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BBC NI's Kevin Magee reports
Details of apology are revealed in BBC NI's Spotlight programme
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Tuesday, 6 June, 2000, 11:03 GMT 12:03 UK
Blair apologises to Guildford Four
Extract from the letter
An extract from the letter sent to Paul Hill's wife
Prime Minister Tony Blair has apologised to the Guildford Four who were wrongfully convicted of IRA bomb attacks in England in 1974.

In a letter, Mr Blair acknowledged the "miscarriage of justice" which they suffered as a result of their wrongful convictions.

Details of the apology are revealed for the first time in a special two-part edition of BBC Northern Ireland's Spotlight programme, on the changing fortunes of West Belfast man Paul Hill, to be broadcast on 6 and 13 June.

Paul Hill, Gerry Conlon, Patrick Armstrong and Carole Richardson, were given life sentences for bombing public houses in Guildford, Surrey.

Each of them spent 15 years in prison before the convictions were overturned by the Court of Appeal in 1989.

Mr Hill and Mr Armstrong were also wrongfully sentenced for a bomb attack in Woolwich. A total of seven people died in the Guildford and Woolwich explosions.

The apology, personally signed by the Prime Minster, was sent by Mr Blair to Paul Hill's wife, Courtney Kennedy Hill, the daughter of the assassinated American Attorney-General Robert Kennedy, and niece of the late John F Kennedy.

The prime minister wrote: "I believe that it is an indictment of our system of justice and a matter for the greatest regret when anyone suffers punishment as a result of a miscarriage of justice.

"There were miscarriages of justice in your husband's case, and the cases of those convicted with him. I am very sorry indeed that this should have happened."

Paul Hill pictured with wife Courtney Kennedy and daughter Saoirse
It is understood Mr Hill, 45, has received 200,000 as an interim compensation payment, and is still waiting on a final settlement.

'Cold and numb'

He said: "No one knows the monetary value you can put on 15 years. I don't think there is anybody alive who can come out of that experience and not be scarred.

"Those who would begrudge me my compensation - their minds are smaller than peas. To those who say, oh, he's living well, you have no idea."

Reflecting on the Guildford verdict, Paul Hill said: " I stood in the court. I was numb. I had no feelings whatsoever. I wasn't sad, I was not depressed, I was cold and numb.

"And I think the most poignant thing was that the judge expressed regret that the death penalty was not an option."

In 1994 Paul Hill was cleared of murdering of Brian Shaw, a former soldier killed in Belfast in 1974.

Mr Hill had signed a confession admitting the killing in the presence of two RUC men in Guildford police station.

'Inhuman treatment'

During his detention, he was threatened by a Surrey police officer who pointed an unloaded gun through the hatch in his cell door.

At the Shaw appeal the then Lord Chief Justice, Sir Brian Hutton, said the use of the revolver was a "disgraceful and grossly improper action, which clearly constituted inhuman treatment".

He ruled the conviction "unsafe and unsatisfactory" and allowed the appeal.

Brian Shaw's brother, Malcolm, who also served in the army in Northern Ireland is also interviewed on the programme.

Capitol Hill, a two-part programme made by Spotlight will be broadcast on BBC One Northern Ireland on 6 June and 13 June at 2245GMT.

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See also:

06 Jun 00 | Northern Ireland
The long road from prison to high society
19 Oct 99 | Northern Ireland
Guildford Four members demand settlement
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