The family of a soldier killed by a powerful explosive planted by the IRA during the Guildford pub bombings nearly 48 years ago say their questions “remain unanswered” after an inquest into the incident concluded.
Soldiers Caroline Slater, 18, William Forsyth, 18, John Hunter, 17, and Ann Hamilton, 19, and civilian Paul Craig, 21, died and 65 people were injured in the blast – carried out by the republican terror group during the height of the Northern Ireland Troubles – at the Horse and Groom pub in the Surrey town on October 5 1974.
They were found to have been “unlawfully killed” by the bomb, equivalent to 18 sticks of dynamite, at around 8.50pm after it was placed in the pub by a young man and woman, Surrey Coroner’s Court heard on Thursday.
The family of Private Hamilton voiced their concern after they were refused legal aid and were unable to “examine witnesses or interrogate the extensive material” and put forward arguments in open court.
A statement released on their behalf by KRW Law read: “This was our last chance to engage in a process to produce truth, justice and accountability but we have been excluded from that process and our voice, on behalf of Ann, was not heard, and our presence in this was process was absent.
“An inquest must serve to allay suspicion and rumour. An inquest must serve the interests of the relatives of victims.
“We do not think this inquest has served either of these purposes. First, the families were excluded because there was no public funding. Second, the inquest was circumscribed in its scope because of the current state of coronial law and rules.
“Both must be addressed if this process is to continue with any credibility in the interests of bereaved families.
“Many of our questions remain unanswered.”
Coroner Richard Travers said it is a “matter of regret” that legal aid is not “more readily available” for families in complex cases.
He went on: “The surviving, and now elderly, relatives of those who died could not realistically be expected to have participated without legal representation which could and should have been provided.”
Concluding the inquest, he said: “The bomb contained approximately four and a half kilogrammes of nitroglycerine-based high explosive and had been planted under a bench seat in the public house some time after it opened at 5.30pm that evening.
“None of them was targeted personally, rather the public house and the area in which they were sitting were targeted because they were popular, and crowded, with military personnel.”
He dubbed the incident an “appalling act of terrorism”.
The court heard the four military victims were new recruits who had been enjoying their first Saturday night off to socialise, while Mr Craig was a friend of someone at the pub.
There were around 120 people at the pub when the “violent, intense and devastating” explosion occurred.
Mr Travers went on: “There was a loud bang and bright flash emanating from the main alcove, followed by darkness, dust, panic, chaos and confusion.
“A number of witnesses in the main alcove also described a feeling of electrocution which could not have been caused by the blast and which I find was likely to have been the result of live electricity cables falling down from the ceiling.
“It must have been terrifying.”
He said the device was detonated by an “electrically initiated firing circuit” and was a time bomb which had been ticking quietly.
He said it would have been an “immense, unstoppable force” and “extremely traumatic and disorientating”.
It caused a wall and fireplace to be blown into another room, obliterating parts of the building and causing the victims to fall through to the cellar.
Mr Travers said: “I am satisfied from the totality of the evidence that the bomb was probably planted by a young man a woman often referred to as a ‘courting couple’.
“This couple were seen in the main alcove on the bench seat above where the bomb was planted.”
The inquest did not have the scope to explore who was responsible for the bomb, the composition of the explosive device or any claims that police lied during the trial of the Guildford Four.
Retired police officer Robin Young said in evidence earlier this month he could see “bodies, a lot of debris and mess” in the crater, with some victims “alive, screaming and shouting” inside.
Retired ambulance driver attendant William Edwards, from The Shoe, a hamlet in Wiltshire, recalled treating one burns victim, adding: “It looked like his clothes had just been blasted off.”
It was also described as a “bloodbath and utter chaos”.
Mr Craig was killed almost immediately, while Private Hamilton, Private Slater and Guardsman Hunter died between five and 15 minutes later.
Guardsman Forsyth died two hours later in hospital, with all of them suffering “very serious blast injuries”.
Eleven people – the Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven – were found guilty over the atrocity but their convictions were later quashed.
The incident and its aftermath inspired the 1993 film In The Name Of The Father, starring Oscar-winning actor Daniel Day-Lewis.
In 1976, IRA members Brendan Dowd and Martin Joseph O’Connell admitted carrying out the bombings but were never charged as both had been imprisoned in the 1970s for other offences and freed during the Northern Ireland peace process.
Mr Travers added: “I find that there was nothing specific about the date of the attack or the choice of the pub which could have made the bombings reasonably foreseeable or preventable.”
Detective Chief Constable Nev Kemp of Surrey Police, speaking outside court after the conclusion, said: “Alongside the disclosure process we’ve been examining all the material and assessing it to consider whether a re-investigation is a viable option.”