Menu

Blair Apologizes for '74 IRA Bomb Convictions

British Prime Minister Tony Blair (search) issued a public apology Wednesday to members of two families whose wrongful imprisonment for IRA (search) bombings three decades ago was dramatized in the film "In the Name of the Father."

Members of the Conlon and Maguire families were jailed in connection with Irish Republican Army bombings in Guildford and Woolwich (search) in England in 1974. The attacks killed seven people and injured more than 100.

Eleven people convicted in connection with the attacks were subsequently acquitted, and the case is regarded as one of Britain's biggest miscarriages of justice.

"I am very sorry that they were subject to such an ordeal and injustice," Blair said in a statement. "The Guildford and Woolwich bombings killed seven people and injured over 100. Their loss, the loss suffered by their families, will never go away. But it serves no one for the wrong people to be convicted for such an awful crime."

Gerry Conlon (search) was one of four people found guilty of two IRA bombings of Guildford pubs on Oct. 5, 1974, which killed five people and wounded 54.

During his interrogation, Conlon implicated seven others as alleged bomb-makers, including his own father, Guiseppe, who died in prison in 1980. Conlon says police coerced false confessions by beating and disorienting him.

Gerry Conlon and three others were acquitted on appeal in 1989 after authorities concluded their confessions to police had been fabricated and forensic evidence favorable to their defense had been suppressed.

The other seven, including Guiseppe Conlon, were acquitted in 1991, long after they had served their sentences, when the forensic evidence used to convict them was discredited.

The 1993 film dramatizing the case earned seven Oscar nominations. Daniel-Day Lewis (search) portrayed Gerry Conlon and Pete Postlethwaite portrayed Guiseppe Conlon.

Last month, Gerry Conlon demanded a formal apology from Blair for his imprisonment, calling it "a dreadful miscarriage of justice."

"It is a matter of great regret when anyone suffers a miscarriage of justice," Blair said in Wednesday's statement. "I recognize the trauma that the conviction caused the Conlon and Maguire families and the stigma which wrongly attaches to them to this day.

"I am very sorry that they were subject to such an ordeal and such an injustice. That's why I am making this apology today. They deserve to be completely and publicly exonerated."

Blair set a precedent for such apologies soon after taking office in 1997, when he offered a statement of regret for British policy during the 1845-1852 potato famine, during which 1 million people died in Ireland and another 2 million fled to Britain or North America.

Blair's gesture Wednesday came during the latest deadlock in Northern Ireland's long-running peace process and with pressure mounting on Sinn Fein, the IRA-linked party, over the outlawed group's alleged $50 million robbery of a Belfast bank -- the biggest cash theft in history.

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern has said he believes the IRA committed the Dec. 20 raid on Northern Bank and that senior figures in Sinn Fein authorized it. The IRA has denied involvement, and police have made no arrests and recovered none of the cash.