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Five people were killed and 65 injured in the bomb attack on the Horse and Groom pub in Guildford in 1974 (PA)
The Troubles

New evidence into Guildford pub bombing won't be pursued due to Legacy Bill, family told

Surrey Police said there is ‘no prospect of reaching the stage of prosecution’ by the deadline of May next month that is set by the Act.

THE FAMILY OF a soldier killed in the 1974 Guildford pub bombing have been told by police that they have a new “viable line of inquiry” but will not be investigating because the new Legacy Act means any such probes into cases relating to The Troubles are to end on May 1.

Soldiers Caroline Slater, 18, William Forsyth, 18, John Hunter, 17, and Ann Hamilton, 19, and civilian Paul Craig, 21, died in the blast, and 65 people were injured.

It was carried out by the Provisional IRA during the height of the Troubles at the Horse and Groom pub in the Surrey town on October 5 1974.

They were found at an inquest in 2022 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.

Now the family of Private Hamilton have received a letter from Surrey Police stating that following an evidential assessment, the force had “identified a potential forensic line of enquiry and the next step would be a new criminal investigation”.

But Surrey Police also informed the family that it would not be advancing any further investigations prior to the start of the Legacy Act.

Legacy Bill

Under the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act, all investigations into cases relating to the Troubles are to end on May 1, 2024 including civil cases and inquests which have not reached their findings stage.

The Act offers a limited form of immunity from prosecution for such offences for those who co-operate with a new body aimed at truth recovery.

KRW Law, acting on behalf of Pte Hamilton’s family, are now seeking clarification on the nature of the new evidence including whether it involves a fingerprint or DNA profile, how long Surrey Police had known about it and how often the case had been reviewed since 1974.

They have also asked the force when the decision was taken not to reopen any investigations prior to the commencement of the Legacy Act and whether the new clue could lead to possible arrests.

They also ask if Surrey Police could continue an investigation after May 1 which they say is allowed as advised by the Home Office.

Surrey Police

Surrey Police Deputy Chief Constable Nev Kemp said the force remains committed to “facilitating justice” for the families of those who were killed in the 1974 Guildford bombings.

“Since 2019, when it was announced inquests would be resumed, we have supported a lengthy disclosure process and conducted a thorough and detailed assessment of all the materials held,” Kemp said.

“During this assessment, a potential forensic line of inquiry was identified and in November 2022, following consultation with Counter Terrorism Policing (CTP), it was agreed this line of inquiry should be progressed. This work has been complex and has taken some time to complete.

“Throughout this period, we were aware of draft legislation which has now been enacted, which we knew would impact on our ability to launch a re-investigation should we have reached that stage.”

In the interests of justice, police continued with their assessment and submitted items for forensic analysis.

However, Kemp added:

The timing of the return of the forensic results in August 2023 is unfortunate.

This was because the enactment of the Legacy Act a month later means that there is “now no prospect of reaching the stage of prosecution by the deadline of May 1 2024″ that is set by the Act.

“Whilst the Act does not allow for a police force to refer a case to the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR), the Chief Constable will notify the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland of the findings of our assessment once we have received further guidance on the process,” Kemp continued.

“Our priority now is to preserve the significant amount of work that has been done to date, and to ensure we do not jeopardise any course of action that could be available to the families through the ICRIR.”

Family reaction

Cassandra Hamilton, a sister of Ann Hamilton, said police “cannot begin to imagine” the impact the bombings have had on families.

She said the Legacy Act appears to provide Surrey Police “with another reason not to do anything” around the bombings.

Hamilton added that the forensic evidence cannot be investigated because the British Government is pressing ahead with the Legacy Act, “imposing upon all relatives despite huge opposition” and an application by the Irish government against the UK to the European Court of Human Rights.

This letter from Surrey Police raises more questions for us, questions we want Surrey Police to answer and to be responsible for.

Solicitor Barry O’Donnell, from KRW, said the timing by Surrey Police “raises too many questions” which the family of Ann Hamilton want answered.

Last month, the United Nations Human Rights Committee said it was “particularly concerned” about the controversial legal provision of the Legacy Act.

The Act received royal assent last autumn despite widespread opposition from political parties and victims’ organisations in Northern Ireland as well as the Irish government.

The UK Government is currently appealing against a ruling by a judge at Belfast High Court who found that the provision for conditional immunity was not compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Press Association