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the Complete Review
the complete review - politics / law

Double Jeopardy

Ronan Bennett

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To purchase Double Jeopardy

Title: Double Jeopardy
Author: Ronan Bennett
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 1993
Length: 70 pages
Availability: Double Jeopardy - US
Double Jeopardy - UK
Double Jeopardy - Canada
  • The Retrial of the Guildford Four
  • First published in the London Review of Books

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Our Assessment:

B : fine essay about disturbing events

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Convicted of bombing two pubs in Guilford in 1974, the so-called Guilford Four were released from prison -- after some fifteen years -- in 1989, after it was determined that there had been police and prosecutorial misconduct that had led to wrongful convictions. As Bennett notes:

Hill, Conlon, Armstrong and Richardson were convicted solely and exclusively on the basis of their confessions. There was no other evidence of any kind.
       The confessions were, to put it mildly, tainted, and this finally came out, leading to their release. Double Jeopardy focusses on the trial of the three detectives charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice (the fall-guys, and clearly only the tip of an iceberg), but looks at all that went wrong. Bennett also writes from personal experience, as he was wrongfully charged with murder in 1974 and describes his own interrogation and treatment.
       It's an interesting little essay, focussing on everything from why these people (and Armstrong in particular) might have confessed to some of the outrageous acts and omissions by the police and prosecutors (including not releasing a great deal of significant and exculpatory information to the defence) to the media reaction. The subtitle -- The Retrial of the Guildford Four -- emphasises that even the trial of the three policemen was an attempt to again suggest the guilt of the Guildford Four, their perceived guilt being seen (both in court, and to an even greater extent in the media) as excusing the outrageous police conduct. Bennett shows that the evidence against the Guildford Four is weak (and that strong evidence points elsewhere), and his dissection of both trials is very disturbing: getting at the truth does not appear to have been foremost in many of the minds involved.
       The book is of some historical interest, though not a comprehensive account of these events. (Among many other books covering these events at greater length -- many listed in the bibliography -- is Stolen Years: Before and After Guilford which Bennett co-authored with Paul Hill.) It is instructive as a brief, stark reminder of how easily justice is perverted and scapegoats can be found -- well worth remembering in these times when a different sort of terrorism again leads governments to overreach and civil liberties are cut back, all ostensibly to protect citizens (while, in fact, likely doing far more harm than good).
       Double Jeopardy tells an ugly story, one that's still repeated (in all sorts of variations) far too frequently. A semblance of justice was done here, but those responsible (not just the three policemen in the dock) got off far too lightly and the public should be far from reassured. In Britain the situation appears to have improved at least slightly over the decade since, while over the past few years the United States looks to have veered sharply in the direction of emulating everything that was done wrong here. It's not too late yet, but it wouldn't be surprising to find many books telling similar dark tales to be published in the US in the years to come.

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Reviews: Ronan Bennett: Other books by Ronan Bennett under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Irish literature
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction

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About the Author:

       (Northern) Irish author Ronan Bennett was born in 1956. Incarcerated for political activities in his youth he went on to study History at King's College. He has written several screenplays and novels and a prize-winning memoir. He currently lives in London.

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