

Mr Conlon Jr said last week that he wanted Tony Blair to stand at the despatch box and acknowledge that Giuseppe Conlon was an innocent man.

"Thirty-one years is a long time to suffer," Mr Conlon said. "My mother is getting on in years, who knows how long she has left? She is heartbroken and we need this to stop.

"We need Tony Blair to say that what happened in 1974 was a dreadful miscarriage of justice, innocent people went to prison, we're sorry for what happened and we apologise."

Five people, including four British soldiers, were killed when the IRA planted a bomb in the Horse and Groom pub in Guildford in October 1974.

Two groups, known as the Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven, were later jailed in connection with that attack and other bombings in Woolwich, south-east London.

Giuseppe Conlon had been staying with Annie Maguire, a cousin from Belfast, on a visit to London to see his arrested son when there was a police swoop on the house and all occupants were taken into custody.

Mr Conlon suffered from emphysema and died in prison in January 1980. In October 1989 the Court of Appeal quashed the sentences of the Guildford Four, and in June 1991 the Court of Appeal overturned the convictions on the Maguire Seven.

But there was no exoneration for Mr Conlon Sr, whose widow Sarah still lives in Belfast. She was featured in the major TV drama 'Dear Sarah', based on letters Giuseppe wrote to her from jail.

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