Birmingham bombs: Details of knowledge on IRA threat wanted
Families of victims of 1974 atrocity want inquests to shed light on what authorities knew
Firemen search the wreckage of one of two Birmingham pubs bombed in November 1974. File p hotograph: Press Association
November 25th, 1974: Wreckage and debris litter the street outside the Mulberry Bush public house in Birmingham, after it was bombed by the Provisional IRA File photograph: Evening Standard/Getty Images
Families of the victims of the Birmingham pub bombings in 1974 want forthcoming inquests to shed light on what intelligence services knew about the IRA threat before the attacks.
Campaigners on Thursday won a change in the law which means they can now apply for legal aid for representation at fresh hearings into the double bombing.
Announcing the change, British legal aid minister Sir Oliver Heald QC said: “It would be a travesty for families to be denied justice simply because of a technicality.”
The families said they were now “cautiously optimistic” about the inquest process, having first had to successfully fight last year for the right to new hearings and then battling to secure legal funding.
Now campaigners say they will focus on getting the broadest possible scope for those inquests, with a preliminary hearing to take place on February 23rd.
The families want the coroner to hear evidence on what the British security forces and police knew about the terrorist threat up to a year before the atrocity.
Julie Hambleton, whose older sister Maxine was killed in the attacks, said only in-depth hearings could hope to answer the families’ unanswered questions as to how loved ones met their deaths.
One of the country’s most senior coroners, Peter Thornton QC, will hear new inquests into the deaths of the 21 victims, which are expected to start in the autumn at the earliest.
Lawyers for eight of the families, Northern Ireland-based KRW Law, want a Middleton inquest, under the convention on human rights, to establish the circumstances of how the victims met their deaths.
On the night of November 21st, 1974, the IRA planted two bombs which ripped through the Tavern in the Town and nearby Mulberry Bush pubs, injuring 182 others.
The botched police investigation into the attacks led to the wrongful convictions of the Birmingham Six - one of the most infamous miscarriages of justice in British legal history.
West Midlands Police opposed fresh inquests, despite new evidence coming to light that police may have allegedly ignored two tip-offs of an imminent IRA attack in the city.
A KRW Law spokesman said: “We want to look at the prior intelligence, if there was a failure to act, a failure to respond, (and) the use of intelligence.
“Obviously it won’t look at the miscarriage of justice, but if intelligence relied upon led to wrongful conviction then - ipso facto - the investigation of the event was flawed from the start.”
Witnesses coming forward
Ms Hambleton said: “We’ve got all these witnesses coming forward now and the information we have - if proved to be credible - has the potential to be extremely significant.
“As such we need as wide as possible a scope, not just going back to November 21, but possibly a year prior to 1974.”
Ms Hambleton was also critical of the existing legal aid system, saying families still had to fill in legal aid forms with their personal financial details, while state agencies were able to rely on taxpayer funding for their lawyers.
She added: “It’s our taxes - the money we pay through what we earn, who fund them going to court - how ironic is that?”
Announcing the change in law on Thursday, Sir Oliver said the amendment would “remove any barrier from the families’ solicitors in applying for legal aid funding for the inquest”.
He also urged the government to “get on” with a review of legal aid.