Patrick Maguire was just 13 years old when he was arrested at his home in west London along with his mother, Anne Maguire, her husband Paddy and four other members of his family in December 1974.
‘That’s probably when my childhood stopped,’ says Maguire, now 53, as he tells his story for the new Justice Alliance film, Are you for justice? He knew something must be wrong when he arrived home from school to find an old suitcase in the hall and ‘an old man’ – Giuseppe Conlon – in the front room with his dad.
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Giuseppe Conlon’s son and Maguire’s cousin, Gerry Conlon, had been wrongly accused of carrying out the 1974 IRA bombing of a pub in Guildford, which killed five people and injured 65. He and three others, who became known as the Guildford Four, were later imprisoned in one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in English legal history.
The Guildford Four were all convicted on the basis of false confessions obtained after physical abuse and threats by Surrey police while detained under anti-terrorism laws. Among the coerced confessions was the claim that the Maguire household was a bomb factory.
‘It’s just so wrong,’ says Maguire. ‘I think [the police] expected to come in and find people with black berets and dark glasses with a bit of Irish music in the background making bombs.’
‘They didn’t,’ he adds. ‘They found my mum there with the washing machine out, loads of kids around her, cooking. I don’t know what an IRA bomb factory looks like but I’m sure you find batteries, wires and whatever stuff. There’s nothing like that in our house.’
Maguire reckons the police knew they’d arrested the wrong people but that they ‘just washed their hands of it more or less’. ‘I can’t prove that,’ he adds, ‘but what I can prove is that they made that terrible mistake. I’m innocent and my whole family are. I can say that until the day I die.’
The Maguire Seven were all convicted on 4 March 1976 on the basis of dubious forensic evidence which the prosecution claimed proved they had handled explosives used in the bombings. Anne Maguire and her husband Patrick were both jailed for 14 years, and their sons Vincent and Patrick received sentences of five and four years respectively.
Patrick Maguire was kept in the prison hospital for 23 hours a day during the first few months of his sentence because he was deemed to be a risk to himself. He describes his time inside as ‘a nightmare – from one extreme to the other’. ‘I lived in a very colourful world as a kid, 1970s flares and whatever,’ he says. ‘It went from colour to black and white overnight.’
‘They brought me up a brown bag with fruit in it. It was one orange, one banana and an apple, and it was like the Schindler’s List film with the girl with the red coat. I’m sitting like this crying my eyes out, my feet ain’t even touching the floor. I got this fruit and I remember eating it and crying with every bite. It was so colourful…and nothing else was.’
Maguire served three years and was released from prison on 30 March 1980, aged 18. But it was not until 1991 that the convictions of the Maguire Seven were quashed by the Court of Appeal, when it ruled that the evidence used to secure the convictions was unsafe.
Maguire thanks his legal aid solicitor, Alistair Logan OBE, for his years of tireless work in fighting to overturn the Maguire family’s convictions. ‘If it weren’t for people like him then I don’t think there would be people like us sitting here,’ he says. ‘Would we have got our names cleared? Would anyone have listened to us? For that reason alone you need legal aid, definitely.’
The proposed changes to criminal legal aid mean that legal aid firms will be subjected to a 17.5% cut in their fees and a two-tier contracting model will be introduced, forcing hundreds of firms to close. Experienced lawyers will become a thing of the past, leading to a serious decline in quality representation and the emergence of advice deserts in rural areas, cities and towns. Miscarriages of justice – like that experienced by Patrick Maguire and his family – are likely to increase.
The legal system should be ‘sorted out’, not subjected to further cuts, says Maguire. ‘The legal system is failing. It failed the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four, Sam Hallam, Colin Norris… and there are others. Fix the boat rather than getting rid of lawyers.’
Maguire is supporting the Justice Alliance campaign to save legal aid because without legal aid, he would not have had his name cleared and would still be wrongly labelled a terrorist today. ‘I’m not letting the government off here by doing what they are doing,’ he says.
‘It’s very important that people do listen to what’s going on,’ he adds. ‘You don’t have to be a criminal to get on to this boat and start taking notice. It’s nothing to do with that.It’s your right as a person to have help. Everyone needs it.’
Mary-Rachel McCabe is a pupil barrister at Doughty Street Chambers. She tweets @MaryRachel_McC