Fear Holds the Power

The story of what fear can do to rationality and the law

The Guildford Pub

It was a regular Saturday evening in the Horse and Groom Pub in Guildford, England when an IRA bomb went off destroying the establishment. The blast killed five people. Two were members of the Scots Guard and 2 others served in the Women's Royal Army Corps ). Thirty five minutes after the Horse and Groom exploded a second blast went off in the pub, Seven Stars. Luckily, the owner of the Seven Stars had evacuated his pub and no serious injuries occurred. The New York Times reports the bombing in Guildford was the beginning of a series of attacks by the IRA to "drive the British out of Northern England" (Toolis 1). Before the culprits were caught, the attacks would leave 19 dead and have amassed a grand total of 32 shootings. The attacks soon left every Irish man in England a potential suspect. Although the police did not realize it at the time the Guildford bombing stimulated a fear that came to become Britain's King when it caused rules, rationality and morality to be thrown aside.
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The Innocent Victims

As more IRA bombings occurred, the pressure on the police to find those responsible for the Guildford bombings increased. On Thursday November 28, the Surrey Constabulary arrested Paul Hill, suspected of misuse of an IRA rifle. Even though the grounds for Hill's suspicion was never clear, it was enough to make him a suspect. The police were desperate. The New York Times reports Hill was threatened his girlfriend, pregnant at the time, was in danger unless he confessed and gave the police some names. After that threat Hill began naming the names of everyone in London he knew, including Gerard Conlon, Patrick Armstrong and Armstrong's girlfriend Carole Richardson. The people on his list were promptly arrested for the bombings in Guildford and another bombing that decimated the Woolwich Building. When in interrogated, Conlon also came to fear for his family's life, "''Policemen threatened to phone up Belfast to get my mother 'sorted out' - killed. My family sorted out. To me, signing the confession was nothing if it was going to get the pressure off my family. I signed it" (Toolis 3).

Gerard "Gerry" Conlon

Gerard "Gerry" Conlon was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland on March 4, 1954. The Independent reports his father, Guiseppe Conlon was a factory worker and his mother, Sarah Marguire worked at the Royal Victoria Hospital in the kitchens (Davis 1). When he was 20 years old he moved to England and in 1974 was arrested for the bombing of the Guildford pub, The Horse and Groom. In 1975 Conlon, Paul Hill, Paddy Armstron and Carole Richardson were convicted of the two bombings in Guildford. Despite his confession, Conlon continued to protest it was false as the police had tortured him into it. In an interview with the Independent Conlon states the police told him, "If I didn't confess, they'd see that my mother had an accident" (Davies 1). Later, the truth, that the police had tortured him into confession would come up and Conlon and the other three would be freed. Conlon was vindicated in October 1989. After his release Conlon wrote the book Proved Innocent in 1991 and the film In the Name of the Father was a story of his life. Though he suffered nervous breakdowns and became addicted to drugs, Conlon became a campaigner for the injustices of the British legal system. On June 21 2014 Conlon died of lung cancer at the age of 60.
Armstrong also confessed to his and Richardson's involvement and the latter, hearing of his confession implicated the two of them as well. Armstrong and Richardson, lovers at the time, became the "courting couple. The four of them, Conlon, Hill, Armstrong and Richardson were then left to await trial. They eventually acquired the name The Guildford Four.

The Guildford Four Trial

Wednesday, July 16th 1975 at 12am

Courtroom No. 2 The Old Bailey

Judge: Justice Donaldson

Prosecutor: Sir Michael Havers

Defendants: Gerard Conlon. Paul Hill, Patrick Armstrong, Carole Richardson

The Verdict

The trail ended up being a mere formality. The prosecution had little evidence other than the defendant's confessions. Despite the confession's inconsistencies, the prosecution was able to dismiss them, telling the court it was all part of a IRA counterinterrogation technique. The New York Times states that despite the occurrence of other bombings with similar fingerprints, the Guildford and Woolwich bombings was treated as completely unrelated attacks. The four defendants were found guilty. Conlon was sentenced to 30 years, Armstron 35 years, Richardson as a minor received indeterminate sentence and Hill, the New York Times reports was given the longest sentence ever handed out in a British court, similar to life sentence without parole (Toolis 4).

The Aftermath

On December 6 1975 five members of the IRA were captured. One of the men captured, Joseph O'Conell confessed to being involved with the Guildford and Woolwich bombings. Another man. Brendan Dowd, the leader of the group, confessed to being part of the "courting couple" in the Horse and Groom. On January 24, 1977 the four members of the IRA were indicted for 100 charges not including the time period before the Guildford Four arrests. O' Connell immediately called attention to that fact stating, ''I refuse to plead because the indictment does not include two charges concerning the Guildford and Woolwich pub bombings. I took part in both, for which innocent people have been convicted" (Toolis 4). The four men of the IRA instructed their defense to prove their involvement with the Guildford and Woolwich bombings. The four men were found guilty and the Guildford Four, armed with new evidence, went to the appeals court. However, the Judges of the Appeals Court did not allow a jury. The final verdict declared that the Guildford Four and the four IRA men worked together. The Four's sentences stood. Their solicitor later stated he believed the verdict had been prewritten, 'I got the distinct impression that the final judgment was written beforehand. The answer was no, and the judges worked back to find how they could get there. It was such an intellectually dishonest exercise I do not believe anyone reading it today could believe it was an honest judgement" (Toolis 6).

The Happy Ending?

On October 19, 1989 the Guildford Four were released in another Appeals Court in light of new evidence. The new evidence was this: In May 1989 investigators had discovered that Armstrong's confessions had been manipulated by the police. The New York Times reports that the handwritten notes taken by the police of Armstrong's confessions had been copied from a model of a confession given to police men. Since the prosecution's entire case had been built on those confessions, this slight misgiving of it could cause huge disasters for the British legal system.

In the end the new evidence showed the police's desperation to find the bombers, they had manipulated evidence to prove their case. The Guildford bombing had put England in a permanent state of fear. The pressure was on the police to catch the bombers. In the end they dealt with that fear by manipulating the law and four people were wrongfully incarcerated.

The State of Fear

The affects on reason when a community is in a state of fear is discussed in Arthur Miller's acclaimed play, The Crucible through the development of certain characters. Miller's The Crucible is almost a direct analogy to the situation of the Guildford bombings. In The Crucible the community's main fear is witchcraft and in Guildford it was further bombings. The main protagonist in The Crucible is the morally ambiguous character John Proctor and the most scrutinized of the Guildford Four was questionable Gerard Conlon. Interestingly enough Daniel Day Lewis plays John Proctor in the 1996 film adaption of The Crucible and Gerard Conlon in the movie In The Name of the Father. In both The Crucible and the Guildford fear ruling both individuals and the community can be seen in people's development, their decision and their rationality in certain situations.

The Crucible and Guildford Paralells

The Crucible starts with the town of Salem being convinced Betty Parris was subjugated to the dark arts. The Guldford incident starts with a bomb. The events in both start two things in their respective communities: a fear of further incidents and the hunt to catch the culprits. In first act of The Crucible we can already see one of the characters acting irrationally out of her fear. When Abigail Williams is being questioned by Reverend John Parris and John Hale, she cracks under her fear and instantly accuses as many women as she can think of screaming, "I saw Goody Hawkins with the Devil... I saw Goody Booth with the Devil" (Miller 48). These women she accuses of having been with the Devil, were irrevalent, but fearful for her life Abigail began naming any name she could think of to save her own skin. During the hunt for the Guildford bombers, Paul Hill acted in a similar way. Fearful his girlfriend would be killed he named every person who lived in London he could think of. The two characters are examples of what the Michigan law school claims is on of the most common reasons someone is wrongfully incarcerated, false confessions. The Michigan Law School states, "In many cases, innocent defendants make incriminating statements, deliver outright confessions, or plead guilty. Regardless of the age, capacity, or state of the confessor, what they often have in common is a decision—at some point during the interrogation process—that confessing will be more beneficial to them than continuing to maintain their innocence" (Michigan Law School Cases of Wrongful Convictions). The Michigan Law School explains that in many times, similar to Hill and Williams, a defendant are so fearful they will admit to whatever they are being accused of in hopes of getting a better deal.
The middle part of The Crucible focuses on the confessions of the accused. When Proctor gives Hale evidence that Williams faked her accusations Hale chooses to believe the confessions of the accused, stating, "Nonsense ! Mister, I have myself examined Tituba, Sarah Good and numerous others that have confessed to dealing with the Devil. They have confessed it" (Miller 68). Despite the evidence from a respected member of the community, Hale believed the confessions of those threatened. Similarly, when the four members of the IRA responsible for the bombings of the Guildford pubs confessed to the crimes, the judges still chose to believe the Guildford Four's confessions despite the fact they were given under stress. Both incidents are example of the irrationality of people's actions in times of fear. Hale was fearful of further witchcraft under his watch and the judges were intent on catching the culprit to calm the people's terror of further bombings. The incidents are also examples of what the Michigan Law School calls Government Misconduct, another common reason a person is wrongfully imprisoned, " In some cases, government officials take steps to ensure that a defendant is convicted despite weak evidence or even clear proof of innocence (Michigan Law School Cases of Wrongful...). The actions Hale and the judges in the Guildford Four case are example of what Michigan Law School describes. Both refused to evaluate evidence and instead went out of their way to ensure the defendants were proven guilty. Hale made sure Elizabeth Proctor was arrested while the judges in the Guildford events would not allow a jury at the Four's second trial. People in power, including Hale and the judges, are often prone to making a decision to calm the fear of the people. In other words they conform to societal expectations.
The ending of The Crucible focuses on the Proctor's struggle on whether or not to confess. Just like all the others he chooses to confess. When Hale asks him if he will confess, Proctor replies, " I want my life" (Miller 138). In this quote Proctor tries to retain his morals by replying to Proctor, that even though he is confessing he is doing it to save his life. However, this is where the parallels between The Crucible and the Guildford events shift. Proctor turns from another character acting out of fear when he refuses to accuse others of witchery despite the same threats against his life. He is in turn executed for refusing to do so. Proctor did not act intelligently as he was then killed, but he did stay true to his morals despite fear. In the Guildford event there was no such character. All four defendants confessed and neither the prosecutor, judges or policemen stepped forward to admit the wrongs that had been committed in the trial. In the Guildford event not one person stayed true to their morals or acted rationally when threatened.

Fear Rules All

One of The Crucible's main themes is the idea that in times of fear people act irrationally , often throwing both reason and the law out the door. In the time period after the Guildford bombings and in The Crucible fear was present, it consumed the communities where both events took place. That very fear overruled people's rationality and made them ignore the law. This can be seen in the journey of Paul Hill and Abigail Williams, in the refusal to believe evidence from John Hale and the Judges of the Guildford case, the police's refusal to admit the wrongdoings and almost in John Proctor's confession. However, John Proctor ultimately chose to ignore his fear and do what he felt was morally right, even though it cost him his life. Maybe there is hope of dethroning fear after all?

Works Cited

Boyle, Darren. "Gerry Conlon - Who Was Wrongly Convicted of Guildford Pub Bombings and Jailed for 14 Years - Dies at Home after Long Illness." Mail Online. Associated Newspapers, 21 June 2014. Web. 8 Dec. 2014. <http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2664397/Guildford-Four-miscarriage-justice-victim-Gerry-Conlon-dies-home-following-long-illness.html>.

Davies, Hunter. "Interview: Guildford's Other Victim." The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, 11 Jan. 1994. Web. 7 Dec. 2014. <http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/interview-guildfords-other-victim-it-was-a-scandalous-miscarriage-of-justice-now-it-is-a-film-sarah-conlon-helpless-as-her-husband-and-son-were-jailed-tries-not-to-be-bitter-1399310.html>.

Toolis, Kevin. "WHEN BRITISH JUSTICE FAILED." The New York Times. The New York Times, 24 Feb. 1990. Web. 7 Dec. 2014. <http://www.nytimes.com/1990/02/25/magazine/when-british-justice-failed.html>.

"Service for Pub Bombings Anniversary."BBC News. BBC News Online, 5 Oct. 2014. Web. 7 Dec. 2014. <http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-surrey-29490810>.