Guildford pub bomb inquest: Device could have been planted by a ‘courting couple’on July 21, 2022 at 5:22 pm

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A coroner concludes five people who died in the 1974 Guildford pub attacks were “killed unlawfully”.

The aftermath of an IRA bomb at the Horse and Groom pub in Guildford, SurreyImage source, Getty Images

Five people were unlawfully killed by an IRA bomb in Guildford in 1974 which could have been planted by a “courting couple”, a coroner concluded.

The IRA detonated devices at two soldiers pubs in the Surrey town as its mainland terror campaign gathered pace.

Coroner Richard Travers said the main bomb was probably planted by a young couple who were never identified, as part of a wider conspiracy.

Four soldiers and a civilian died in the blast in the Horse and Groom pub.

Another bomb detonated 30 minutes later at the Seven Stars.

The Guildford Four and Maguire Seven were wrongly-convicted for the attacks before an IRA terror cell claimed responsibility.

Those who died were 21-year-old civilian Paul Craig and soldiers Ann Hamilton, 19, Caroline Slater, 18, William Forsyth, 18, and John Hunter, 17. Sixty-five people were injured.

(L-R) Soldiers Caroline Slater, 18, Ann Hamilton, 19, William Forsyth, 18, John Hunter, 17, and plasterer Paul Craig, 21

Image source, Handout

Mr Travers told Woking Coroners’ Court that both pubs were widely known as army pubs and were targeted as such, and there were a number of military bases within striking distance of the town.

The court heard it had been the first night out for many soldiers who were weeks into their training.

Mr Travers said the first bomb was planted on 5 October between 17:30 and 20:50, when it exploded.

He was satisfied that it was probably planted by a young man and woman, referred to as a “courting couple”.

He said: “Given that two bombs were planted in two pubs in tandem it is, of course, likely that the overall conspiracy involved more than just two individuals.”

‘High-powered explosives’

Mr Travers said all five of those who died fell into a hole in the floor made by the blast and into the pub cellar.

The coroner found it was likely Caroline Slater had been sitting directly above the bomb.

The five who died “made what proved to be fateful movements” in the moments before the explosion, Mr Travers said.

All the victims ended up near the device before there was “a loud bang and a bright flash and the lights went out”.

Mr Travers said the time bomb was about 10lbs (4.5kg), and “a significant quantity of high-powered explosives equivalent to about 18 sticks of dynamite”.

The aftermath of an IRA bomb at the Horse and Groom pub in Guildford, Surrey

Image source, Getty Images

During the inquest, evidence was heard on security measures at army bases.

Mr Travers said the IRA was deliberately pursuing an aim of unpredictability.

He said he was not satisfied the general threat was sufficient to require steps to prevent soldiers visiting town centres or pubs.

He added: “If there had been grounds to ‘lock down’ the military bases around Guildford, the same would have been true nationwide.”

Mr Travers said the soldiers who died had not been given training or briefings about security and the IRA threat, but he said: “I am also quite clear that this lack of training did not cause or contribute to any of the deaths in any way.”

The inquest, which has sat without a jury, was looking into the five deaths. It has not looked at perpetrators, the wrongful convictions or the original police investigation.

The court heard the original coroner Lt Col Murdoch McEwan decided the murder trial in 1975 had made the inquests unnecessary and he did not resume them.

The convictions of the Guildford Four were overturned in 1989 but this did not automatically revive the inquests and no-one sought their resumption, Mr Travers said.

After requests by the sister of wrongly-jailed Gerry Conlon, survivor Yvonne Tagg and the sister of Pte Hamilton, Mr Travers ruled the inquest would be resumed in 2019.

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