Fake news. Well, here’s a fake conviction that of the Maguire Seven: Anne Maguire, her husband Patrick, her teenage sons Vincent and Patrick, her brother Sean Smyth, her brother-in-law Guiseppe Conlon and a family friend, Patrick O’Neil. Prime minister Tony Blair was quoted on television and news media, on 10th February 2005, to apologise on behalf of the nation, for the wrongful imprisonment of the Maguire family. “They deserve to be completely and publicly exonerated”. Along with the Guilford Four, also wrongly convicted of The Guilford bombing on the 5th October 1974, they were found guilty of the crime of being Irish.
There’s a series on telly, which I’ve not seen, called, Making A Murderer about Steve Avery. Yet I know by people talking about the twists and turns of the serial story that it contained the planting of forensic evidence, blood splatters, and that he was wrongly convicted. The subtext is, fucking Americans, they’re all crazy, and it could never happen here.
Forensic evidence is the killer in any trial. I can vaguely remember a documentary questioning the nitroglycerine evidence in the Maguire Seven trial, the only physical prop the Crown Prosecution Service had for convicting them. Unlike the Guildford Four none of them had signed confessions. The documentary found the traces nitroglycerine found that convicted the Maguire Seven, could have been picked up by playing with an ordinary stack of playing cards.
“None of you broke,” says Nolan to Vincent Maguire. “We had nothing to break for,” he replies.
But in its own way that was also fake news. All of them broke, but in different ways.
Anne Marie, the youngest girl, aged seven was too young to be tagged an Irish bomb maker and terrorist. ‘Auntie Annie’s bomb-making factory’ was the kind of tabloid headlines which showed the media’s objectivity, an amplification of anti-Irish hatred. But the child was old enough for grown men in the streets to spit in her face. She was sent to live with her mother’s sister in Belfast and appeared on the programme and admitted to being a recovering alcoholic, her stories of loss alone were enough to make a man weep.
Vincent and Patrick, sixteen and fourteen, were sent down for four years and classified as Category A, prisoners in adult prison. Patrick, in particular, was broken, a boy that seemed disconnected from the world and at fourteen couldn’t tell the time, until he learned the hard way, by studying the clock face at his trial. Repeatedly beaten by the police, he said he gripped the desk while they were interrogating him and his tears made a puddle at his feet. In prison it was worse. He was classified as a suicide risk and locked up for twenty-three hours a day with a constant low light on, but he didn’t know what a suicide risk was until they told him and put that thought in his head. Every story here is of adults breaking because of their children and children broken on the wheel of injustice and separation.
The irony is Patrick Maguire had been a member of the British Army and he and his wife Ann Marie were members of the local Tory Party (such sins are forgivable) before being convicted of terrorist offences. Sir John May who was appointed by the government to investigate the miscarriage of justice, as expected, exonerated everyone involved from the judge who bemoaned the fact he could no longer hang Anne Maguire, and the Guilford Seven but satisfied the cry for justice by sentencing her to twenty-five years, of which she served nineteen and the lowest tariff of four years given to innocent children. Sir John exonerated police officers who battered women, men and children to gain a conviction based on lies and then covered it up, even when the Balcome Street Gang came clean and said they’d done the Guilford bombing. These ranking police officers were not held to account, nor was the Crown Prosecution Service that protected them by falsifying accounts, withholding evidence and lying in a way that if happened in open court would be classified as perjury.
The jailing of the Maguire Seven was portrayed as an unfortunate accident like a comet falling from the sky and striking their home. The forensic officer who conducted the initial examination and found traces of nitroglycerine appeared on this programme to re-iterate that the results were positive and there was no procedural error. Sir John May’s job was then to find a suitable scapegoat that would satisfy everyone but the innocent. And he found it, in all place, a tea-towel. Auntie Annie’s bomb-making factory had a tea-towel in it. And with the kind of logic, Terry Pratchett delighted in, a flat planet balanced on the backs of four elephants which in turn stand on the back of a giant turtle, it was proved conclusively that Auntie Annie had handled a tea-towel, in fact, wiped her hand on it, as had her husband, children, brother, brother-in law, and a visitor. Here’s the rub, or smear, if you like, one of her visitors –not any of the Maguire Seven, who had been exonerated – but another Irish person, a terrorist had passed through the kitchen and wiped his or her hand on that dishtowel. Auntie Annie had then handled the dishtowel and the nitroglycrine had jumped like a virus to contaminate anyone nearby. Tony Blair’s apology, stuff it, no smoke without fire. Guilty of being Irish. Therefore, guilty of knowing a terrorist that washed and dried the dishes for you. A good heart is hard to find as Feargal Sharkey used to belt out.
The truth was, of course, far more mundane. The Surrey laboratory where testing was conducted had its work surfaces polluted with the substances they were testing for. A false positive is still a positive if you’re telling stories about an Englshman, an Irishman and a Scotsman walking into a Surrey laboratory and coming out contaminated with prejudice. But not only was the methodology flawed, which can happen, larger questions of justice had to be asked about why no one was called to account for torturing and beating adults and the Maguire children. It makes you laugh, of course, when the government appoints another impartial Queens Counsel to look at the tragedy at Grenfell. I’m sure he’ll be totally impartial, as Sir John was towards another despised group. God help our impartial justice system.