The loss of Childhood Innocence

Patrick Maguire was just 13 when he and his family were arrested in connection with the Guildford pub bombings. As the 30th anniversary approaches he looks back on those dark days and blames his recent nervous breakdown on the Maguire Seven miscarriage of justice

Almost thirty years after he was wrongly convicted and jailed for being an IRA bomb maker at the age of 13, Patrick Maguire Junior suffered a nervous breakdown, a result he says of the loss of his youth.

Patrick is the youngest of the Maguire Seven, victims of one of the most infamous miscarriages of justice in British history. Now 43-years-old, a grandfather of two and father of three, Patrick lives in London and says that following his breakdown he is now taking each day as it comes.

This year sees the 30th anniversary of the arrest of the family and subsequent imprisonment of the Maguire Seven. They were arrested on December 3, 1974 and charged with possession of the explosive nitroglycerine after five people were killed and 54 injured when two bombs exploded in Guildford, England, in October 1974. The Maguire Seven were arrested following an alleged remark made by Gerry Conlon of the Guildford Four. Conlon, a cousin of Patrick, is alleged to have made a remark about learning to make bombs in his Aunt Annie’s kitchen. In 1989 the Guildford Four’s convictions for the pub bombings were quashed after the four had spent 15 years in prison. The collapse of the case against the Guildford Four also cast doubts on the convictions of the Maguire family. They were finally cleared by the Court of Appeal in June 1991.

The Maguire Seven were sentenced to various terms in prison. Despite a total lack of forensic evidence, Patrick’s mother and father, Anne and Patrick, were sentenced to 14 years. Sean Smyth, Anne’s brother, got 12 years as did Gerry Conlon’s father Guiseppe, and family friend Pat O’Neill. Sixteen-year-old Vincent Maguire, Patrick’s brother, was sentenced to five years and Patrick Junior was given a four-year term.

On January 23, 1980, Guiseppe Conlon died in prison. The rest of the Maguire Seven served full sentences, with Anne being the last to leave prison on February 22, 1985.

Speaking to the Andersonstown News this week, and recalling the events of 30 years ago, Patrick says that with the 30th anniversary of the bombings and the subsequent miscarriages of justice looming, his time spent in prison robbed him of his youth.

Before the family was arrested, he remembers everything being normal in the Maguire household, and with it being early December, as a young boy he couldn’t wait for Christmas to come.

“I had been to the youth club and was hanging about the street corner when I saw an unmarked police car take off towards our house,” said Patrick.

“I ran towards the house and when I got there I found that the door was locked. I was allowed into the house and as I passed the kitchen I could see that my mum was crying. The police told me they were looking for bombs.”

Patrick and his two brothers, John and Vincent, were bundled into the back of a police van and driven to Paddington Green Police Station. He recalls that the seriousness of what was happening didn’t impact on him.

“It was a bit of excitement, I suppose. In a childish sort of way I was excited,” recalled Patrick.

“I had done nothing wrong so to be in the police van was exciting and I remember laughing and thinking that I would be able to tell all my mates about it.

“We weren’t brought up in a political atmosphere. My dad’s favourite song was the Sash because he loved the tune; we had no real understanding of the Troubles,” he said.

At Paddington Green Station, officers took scrapings from under the schoolboy’s fingernails and questioned him relentlessly about bomb-making.
“The police asked me if I knew what a tricolour was and I said no. They asked me if there had been a string of people coming to the house or whether packages had been delivered,” said Patrick.

After hours of questioning, Patrick and his brothers were released on bail but his parents were held in custody.

“We went back home,” said Patrick. “Physically, people had been taken from our home and the atmosphere had also been taken from it.

“I think that when I woke up the next morning that is when I realised that my youth had left me,” he said.

Patrick was sent to stay with an aunt in South London and a few weeks later he was again taken in for questioning. He was dragged out of his bed at 5.30 in the morning.

“I was put into the car and this giant of an officer got in beside me. He told me that I had been messing them about and I was in a lot of trouble. All I got was abuse, he kept asking me where did the bombs come from, he was also threatening to beat me. I was frightened. He was telling me what he would do to my mum and dad,” said Patrick.

In February 1976, the family stood trial at the Old Bailey, Patrick again says that the seriousness of the situation was lost on him because he was so young.

“For me, those seven weeks of the trial meant that I didn’t have to go to school,” said Patrick.

“I remember the headmaster on my last day wishing me luck and saying that he hoped to see me soon.

“I thought that nothing would happen. During the first week of the trial I learned to tell the time, using the clock in the Old Bailey. I was fourteen and I didn’t know how to tell the time. I think that shows how carefree I was at that age. I had all the time in the world before this happened.

“It was very surreal when we were found guilty and I was given four years. I remember saying to my brother what do I tell them when I get to prison and he said tell them that you were convicted of handling nitroglycerine and tell them you are innocent.

“I also remember my dad turning to us and apologising on behalf of the British justice system.”

In the few minutes that members of the family had together after they were convicted, they said their goodbyes. Patrick senior gave Patrick junior his watch as a keepsake.

The young Patrick was taken to Ashford Maximum Security Prison where the inmates were aged in their late teens; the boyish excitement was long gone and now that he finally understood, he was terrified.

“My first night in a cell I didn’t get undressed. I fell asleep thinking that my mum would call me to wake me the next morning,” said Patrick.

The next morning he was taken to the hospital wing of the prison.

‘”I was put in the hospital for two weeks during which I was locked up for 23 hours a day. When I asked why I had been taken there they said that I was on suicide watch. I didn’t know what they meant, I had never heard of anyone taking their own life.”

Patrick says that after leaving the hospital wing he just tried to get on with prison life.
“I hadn’t done anything wrong yet I spent my fifteenth to my nineteenth birthdays in prison. I don’t celebrate birthdays any more because it reminds me of them,” he said.

Patrick’s experience in prison changed him beyond recognition from the innocent young boy taken from the family home at the age of 13.

“I hated people visiting me in jail. We would sit there drinking coffee and eating Mars Bars and I would tell lies about how everything was alright,” said Patrick.
“I had been into playing football and I was good at it. I was also into collecting toy soldiers before I went in and I resent that my innocence was taken away from me,” said Patrick.

“I have two boys of my own now. The youngest is ten and I relish his youth and innocence.

“I was 19 when I got out and I was well-wise and hardened. From I was 20 until I was about 30-years-old I was an angry young man. I tried to get a job but it was hard to explain where I had been for four years of my school years and youth, also I couldn’t take orders,” he added.

In January last year Patrick had a nervous breakdown. He says that years of pretending everything was all right finally caught up with him.

“I had a breakdown and spent about five or six months in The Priory [a noted rehab clinic]. I had been taking cocaine and I think in the end my life just caught up with me. I had been putting a brave face on things and I think when I hit the 40 mark things started to play on my mind.”

During his time in the Priory Patrick started to write and draw, he says that he owes his recovery to his friend, Father Reg Danklin. He has now written a book about his experiences entitled My Father’s Watch and is hoping to have it published soon.

“My dad died a couple of years ago and I regret that my bond with my father was broken for so long, that is why I try to spend so much time with my own sons.

“I wrote the book because I want my kids to understand what happened to me.

“I’m not angry any more. Christ, I was so angry with the system.
“What I would love to see now is Tony Blair writing a letter to the family saying that he is sorry for what happened.

“I wish someone would say sorry but I don’t expect that will ever happen.

“I am still in recovery now and I’m on a lot of medication so I am just taking each day as it comes.”

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