Birmingham victims' families demand new inquest

Inquest did not reopen after Birmingham Six were released by the Court of Appeal

The British Attorney General has been requested by the families of the 21 people killed in the IRA’s 1974 Birmingham pub bombings to reopen the inquest that was closed shortly after the Birmingham Six were wrongfully convicted for the atrocity.

Representatives from the families' lobby group, Justice4forthe21 met with the Home Secretary Theresa May and the Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers.

An inquest was opened days after the bombings closed without hearing evidence in 1975 after the guilty verdicts, but it did not reopen in 1991 after the Birmingham Six were released by the Court of Appeal.

Solicitor for the families, Mr Christopher Stanley of the Belfast-based firm Kevin R. Winters, said the application is being based on the existence of new evidence, including the memoirs of former IRA member, Kieran Conway.


In his book, Conway, who ran the IRA’s intelligence-gathering in the 1970s, made the first formal admission by an IRA that it had carried out the bombing, but claimed that the civilian casualties had not been intended.

Meanwhile, the Home Secretary said she would investigate the families’ calls for the publication of official papers surrounding the investigation into the case that have been under seal.

The families believe that British police knew in advance that the IRA intended to bomb Birmingham, but they had hoped to win a major PR coup by capturing the bombers in the act, but the plans went wrong.

Julie Hambleton, whose sister, Maxine was one of the dead, said publication has been refused up to now because that could jeopardise criminal investigations, except no one is investigating the 40-year-old crime.

A decision by the Attorney General, Jeremy Wright QC is unlikely before the election, though Justice4the21 made clear that a legal challenge is likely if matters are delayed.

However, Mr Stanley emphasised the families’ desire not to embark on the type of long-running legal battle that the families of those killed in the 1998 Omagh explosion have endured.

"But there is a reasonable expectation on the part of the families that a reasonable decision will be taken in a reasonable amount of time," he told The Irish Times.

Meanwhile, the NI Secretary said some files held in Northern Ireland would not be released because of the need to protect people’s lives: “However, we pointed out that this should not stop us – or if not us our legal representatives – looking at what is being held in relation to the Birmingham pub bombings,” said Julie Hambleton.

A new inquest, solicitor, Kevin Winters declared, is "both necessary and desirable" in the interests of justice, would allay public fears and suspicions and honour the British Government's pledges to justice and truth made by Prime Minister David Cameron.

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy is Ireland and Britain Editor with The Irish Times