Evidence that police may have ignored two tip-offs ahead of the 1974 Birmingham bombings have prompted a coroner to reopen an inquest into the deaths of 21 people in the two attacks.
Louise Hunt, senior coroner for Birmingham and Solihull, said that police appeared to have ignored two warnings ahead of the attacks, one more than a week beforehand and another on the day of the attacks themselves.
On November 9th, 1974, 11 days before the attacks, two individuals who had connections to the IRA were reported as having said that “Birmingham would be hit next week”. The information was passed on to the police the following day but no action was taken and the report was filed.
The second incident occurred on November 21st, 1974, the day of the bombings, when a witness reported overhearing in a pub some Irish men discussing what sounded like a plan to carry out bombings.
He reported the incident to police but there was a delay before an officer would see him, and by the time he returned to the pub with two police officers, the men were gone.
The coroner noted there was heightened awareness at the time of the danger of an IRA reprisal attack in Birmingham following the death of local IRA man James McDade, who was blown up by his own bomb.
“Although there may be good reasons why no further action was taken, and it may be arguable that there was insufficient time for any such action to have prevented the bombings later that day, but on the evidence available to me, I am unable to exclude the possibility that this was a second missed opportunity to prevent the attacks,” Ms Hunt said.
The bombings at two busy Birmingham pubs on November 21st, 1974, were among the worst terrorist attacks Britain has ever seen, leaving more than 200 injured.
They led to one of the most notorious miscarriages of justice in British legal history with the wrongful conviction of six innocent Irish men who became known as the Birmingham Six.
The six men were released from prison in 1991 after an appeals court accepted that their convictions were unsafe and that West Midlands Police had fabricated evidence and beaten confessions out of them.
The coroner acknowledged that some key witnesses are dead and that others are too old or ill to give evidence but she said that her own inquiries in advance of yesterday’s decision showed that further investigations into the bombings are still possible.
Inquests were opened into the deaths a week after the bombings but were adjourned when the Birmingham Six were charged and not resumed after they were convicted or after their convictions were overturned.
Ms Hunt studied statements from more than 250 witnesses and conducted a number of hearings since February this year before making yesterday’s decision.
West Midland Police, which had tried to block the reopening of the inquest, said it would co-operate with it now that it had been ordered.