In the Name of the Father
Part I – Summary of the book and the movie
Part II - The Unreliability of Coerced Confessions is a Lesson to be Learned from In The Name of the Father: the story of the Guildford Four teaches us about the danger of relying on coerced confessions to obtain convictions of innocent people.
By Hans Sherrer
Published in Justice:Denied Magazine, Vol. 2, No. 4
In The Name of the Father
Originally published as Proved Innocent (1990)
In The Name of the Father
released by Universal Pictures, 1993
Produced by Hell's Kitchen/Gabriel Byrne
Directed by Jim Sheridan
by Terry George based on Gerry Conlon’s autobiography Proved Innocent.
Featuring: Daniel Day Lewis as Gerry Conlon, Pete Postlethwaite as Giuseppe Conlon and Emma Thompson as Gareth Peirce
Available on VHS & DVD. 133 Minutes, Rated R for violence and language.
In the Name of the Father - Part I
Summary and Review of the Book and Movie
On October 5,
1974, time bombs exploded in
All four were
convicted on October 22, 1975
and each was sentenced to life in prison. The four people, known as the
Guildford Four, were imprisoned for fifteen years before being
released on October 22, 1989. Gerry Conlon was one of the
Gerry begins his
story by describing what it
was like to grow up in
In August of 1974
when Gerry was twenty years
old, he moved to
Gerry spent a
month or so in
late in November, Gerry was
arrested and transported to
Paul Hill, Gerry's friend, was the first person arrested and held under the new PTA ruling and Gerry was the second.
His captors would
just laugh. (p.75) Paul
Hill, Gerry's friend, had confessed and the police used that confession
taunt Gerry. Although he was confronted with his friend Paul's
that implicated him in the bombings, despite the fact that he was
weak and hallucinating from days of physical and psychological
Gerry's resistance didn't crumble until the police threatened to
“fix” a fatal
accident for a family member in
Since he had no knowledge of the bombings, the confessions Gerry wrote on the afternoon of December 3 and December 4, 1974 were a mishmash of names, dates, places and events suggested to him by the police. As Gerry wrote: “When I signed them, I believed I would later be able to retract them. I believed they could never be shown to hold water. I didn't realize I was signing away my liberty for the next fifteen years.” (p. 81)
After he signed his confessions, Gerry found out that the police coerced Paul into signing a confession by threatening to prosecute his girlfriend, and that his friend Paddy Armstrong and Carole Richardson had also been coerced into signing false confessions. A fifth person interrogated about the Guildford bombings, Brian Anderson, later said he felt he was at his breaking point when his interrogator was called away to talk on the telephone. Brian regained his composure while the policeman was away and was able to summon a reserve of strength to resist falsely confessing until the seven days that the police could hold him incommunicado because the PTA law had expired. If not for that phone call the world would have known the accused bombers as the Guildford Five.
While Gerry was awaiting trial, his ailing father and aunt were among seven people charged with “handling explosives” for the IRA. They became known as the Maguire Seven, and like the Guildford Four, they were all innocent. The only evidence of their alleged guilt was supposed traces of nitroglycerin detected on their hands by the lab results from a swab test. (p.112) There was no other evidence against the Maguire Seven and the authorities never established how the alleged nitroglycerin got onto their hands or even from where it came.
An alibi witness
who could establish that
Gerry was at the hostel in
During the trial
that began in September
1975, none of the prosecution's many eyewitnesses to the bombings could
identify any of the four defendants, and no physical evidence was
that tied any of them to the bombings. As Gerry wrote: “In
relation to us, they
had no explosives, no detonators, no guns and no ammunition. They had
Consistent with the lack of evidence against the four defendants is Gerry's observation that as a paramilitary organization, the IRA enforced strict discipline on its members. The IRA would never permit shiftless and unreliable drinkers, dope smokers and thieves like them to join, much less be entrusted with carrying out a highly sophisticated bombing operation. (p. 110)
Although all four
defendants testified they
were innocent people coerced into falsely confessing, the jury found
The question begs to be asked: How could four flaky people be convicted of heinous crimes with no testimonial of physical evidence of their guilt, and the prosecution's reliance on four wildly contradictory and incomplete confessions? Gerry Conlon had many years to try to answer that question when he wrote:
"I think in the end it boiled down to the fact that the lawyers were terrified of dealing with terrorist offences, uncertain about the new act, ignorant about the IRA and how it operates and overwhelmed by the blind determination of the police to get us convicted at any cost."
conviction, Gerry Conlon and his
many supporters tried every available avenue to prove his innocence and
his three codefendants. A serious setback was when an appeals court
quash their convictions after the actual
In the fall of
1989, Gerry's Lawyer, Ms.
Gareth Pierce, found some buried police files that proved his
police had hidden the files from the defense for almost fifteen years.
Pierce located a document that began with: Name of Witness: Charles
of statement: January 1975. Paul the Greengrocer's name was Charles
the statement he had given to police about the evening of
Not only did
Charles Burke's statement prove
that Gerry was innocent, but the prosecution's deliberate concealment
exculpatory evidence meant that as a matter of law his conviction had
reversed. The Guildford Four's convictions were all tied in together by
same alleged evidence, so if Gerry Conlon was innocent, it meant they
On October 19, 1989, after almost fifteen years of imprisonment, the
Gerry Conlon and
his three codefendants were
wrongly accused by the police, wrongly indicted by the prosecutors,
convicted by the jury, and wrongly sentenced by the judge. They were
from spending their lives in
Because Gerry grew up as a streetwise kid, his book is written with the slang and candor one would expect from someone with his upbringing. His lack of pretense is refreshing. Gerry readily admits that when arrested at age twenty for the Guildford Pub Bombings that he was a happy-go-lucky, hard-drinking petty thief who liked to chase girls.
Gerry's matter-of-fact way of revealing himself is why In The Name of the Father transcends being just a book about a man victimized by callous public officials desperate to wrongly convict him and his innocent friends. It is a deeply moving autobiography of a man who in the blink of an eye found himself involved in the fight of his life and his rough background enabled him to keep struggling against overwhelming odds until his name was cleared.
Originally published in 1990 as Proved Innocent, the book was re-released with its new title In The Name of the Father, the name derived from Gerry Conlon’s dedication of the book to his deceased father.
With the subtlety of a sledgehammer, both the movie and book propose to convey a somber warning. Any confession of guilt must be looked at critically because it may prove nothing except that the police and prosecutors could be diabolical and cruel enough to extract a confession from an innocent man.
In The Name of the Father is a compelling page-turner and the movie is well worth seeing on video because it faithfully captures the book's mood. Gerry Conlon and his codefendants weren't angels, but they certainly weren't murders. They were ordinary people who survived a whirlpool of injustice that could have easily consumed their entire lives but instead consumed only fifteen years.
In the Name of the Father - Part II
The Unreliability of Confessions is a Lesson to be Learned from In The Name of the Father: the story of the Guildford Four teaches us about the danger of relying on coerced confessions to obtain convictions of innocent people.
Reliance on conviction by confession is a hallmark of every “legal” or quasi-legal system that is more concerned with obtaining an admission of wrong doing from an accused person than in trying to ascertain the truth. The word confession relates to “Making known or acknowledgment of one's fault, wrong, crime, weakness.” (Oxford Universal Dictionary, NY 1955, p. 366)
When we think of the excesses of the past, what horrifies us are the techniques of physical torture that were used to extract confessions from innocent people. The rack, the thumbscrew and other instruments of inflicting pain were the tools interrogators used to get confessions from people reluctant to confess. Perhaps the single most famous victim of medieval tortures was Joan of Arc, whose innocence was acknowledged twenty-five years after her execution in 1431.
In this country gaining confessions by abhorrent physical methods was a hallmark of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, which resulted in false confessions and the execution of nineteen innocent people. One manifestation of what was learned by the end of the eighteenth century about false confessions was the inclusion of recognition in the Fifth Amendment to the Bill of Rights that a compelled confession is of doubtful truthfulness, and shouldn't be permitted to be used as incriminating evidence against the confessor.
Of the many contemporary accounts of people being coerced to falsely confess, The Gulag Archipelago (1973, and referred to as GA) by Nobel prize winner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is one of the most comprehensive and disturbing, because of the number of cases and sources he cited. Solzhenitsyn noted there were so many cases for him to draw from because, “like medieval torturers, our interrogators, prosecutors and judges agreed to accept the confession of the accused as the chief proof of guilt.”
Furthermore, the Soviet law enforcement system didn't settle for using age-old methods of physical torture, but it perfected psychological techniques that were able to generate confessions in assembly line fashion without leaving telltale injuries. Solzhenitsyn listed nine of those psychological methods as:
· Conducting interrogations at night when a person is more likely to be susceptible to suggestions to confess.
· Persuasion focusing on the reasonableness of confessing.
· Using foul language to scare a person to confess
· Psychological contrast, such as the good cop, bad cop technique of enticing a confession.
· Inducting extreme confusion to trick a person into confessing.
· Humiliation is used to dishearten someone and weaken his or her resistance to confessing.
· Intimidation by threatening the loss of a position (job), possessions, or their freedom if the person does not confess.
· Lying to a suspect about the evidence or testimony that demonstrates their guilt.
· Playing on their affections for loved ones. (All nine cited in GA, 103-107)
Solzhenitsyn also listed twenty-two additional techniques that combined psychological and physical forms of torture to extract confessions. (GA, 108-117)
The effectiveness of these techniques to produce large volumes of false confessions is indicated by the estimate that at times over six million innocent people were incarcerated in the Soviet Prison (Gulag System). (GA, 595) To emphasize the commonness of prosecuting innocent people and the sentences they received when convicted, Solzhenitsyn related a story:
“At the Novosibirsk Transit Prison in 1945 they greeted the prisoners with a roll call based on cases.” “So and so! Twenty-five years!” (Article 58-1A) The chief of the convoy guard was curious: “What did you get it for?” The prisoner would respond, “For nothing at all!” The chief guard replied, “You're lying! The sentence for nothing at all is ten years.” (GA, 293)
In one remarkable instance, Stalin acknowledged his reliance of false confessions to obtain convictions when he permitted thousands of defendants to repudiate their confessions, whose alleged crimes had been to protest a lack of food. (GA, 49-50)
To varying degrees, the psychological techniques used by Soviet interrogators to extract many millions of false confessions were used to wring confessions from the Guildford Four in 1974. The one that finally caused Gerry Conlon and Paul Hill to cave in and falsely confess to mass murder were threats made against loved ones. This wouldn't have surprised Solzhenitsyn, because he noted that, “One could break even a totally fearless person through his concern for those he loved.” (GA, 106)
tragic odyssey of the
Guildford Four is just one of innumerable times that false confessions
been used to convict innocent men and women -- not just in
Although it was hoped by many observers that the Miranda decision (1966) would provide a measure of protection from criminal suspects' falsely confessing, there is no evidence that it has done so. The findings of several studies have indicated that Miranda warnings have had a negligible effect on the extraction of confessions by law enforcement personnel. Those findings are empirically supported by the fact that more people are convicted by a confession of guilt today than prior to Miranda.
The adoption of
interrogation techniques has enabled law enforcement agencies in this
to rely on extracting confessions in one form or another to obtain 92%
This means that nationwide approximately a quarter of a million people every year confess to felony crimes that the prosecution can't prove beyond a reasonable doubt they are guilty of, and which they may be in fact innocent of committing.
Whether one relies on particular cases or an accumulation of them, it has been shown ad nauseam that reliance on a confession without corroborating evidence is the most unreliable method of convicting people. The unreliability of confessions is directly related to the fact that they are the most popular way of convicting people, because they require the least amount of investigative and prosecutorial effort.
The Guildford Four demonstrated that with crystal clarity. Their wrongful convictions of committing five murders were based solely on contradictory and incomplete confessions they all repudiated during their trial as false and coerced. Considering the absence of corroborating testimonial or physical evidence, everyone who didn't participate in the extraction of their confessions should have suspected their authenticity from the time they first learned of them.
It can only be hoped that the book and movie version of In the Name of the Father has helped raise the consciousness level of people exposed to them. The prevalence of false confessions are a plague in countries throughout the world, including ours.