Birmingham bombings: Inquest reopens into 21 deaths

Solihull coroner’s court orders fresh inquest into the 1974 bombings

Six Irishmen - who were jailed for the Birmingham pub bombings in 1975 - walked free on March 14 1991. Fresh inquests are now to be held into the deaths of 21 people in the Birmingham pub bombings. Video: Reuters

 

Fresh inquests are to be held into the deaths of 21 people in the Birmingham pub bombings after years of campaigning by victims’ relatives.

The senior coroner for Birmingham and Solihull, Louise Hunt, announced the decision after holding several review hearings and receiving “significant” new information about the double bombing on November 21st, 1974.

During the recent hearings, families of some of those killed in the blasts in the Mulberry Bush and Tavern in the Town pubs put forward a claim that the British state had knowledge of the attacks planned by the IRA before they were carried out.

Although the IRA was believed to have planted them, it never claimed responsibility.

Inquests were opened soon afterwards but were adjourned to allow criminal investigations to take place.

In one of Britain’s most notorious miscarriages of justice, six Irish men, known as the Birmingham Six, were later wrongly convicted and spent 16 years in jail until they were exonerated and released in 1991.

Setting out the reasons for her ruling, Ms Hunt said there was evidence that West Midlands Police had missed two potential warnings of the bomb attacks, including a comment made by men linked to IRA that “Birmingham would be hit next week”.

That overheard conversation was reported to police on November 10th 1974, but Ms Hunt said there was “no indication that the police took any active steps in response to it”.

On the day of the attack, a second tip-off to the police was not followed up, she added.

Ms Hunt went on: “I have serious concerns that advanced notice of the bombs may have been available to the police and that they failed to take the necessary steps to protect life.”

Concluding, she said: “This is specifically in respect of the two matters I have identified.

“It is only in respect of that issue that I consider there is sufficient reason to resume an inquest to investigate the circumstances of these deaths.

“So I am satisfied that the inquest should be resumed.”

She said claims that police were protecting a mole in the IRA cell were unfounded, and neither did the emergency services response that night contribute to the deaths.

Julie Hambleton, whose sister Maxine was among the victims, welcomed the decision, saying it was “way beyond our expectations” as she urged the government to ensure victims’ families were given legal aid.

She said: “All we want is to be heard so we can get the truth, justice and accountability.”

Paddy Hill, one of the men wrongly jailed for the attack, said: “They (the police) had advance warning ... and they didn’t take any steps to prevent it. If they had done, the people that planted the bombs would have been caught and convicted. Instead they let it happen.”

West Midlands chief constable Dave Thompson pledged to support the new inquests, saying the botched initial investigation was “the most serious failing in this force’s history”.

He said: “The Birmingham pub bombings of 1974 are one of the most serious terrorist attacks in the UK. West Midlands Police not only failed to catch those responsible but caused a miscarriage of justice.

“I have said and reiterate again, it is the most serious failing in this force’s history.

“It is almost 42 years since these events. I understand families of those who lost their lives are frustrated, disappointed and angry.

“Since 2012, and directly as a result of the campaign by families of those who died, we have carefully reassessed the opportunities to bring the people responsible to justice. Despite an intense scrutiny we have not been able to see, at this time, a prospect of doing this. That has been an authentic and painstaking search for the truth.”

Mr Thompson added: “We have not nor will not close this investigation.

“West Midlands Police will support this inquiry as we have done through the recent hearings by the coroner which determined whether the inquest should re-open. I hope the new inquest provides answers to families.”

Agencies