On Wednesday this week, the coroner for Birmingham ordered West Midlands police to disclose information about the circumstances of the deaths of the 21 victims of the 1974 pub bombings in the face of what she called an ‘evidential vacuum’. Louise Hunt, the coroner for Birmingham and Solihill, adjourned the hearings as to whether to re-open an inquest into the Birmingham pub bombings until April.
One of the lawyers representing the families argued that the police might have been covering up the fact that an IRA mole had tipped them off about the attack and that they had time to evacuate the Birmingham pubs before the bombs went off.
- You can read this by Julie Hambleton for www.thejusticegap.com. Julie’s sister, Maxine was one of 21 who people died in the Birmingham Pub blasts at the Mulberry Bush and the Tavern in the Town pubs in November, 1974. Maxine was 18 years old when she died. Julie is leading light in the Justice for the 21 campaign
- You can read an interview with Paddy Hill of the Birmingham Six about his work with the families of victims of the bombings HERE
‘The West Midlands Police Chief Constable, Chris Sims told my family that ‘due to the passage of time we don’t believe it is in the best interests to continue as we have no new evidence’. I asked him, was it not the job of the police to go looking for new evidence?’
‘The police brainwashed them into hating us. We’d been their figures of hate for 16 and a half years. And then suddenly they find out – “hang on, these guys didn’t do it”. So I think they were a bit more apprehensive at meeting me. But it went very well.
Paddy Hill on his first meeting with the victims of the Birmingham pub bombings ’
The original inquests into the victims’ deaths were closed, without any press reporting, immediately after the Birmingham Six had been convicted in 1975. These convictions were quashed in 1991, and described as ‘the most serious case of miscarriage of justice in living memory’ by Ashley Underwood QC who was representing three of the families at the hearing on Wednesday.
Underwood said that there was evidence to suggest there was an informant who had tipped the police off about the attack and that notice would have allowed enough time for the police to evacuate people before the bombs were exploded. It was suggested by Underwood that the police therefore had an incentive to lie in securing the convictions of the Birmingham Six, in order to hide the mole’s involvement and their own failure to act.
‘There is reason to believe the gang of murderers had an informant in their ranks and that the police knew in advance,’ said Underwood. ‘And there is reason to believe the police had sufficient time, between the telephone warnings and the first bomb going off, to evacuate – and that the emergency services could have arrived earlier – but that records about those things were falsified.’
Ashley Underwood QC
Meanwhile, the Police Federation’s barrister, Jeremy Johnson QC, argued that the coroner had no jurisdiction to re-open an inquest, and that in any event the police’s criminal investigation was ongoing, with new potential forensic evidence and claims by former provisional IRA intelligence director Kieran Conway in a new book. It was reported that Chief Constable of West Midlands Police, apparently, had no objection to the inquest being resumed.
Author: Sophie Caseley
Sophie is a pupil barrister at Garden Court