Relatives of four soldiers and a civilian who were killed in an IRA attack on two pubs nearly 50 years ago have paid tribute to their loved ones.
John Hunter, Paul Craig, Ann Hamilton, Caroline Slater and William Forsyth died when a bomb exploded at a pub in Guildford on October 5, 1974.
The bomb was one of two detonated by the IRA at two pubs – the Horse and Groom and the Seven Stars – in the Surrey town that night, an attack which left dozens more injured.
Four people were later imprisoned over the bombings, but these were later quashed after they were found to have been wrongfully convicted.
Now an inquest into the deaths of the victims has finally started nearly 50 years later – original inquest proceedings were suspended when the so-called Guildford Four were wrongfully convicted.
At Surrey Coroner’s Court in Woking today, families of the victims paid tribute to their lost loved ones and opening up about the devastation their deaths left.
Senior coroner Richard Travers said the purpose of the inquest was not to identify those responsible for the bombings, but did note no one had been imprisoned for it.
He said: ‘This is the first day of the final hearing of the inquest touching upon the deaths of John Hunter, Paul Craig, Ann Hamilton, Caroline Slater and William Forsyth.
Caroline Slater, 18, Ann Hamilton, 19, William Forsyth, 18, John Hunter, 17, and plasterer Paul Craig, 21, (pictured left to right) died in an explosion at the Horse and Groom pub
Th explosion at the Horse and Groom (pictured here afterwards), was one of two in the Surrey town on October 5, 1974
‘Before we come to the evidence, I want to say a few words. On October 5, 1974, nearly 48 years ago, terrorism came to Surrey.
‘It was a Saturday night and as people socialised in Guildford’s city centre, two explosive devices tore through two pubs, the Horse and Groom and the Seven Stars.
‘Dozens were injured and five people died. Those who died are the subject of this inquest,’ he said at the hearing in Woking, Surrey.
‘Those are Paul Craig, a 22-year-old civilian who was celebrating his birthday with a friend, Private Ann Hamilton, aged 19 years, a recent recruit to the Queen Elizabeth Barracks, Private Caroline Slater, aged 18 years, another recruit from the Queen Elizabeth Barracks, William Forsyth, aged 18 years, a recent recruit of the Scots Guards, and his friend, John Hunter, also a recent recruit to the Scots Guards and aged only 17 years.
‘What was a tragic factor was that those who died were only young. Inquiries were originally opened in 1974 and adjourned immediately to give primacy to Surrey Police.
‘On October 22, 1975, an investigation convicted four people, known as The Guildford Four. One of my predecessors decided that the trial of the four meant an inquest would be unnecessary and failed to resume them.
‘I was invited to resume this inquest on October 31, 2017, by the sister of Gerry Conlon, who was one of the convicted four.
Dozens of people were injured in the attacks, which were linked to the IRA by the authorities
Four people were later wrongfully convicted over the two bombings, held in prison for 15 years before their convictions were overturned
‘Although after so much time, I was particularly persuaded after seeing that, despite many larger processes in the bombings, they have focused on criminal responsibility.
‘Firstly, it is important that I reiterate that this inquest will not investigate the identity of those who carried out the attack.
‘Secondly, this inquest will not examine any questions relating to the original police investigation. Those matters have been explored by a report on June 30, 1994.
‘I will remain firmly focused on the four statutory questions – who, when, how and why they came to their deaths.
‘As well as investigating the medical cause of death of those who died, this inquest will consider background information, including the political context for the attacks, preparedness for an attack of this kind, including training and alert levels, the layout of the attack, the events of the attack in the Horse and Groom, namely the actions of those who died, and the nature of the explosive device.
‘The families of those who died and the public are entitled to hear these matters. As it was reported in the Surrey Advertiser, the Guildford pub bombings was a defining moment in the history of Surrey. This court respects the memories of those who died by telling their stories and exploring how they died.’
The inquest, sitting at Surrey Coroner’s Court, proceeded into a series of pen portraits of the victims.
Attending the inquest in person and reading her statement aloud, Patricia Garrard, sister of Paul Craig, said: ‘Paul was born on October 6, 1952 in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire.
‘He was the only son of my mum, Alice. He was an absolute joy and pleasure. Our father died from cancer in 1972, a year before Paul died. He also had a step-brother. Paul was the youngest sibling and was always an absolute clown.
‘He always tried to copy what the older girls would do. I would walk him to primary school on my way to secondary school. He was an average child in school, he wasn’t always getting into trouble and he enjoyed sports.
‘He later took up plastering and qualified as a scenic plasterer. My parents were very proud of him and his colleagues thought he was industrious and courteous. His main hobbies were sports such as football and fishing. He enjoyed playing darts and even joined the local team.
‘He was an honourary member of the Royal British Legion. He and a friend went to Guilford to celebrate their friend’s birth of their daughter and they were also going to celebrate Paul’s birthday the day after.
Gerry Conlon (above, in 2005), Paul Hill, Paddy Armstrong and Carole Richardson were wrongfully convicted over the bombings in 1975
‘My husband had to identity Paul’s body. At the time of his death he was earning £52.31 a week and he had recently bought a flat with my mum. Paul was mum’s main support, both socially and financially.
‘When he died she couldn’t bear to stay in the same home she lived in with him. To this day I say that the Guildford pub bombings killed her. Paul was a loss to us all. He was well-loved and was our pride and joy. God bless him and may he rest in peace.’
In another statement read to the inquest, William Forsyth’s brother, Thomas, said: ‘Billy, as everyone called him, was born in 1956 and he was a typical younger brother. He seemed to get away with murder but we loved him.
‘He played for the local football team and was a popular boy. He left high school in 1972 and went to work as a store boy. He then worked at Armitage Shanks. He was let go of because of his time-keeping.
‘He then came home and said he and his friend has signed up to the Scots Guards. As far as his ambitions went, I did not think he had set any targets or goals. He said he wanted to join to learn a trade and for the sense of adventure.
Wrongly convicted of an IRA attack: The Guildford Four
On October 5 1974, bombs exploded in two pubs, the Horse and Groom and the Seven Stars, killing Ann Hamilton, Caroline Slater, William Forsyth, John Hunter and Paul Craig. A further 65 people were injured.
Eleven people, the Guildford Four and Maguire Seven, were found guilty over the atrocity but their convictions were later quashed.
Gerry Conlon, Paul Hill, Carole Richardson and Paddy Armstrong served 14 years of a life sentence after they were wrongly convicted of the 1974 Guildford pub bombings.
They had been sentenced at the Old Bailey after being found guilty over the deadly IRA attack on the Horse and Groom pub.
The attack, and others in Woolwich and Birmingham, would become better known for the huge miscarriages of justices they led to in the aftermath, with the public demanding the perpetrators be brought to justice.
In October 1989 the Court of Appeal quashed the sentences of the Guildford Four after they had served 14 years behind bars, amid doubts raised about the police evidence against them. An investigation into the case by Avon and Somerset Police found serious flaws in the way Surrey Police handled the case. Emerging from the Court of Appeal a free man (above), Mr Conlon declared: ‘I have been in prison for something I did not do. I am totally innocent’
Mr Conlon, Mr Armstrong, Mr Hill and Ms Richardson were jailed in 1975 for the Guildford bombing, while Mr Hill and Mr Armstrong were also jailed for the Woolwich bombing in which two people died.
In a separate trial, The Birmingham Six – Paddy Joe Hill, Hugh Callaghan, Richard McIlkenny, Gerry Hunter, Billy Power and Johnny Walker – were convicted for carrying out the Midlands bombings.
Later Mr Conlon’s father Giuseppe, and members of the Maguire family – who became known as the Maguire Seven – were arrested and jailed for possessing and supplying the IRA with the explosives for the bombs.
But all those involved protested their innocence and after years of campaigning their convictions were overturned.
In October 1989 the Court of Appeal quashed the sentences of the Guildford Four after they had served 14 years behind bars, amid doubts raised about the police evidence against them.
An investigation into the case by Avon and Somerset Police found serious flaws in the way Surrey Police handled the case.
Emerging from the Court of Appeal a free man, Mr Conlon declared: ‘I have been in prison for something I did not do. I am totally innocent.
‘The Maguire Seven are innocent. Let’s hope the Birmingham Six are freed.’
In July 2000 the Prime Minister Tony Blair became the first senior politician to apologise to the Guildford Four.
Giuseppe Conlon died in prison in 1980, still protesting his innocence, and never saw his son freed.
In June 1991 Giuseppe’s sentence was posthumously overturned by the Court of Appeal along with those of the Maguires.
The Birmingham Six also had their convictions overturned on appeal in 1991.
Although the Guildford Four scandal has been known for 30 years, the case files remain classified.
Along with the Birmingham Six the material associated with the investigation and prosecution is held under the Official Secrets Act where it can remain shut to the public for 75 years.
Mr Conlon, the best known of the Guildford Four, died in June 2014 aged 60 after a long illness.
His story was told in the 1993 film In The Name Of The Father, in which he was played by Daniel Day Lewis.
‘Five weeks later he was dead. We were all devastated. At the funeral over 600 people came to pay their final respects. Our parents were never the same again – our father became a shell and never spoke of Billy and our mother became cynical in her later years.
‘Both our parents died in 2006 with very heavy hearts. We will never forget our brother.’
A collection of records provided to the coroner described Ann Hamilton. A statement read: ‘Ann was the second child and had three siblings and lived in her family home. In school she was well-liked and got on well with her classmates.
‘At a young age she wanted to be in the Army. After school she held several jobs but her heart was set on joining the Army. During her time in the WRAC she was seen as mature, hard working and responsible.’
In a statement to the coroner, her sister, Cassandra Hamilton, said: ‘I was only two years old when Ann was killed. Most of what I know of about her was told to me over the years, as well as the memories I have of her.
‘She looked after me while our parents were running a wine store. My bedtimes always ended with ‘I love you sugar,’ which was her pet name for me. She was a beautiful bubbly girl and you could always hear when she was home as you could hear her music half-way up the street.
‘Looking back, she enjoyed her short life and gave our family many stories. Our family were from Northern Ireland and my father came to England to find a job and to avoid the troubles. Before he died, he said he moved to England to keep the family safe and he couldn’t do it.’
Diane Reid, sister of John Hunter, gave a pen-portrait of him to the coroner in a statement. It read: ‘He was murdered on October 5, 1974 when he was aged only 17 years. John was tall, strong and handsome. He had blue eyes and blond hair.
‘He was thoughtful of others and had a kind heart. In school he became the captain of the football team. He was inseparable from Billy and had many friends and girlfriends and he enjoyed parties.
‘After school, he tried his hand at carpet fitting but he joined the Scots Guards with Billy. In a matter of weeks, he was killed in Guildford. Our parents thought he was safe unless he was in Northern Ireland and this was bewildering for them.
‘Our parents never recovered from his death. John’s life was brief and he was prevented from falling in love, having children, having grandchildren, having a career, or travelling. His murder was and remains such a waste.’
Remembering Caroline Slater, the inquest heard a statement documenting her life. It said: ‘Ms Slater came from a modest working-class family, and lived with her parents. She had four siblings and after school she took on several jobs.
‘She worked in a boutique and she was a machinist before she joined the WRAC. She enjoyed swimming, dancing and crocheting. Her ambition was to have a full career in the WRAC. She was keen to hold employment as a military policeman.
‘In the lead up to her death she was offered an employment opportunity to be a stewardess which she was considering. She had recently got a boyfriend who was in the Scots Guards.’
The inquest heard how, following John May’s inquiry over the 11 wrongful convictions arising from the Guildford and Woolwich pub bombings, it was admitted to the record that ‘the Guildford bombings were the first of a new wave of IRA attacks in England.’
Next to speak at the inquest was Professor of Modern British and Irish History, Thomas Hennessy, who attended the inquest as an expert able to provide political context to the bombings.
The former advisor to David Trimble, former First Minister of Northern Ireland, said: ‘The size of explosive devices increased over time.
‘There had been previous attacks on pubs that were not military but the IRA had been looking for chances of an opportune attack and when the Army was at its weakest and unsuspecting.
‘Although the IRA never officially claimed the attack, there is no dispute that this was an IRA bombing,’ Prof Hennessy told Mr Travers.
The professor, a lecturer at Canterbury Christ Church University, explained to the inquest the history of ‘The Troubles’ in their entirety up until that point.
He also explained that the IRA’s method of attack was to ‘target commercial sites, military targets, political targets and judicial targets. The plan seemed to be to keep the authorities guessing at where the next attack would be. There were no patterns or key dates.
‘Attacks mounted by the Provisional IRA in Britain were likely to be of a kind which would cause maximum publicity,’ added Prof. Hennessy.
The inquest, set to last three weeks, was adjourned until tomorrow.