Guildford pub bombings: Legal aid refusal 'a betrayal'

Pub wreckage Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption An inquest into the deaths of five people in the terror attack has resumed

Relatives of a woman who died in an IRA bomb more than 40 years ago have hit out at a decision to deny them legal aid at a resumed inquest.

Soldier Ann Hamilton died in the Guildford pub bombings in 1974 at the age of 19.

Cassandra Hamilton said her sister had been training to protect her country but was now being "betrayed".

The Ministry of Justice said the coroner could ask questions of witnesses on behalf of families.

Four soldiers and a civilian died and 65 were injured in the bombings. Eleven people - the Guildford Four and Maguire Seven - were wrongly-jailed in what became known as one of Britain's biggest miscarriages of justice.

Image copyright Handout
Image caption Caroline Slater, 18, Ann Hamilton, 19, William Forsyth, 18, John Hunter, 17, and plasterer Paul Craig, 21, died in the first explosion at the Horse and Groom

At a recent pre-inquest review, Surrey coroner Richard Travers said he had written to the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) in support of the family's application for funding, but it was not "within his gift" to grant it.

Ms Hamilton said the decision came at "a very emotional time", adding: "Our sister Ann was training to protect her country.

"Now she is being betrayed by the government and the political process she would have been protecting."

She said both Surrey Police and the Ministry of Defence (MoD) had legal representation for the inquest which was being paid for by taxpayers, but added: "We as a family are contributing to them yet we get nothing because civil servants have decided we do not need legal representation."

She said she needed answers about what happened on the night her sister was murdered and for that the family needed independent, legal representation.

'Effectively excluded'

Kevin Winters, from KRW Law, said the refusal follows a battle by the families of the Birmingham pub bombings for legal aid following four years of pro bono work on their behalf.

He said: "Our firm cannot sustain pro bono assistance in this matter following our commitment to the Birmingham families."

Without KRW's continued support, Mr Winters said, the Hamilton family and survivor Yvonne Tagg would be "effectively excluded" from the Guildford inquest and the hearing would become "a travesty".

Image copyright PA
Image caption The wrongly-convicted Guildford Four served 15 years in jail

The decision follows campaigns for legal aid on behalf of families of terror victims in several high-profile inquests including the London Bridge attack.

Christopher Stanley, from KRW, has objected to the "inequities" of a system where police, the MoD and coroners have legal representation, but victims' families do not.

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: "Our thoughts are with the families of the victims of the Guildford pub bombings as the inquest resumes.

"They will be fully supported by the coroner who can ask questions on their behalf to help ensure they get the answers they need."

Mr Winters will be making representations to both the lord chancellor and home secretary.

A date for the full Guildford pub bombings inquest has not yet been set.

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