Guildford pub bombs: Conlons' fight continues after sister's death

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Media caption,

Ann McKernan said the rest of the files needed to be made public

The family of Gerry Conlon, one of 11 people wrongly convicted for the 1974 Guildford pub bombings, have vowed to continue their fight for justice following the death of his sister.

Ann McKernan, 58, who led the family's campaign, died in Belfast on Monday.

A pre-inquest review (PIR) into the Guildford bombings is due to be held this year after the original inquest in the 1970s never concluded.

Mrs McKernan's sister Bridie Brennan will now take the lead for the family.

Lawyers from KRW Law, who applied for the PIR on behalf of Mrs McKernan and a survivor after the BBC viewed official papers on the case, confirmed they now represent Ms Brennan.


Mrs McKernan, who died at home surrounded by her four daughters, saw both her brother Gerry and her father Patrick "Guiseppe" Conlon jailed over the bombings which killed five and injured 65.

Patrick Conlon was one of the Maguire Seven, convicted on explosives charges, and his son was one of the Guildford Four jailed for murder.

All 11 eventually had their convictions quashed, but Gerry Conlon served 15 years in prison and his father died four years into his 12-year prison term.

Image source, PA
Image caption,
Gerry Conlon's sisters, Bridie and Ann, were at the Old Bailey for his release

Weeks before Mrs McKernan died, she made her daughter Sarah McIlhone and her sister promise to continue the family's campaign to establish the truth.

Ms McIlhone described her mother as an "inspirational" woman who was forced to grow up at a young age.

"She had to run the home, she had to visit prison. She became thoroughly independent."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The IRA blasts killed five and injured 65

Ms McIlhone told the BBC: "She kept up her strength and dignity. She was extremely strong in the face of everything that happened.

"Not many people would have been able to continue.

"She campaigned for justice, and to help others, and she was fierce - a strong Belfast woman who took no nonsense."

'Hooded and beaten'

Image caption,
Mrs McKernan's father died four years into his 12-year prison term

In an interview with the BBC after official papers were released in 2016, Mrs McKernan described how at the age of 15 she saw her brother's arrest.

"We lived in a two-up, two-down, ordinary house and the police and the army came in and kicked the door in, looking for Gerry."

She said the family thought he had been arrested for stealing, but later heard he had been sent to Guildford.

"They had already put a hood over his head," she said. "When my mother got his clothes back, they were soaked in blood."

Police later denied any ill-treatment.

Her father, who had tuberculosis, travelled to England to help his son.

He stayed with family in London - the Maguire Seven. The group were also arrested and later wrongly-jailed on explosives charges.

Two or three times a year Mrs McKernan visited her brother and father in prison with her mother, Sarah Conlon.

Guiseppe Conlon did not return to his family. The papers of former Home Secretary Merlyn Rees - later Lord Rees - showed plans were drawn up to release him hours before he died, still a prisoner.

Christopher Stanley, from KRW Law, said: "It is with sadness that we mark the death of our client Ann McKernan, who campaigned until her death for truth and justice on behalf of her brother Gerry and her father Guiseppe Conlon."

Another key figure in the case, former police chief Lord Peter Imbert died last year.

Image source, Pacemaker
Image caption,
Ann McKernan's funeral took place at St Peter's Cathedral in Belfast

Mr Stanley said: "As victims and relatives die, as witnesses grow older and memories fade and as the physical evidence becomes more difficult to trace, the obligations upon the state do not wither but rather demand immediate attention and action."

A spokesman for Surrey Coroner Richard Travers said it was hoped an initial hearing would take place in June.

Ann McKernan's funeral took place at St Peter's Cathedral in Belfast earlier on Thursday.

Image source, Pacemaker
Image caption,
The order of service included a photograph of Ann McKernan with her brother Gerry Conlon

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