It took coroner Louise Hunt almost an hour to deliver her decision on whether to reopen the inquest into the deaths of 21 people in the 1974 Birmingham bombings. But until the last minute or two, few of those gathered in Solihull Council Chamber – victims' relatives in the chamber itself and reporters in the public gallery – had any idea which way her decision would go.
When it came, her announcement of a fresh inquest invoked no reaction from the relatives at first, as if they were afraid that it could be reversed before the coroner finished speaking.
It was only after she had left the chamber that the shoulders began to heave, the lips to tremble and the tears to flow.
"Today is the most seismic day for all of us. I hope that our fathers, brothers, sisters, mothers are looking down and they're proud," said Julie Hambleton, whose sister Maxine was 18 when she was killed by one of the bombs.
“Our loved ones did not ask to be murdered that night. All we want is to be heard so we can get truth, justice and accountability.”
Hambleton has been the most outspoken member of “Justice for the 21”, which has campaigned to establish the truth about the bombings since it was established that the Birmingham Six had been wrongfully convicted.
She thanked their supporters, including the Birmingham Mail, which has campaigned to reopen the inquest, and Belfast solicitors KRW Law, who represented the families pro bono.
“We wouldn’t want you to walk in our shoes but if you were in our shoes today you would feel a sense of relief,” she said.
Paddy Hill, one of the Birmingham Six, who spent 16 years behind bars after the bombings before his wrongful conviction was overturned in 1991, was in the council chamber to hear the decision. Thin and grey, he is unrecognisable from the round- faced young man who was arrested hours after the bombings 41 years ago.
“It’s the first step that’s ever been taken to finding out the real truth behind the Birmingham pub bombings and the massive cover-up that has been committed by the judiciary, the government and the Birmingham police over the last 40 years and that cover-up is still going on today,” he said.
“We’ll never get justice but I’ll tell you the one thing that we can get and that’s the one thing that we deserve the most and that’s truth.”
West Midlands Police tried to block the reopening of the inquest and Hambleton says she has "nothing but contempt" for the senior management of the force.
Hill is more scathing still, warning that the police have been so dishonest about the bombings that the truth may never come out.
“Since we got out, all the Birmingham police have done with the families is tell them lies, lies, lies because that’s the only thing they’re good for is lying,” he said.
“I don’t think the Birmingham police could spell the word truth, never mind tell it. They’re rotten.”