Apologies won’t bring back the missing years
Apologies won’t bring back the missing years

By Tom McGurk (for the Sunday Business Post)

There they were, ghosts from the past, still shuffling along like actors from an old drama in search of its denouement.

Gerry Conlon, Annie Maguire, Vincent and Patrick Maguire, the last players in perhaps the last act of the Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven dramas.

There they were, back on the evening news, making their slow progress past the cameramen on their way into the House of Commons.

Once more in the headlines, but this time the authorities were inviting them to meet the prime minister in his office behind speaker’s chair, rather than the master of the rolls in Old Bailey Court number five.

There was Gerry, older and portlier than the trembling rake whose hand I had first been able to shake in the reception hall at the Old Bailey as he made his headlong plunge out the door to freedom in 1990 - with, I remember, a plastic bag of clothes and four LPs tucked under his arm. Not much in the way of possessions, after 14 years on the blocks.

There was Annie Maguire herself, once the alleged keeper of Sir Michael Havers’ infamous “bomb factory’’.

Annie, as always, looked her impeccable best, and I wondered had she come by tube yet again for the big day.

I remembered how she told me that, on the morning of the verdict in 1975, she took the tube to the Old Bailey, along with her two young wide-eyed and wondering sons. The Maguires were all so convinced that British justice would assert their innocence that they and their Kilburn neighbours had arranged a celebration party for that evening.

Instead, as night fell, Annie was being pumped full of tranquilisers in the hospital wing of Wandsworth.

Her two terrified children were locked up in a young offenders’ unit.

Her husband Paddy, brother-in-law Giuseppe and their neighbour Pat O’Neill (who just happened to be in the house when the law arrived) were getting the time-honoured welcome from warders and inmates at Wormwood Scrubs: shoes banging on doors and urine in their breakfast after an all-night chorus of “What shall we do with the fucking bombers?”.

Back in Kilburn, the old Maguire house was abandoned like some ancient plague site. Annie’s little daughter, now left behind, had to go to live with relatives.

Subsequently, the council couldn’t find tenants to live there, and eventually the local vandals smashed the windows and doors, and wrecked all of Annie’s furniture. People walking past would even cross the street to avoid passing the ‘bomb factory’ that had became a wino-squat.

By now, poor Annie, inconsolable at the loss of her little daughter and sons, had been moved to the prison hospital at the concrete tomb that was Durham Prison.

In the cell next door was Myra Hindley.

There, Annie finally met some real IRA bombers when the convicted Gillespie sisters from Donegal came to her bedside.

“Get up out of that bed, Annie, and don’t let them give you any more of those tranquilisers, or you will never survive,” they told her. “You’ll die in prison.” She did get up, and she did survive.

And there too on the news was Annie’s son, Patrick. Now on the edge of middle age, still waxing eloquently about that strange prison in the mind, from which victims of judicial miscarriage cannot ever escape.

After his father, mother and brother had been taken down,12-year-old Patrick was left alone in the dock. Seemingly, Judge Donaldson was confused and had forgotten to sentence him - understandably enough. I mean how many Maguires were there?

Uncertainly, Patrick looked at the warders ,who looked at the judge, and then suddenly Sir Michael Havers, prosecuting, was on his feet to ensure British justice was done. “What does a bomb look like, young man?’ he solemnly asked the child. Patrick’s bomb-making knowledge had clearly been gleaned from technical manuals like the Dandy and the Beano.

He replied: “It was like a black ball with a long wire coming out of it.’’ For that, he got five years, and went off to do his porridge, presumably with fellow subversives like Beryl the Peril and Desperate Dan.

Down below in the holding cells, the scene was unimaginable. Annie had collapsed on the floor. She was receiving first aid, and her sons were on a nearby bench.

Paddy, Giuseppe and Pat O’Neill, all shackled to each other, were trying to get their heads around the meaning of eight, 12 and 14 years. Upstairs, a triumphant Scotland Yard Bomb Squad were already briefing Fleet Street’s best. They were solemnly trotting out the small print stuff that you can’t really say in court but is food and drink to the crime correspondents.

Auntie Annie came in for special treatment. “Heartless, cold master-bomber.

“Imagine getting the kids to mix explosive in the kitchen. Gave lessons in the parlour.

“Can you bloody imagine, mate?”

As the big black vans with the wailing sirens were pulling away from the Old Bailey, the lurid profiles of an Oirish family of simian-faced 19th century bombers were pouring down the copy lines.

Given his poor health, Giuseppe’s 12-year term was always going to be a life sentence. Dying from emphysema, he shuffled through various prisons in carpet-slippers, subsisting on Complan. He died in Hammersmith hospital in 1980, handcuffed to a special cage-like bed with two warders and an armed police officer plus dog to prevent him escaping.

In 1983, I wrote to Annie in Durham Prison, seeking permission to interview her two sons (who by then had been released) for a television documentary.

Broadcast in 1984 by ITV. Aunt Annie’s Bomb Factory was one of the first bricks to come out of the wall.

Annie finally got out of prison in 1985, to begin the task of gathering up her scattered and broken family. Her husband, Patrick, died in 2002.LordHavers, Lord Donaldson and forensic scientist Sir John Yallop, whose risible TLC test could have locked up every cigarette-smoker in the land for “handling explosives’’, are all dead. Gone to their eternal reward.

Was it miscarriage, or conspiracy to pervert, or both? I suspect the latter, but in the end, it didn’t matter. Apparently, the punishment for both crimes is the same: a police promotion or a seat in the Lords. If we live long enough, we eventually see everything, even the prime minister having Aunt Annie of the bomb factory to tea and apologising in the Commons.

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© 2004 Irish Republican News