Guildford pub bomb planted by ‘courting couple’, coroner rules

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The victims of the Guildford pub bombings carried out by the IRA nearly 48 years ago were unlawfully killed by a powerful time bomb planted by a “courting couple”, a coroner has ruled.

Soldiers Caroline Slater, 18, William Forsyth, 18, John Hunter, 17, and Ann Hamilton, 19, and civilian Paul Craig, 21, died and 65 were injured in the blast – carried out by the terrorists during the height of the Northern Ireland Troubles – at the Horse and Groom pub in the Surrey town on October 5, 1974.

The bomb which went off at around 8.50pm was equivalent to 18 sticks of dynamite, and is likely to have been placed in the pub by a man and woman, Surrey Coroner’s Court heard on Thursday.

Coroner Richard Travers, concluding the inquest, said: “The bomb contained approximately four-and-a-half kilograms 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.

“I pass on my very sincere condolences to the families and friends of all those who died as a result of this 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.

Horse and Groom pub bombing scene
Five people were killed in the bombing of the Horse and Groom pub (PA)

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 went on to say the device was detonated by an “electrically-initiated firing circuit”, and was a time bomb which had been ticking quietly.

He said the bomb 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.

Horse and Groom pub bombing scene
The blast left debris strewn across the street (PA)

Retired police officer Robin Young said in evidence earlier this month a “huge bang” was followed by “utter confusion and mass hysteria” after the first of two bombs.

He said 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, of 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 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.

“We will also need to consider material and evidence that’s come from this process and these proceedings and it’s a complex process we are undergoing.

“No date has been set yet for that to be finalised, but once it is complete, Surrey Police will consider whether a re-investigation is a viable option.”

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