Paddy Hill of Birmingham Six fame still fighting the good fight
Campaigner still in pursuit of truth for victims and survivors of IRA pub bombings
Paddy Hill (left) says “it’s a well-known fact that they had an informer in the IRA who told them shortly after the bombings that they got the wrong people. Photograph: Getty Images
Birmingham Six man Paddy Hill’s life has been an emotional roller-coaster, if nothing else.
Now living a life of contentment in rural Scotland with a menagerie of horses, donkeys, dogs and cats, his surroundings could hardly be more different than those during the 16 years he spent in a British prison for a crime he did not commit.
Nowadays, he is concentrating on trying to achieve some justice – or at least truth – for the victims and survivors of the IRA Birmingham pub bombings.
Twenty-one people died and more than 180 people were maimed and injured in the attack on the two Birmingham city centre pubs on November 21st 1974 – the Mulberry Bush and the Tavern in the Town.
Hill (70), along with Hugh Callaghan, Gerard Hunter, Richard McIlkenny, William Power and John Walker, was sentenced to life in prison in 1975 for the bombings. After years of campaigning, their convictions were declared unsafe and unsatisfactory in 1991 and the six were released.
This month (February), the Hambletons will be among several people giving evidence at a number of days of coroner hearings in Birmingham to determine whether to resume an inquest into the 21 deaths. Hill will be one of those arguing at the hearings that a resumed inquest must take place.
“We are not going to get justice, don’t get me wrong, we will never get justice, just like the people on Bloody Sunday,” says Hill. “But the one thing we can get, and that is the thing that is the very least we should have, and that is the truth. That is what we are hoping for. Maybe it can help family members and those who were injured to get some closure then.”
The first thing Brian Hambleton asked him when they first met just over two years ago was whether or not he was in the IRA. “I told Julie and Brian I wasn’t in the IRA, I was never in the IRA. The only thing that we did was that we collected money for those that were interned.”
Hill says he was told an IRA unit of five men carried out the bombings and that as far as he knew, three of them were still alive. He says the authorities knew who carried out the attack shortly into the investigation. “It’s a well-known fact that they had an informer in the IRA who told them shortly after the bombings that they got the wrong people. He told them who made the bombs, where they were made and who planted them. They knew early in 1975.”
However, according to Hill, the same authorities needed to convict somebody for the murders, and the Birmingham Six were the innocents chosen.
“The police told us right from the beginning, ‘We know you did not do the bombing, we don’t give a fuck who done them. We have our orders and our orders, here they are – and he showed me. Read that, you little Irish bastard!
“Look what it says there; that’s our orders, our orders says we are to get confessions and convictions and we are to use any fucking means possible. And any means that we have to, to obtain them. Don’t worry, we are covered all the way to the top. No matter what happens in the future, nothing will ever happen to us’. And they were perfectly right. Nothing happened to them.
“I quote them word for word.”
Hill describes the IRA bombing of city centre pubs filled with people enjoying a night out as “diabolical”.
He says he was told some years into his sentence by an IRA commander who was also imprisoned in England the unit responsible acted without orders.
He trails off, reflecting on the lost years, on all the campaigning that finally led to his release, on how the IRA in the 1980s finally admitted culpability. He remembers all the trauma and anger and psychological counselling that he experienced, the failure of his first marriage and of the difficulties of the relationship with his children.
Despite this, he is content with his life now. “I am not too bad, I am good,” he says. His marriage of 15 years to the Scottish artist Tara Babel and his relationship with his three stepchildren has helped.
“I live in the west coast of Scotland. I’m right in the middle of all the loyalists – Johnny Mad Dog Adair lived down the road from me,” he says, wryly. (Adair has since moved.) “I’ve got 20 acres. We’ve got five horses, three ponies, three donkeys and a Shetland pony, three dogs and two cats.”
His 21-year-old daughter Rosie is an amateur jockey who rides for the former Irish jockey, now trainer, Brendan Powell.
He used to ride as well but sciatica put paid to that. Now he keeps the animals in good shape. “I look after them, I get my pleasure out of that.”