Birmingham pub bombings campaigner in court to deny Covid rule breach

Richard Vernalls, PA
·4-min read

Birmingham pub bombings campaigner Julie Hambleton has appeared in court after refusing to pay a £200 fine for allegedly breaking Covid rules, after taking part in an anniversary convoy to mark the deadly blasts.

Miss Hambleton appeared alongside two other men at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday, accused of attending a gathering “of more than two people” in breach of Covid-19 regulations.

All three were on the motor rally through Birmingham, on November 21 last year, to mark the 46th anniversary of the double IRA blasts, which claimed 21 lives, including Miss Hambleton’s older sister, Maxine.

Birmingham pub bombings
The ruined Mulberry Bush pub after the attack on November 21 1974 (PA)

It is alleged Miss Hambleton and the others contravened the rules outside West Midlands Police’s city headquarters at Lloyd House, where the convoy broke up.

Miss Hambleton, who leads the Justice 4 the 21 (J421) group, which campaigns for the Birmingham bombers to be brought to justice, denied any wrongdoing, entering a not guilty plea to the charge.

She has previously called the force’s decision to fine her and other campaign supporters “disgusting, tasteless and crass”.

Also in court, charged with the same offence in connection with the rally, were Kevin Gormley, 53, of Beacon Road, and Michael Lutwyche, 54, of Hayes Grove, both Birmingham.

They both denied the allegation.

As the three appeared in court, about 30 J421 campaign supporters, some with large banners, gathered outside.

Birmingham pub bombings
The 21 people killed in the pub bombings (Birmingham Inquests/PA)

After issuing the fines, the force said it had issued notices to a number of people for an alleged breach in Colmore Circus, Birmingham, “following a review” of the circumstances.

In court, Philip Rule, representing Miss Hambleton and the other defendants, said their lawyers had invited the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to review “whether the prosecution is to continue in the public interest”.

He added the Crown had since reviewed the case, and asked for the court to direct they provide reasons to the defence lawyers, in due course.

Mr Rule said once it had a “summary of reasons” it would be looking to respond with “our concerns about whether there really is a public interest, in light of actions the defendants properly took” to keep the gathering Covid-safe.

Richard Purchase, for the prosecution, told the court a trial was likely to hear from officers present on the day and be shown footage of police body-worn video cameras.

Speaking previously, Miss Hambleton said she did get out of her vehicle outside Lloyd House, but only to briefly thank people who attended and that she remained socially distanced, throughout.

She added that nobody from the force came out to warn those outside, and that the convoy of more than 500 people had complied with an earlier police request not to gather by a campaign mural in Bromsgrove Street.

Miss Hambleton said that victims’ families and supporters had also respected the rules by cancelling annual vigils elsewhere in the city.

Belfast-based lawyers KRW Law, representing Miss Hambleton, said a written request to the force’s chief constable Sir David Thompson earlier this year to annul the fines had been rejected.

In a statement issued ahead of the hearing, the law firm said that the force, “in bringing this prosecution, raise serious questions over West Midlands Police taking inconsistent approaches to protests” and its “understanding and application” of Covid rules.

The case was adjourned for a two-day trial back at the same court, starting September 7.

Chairwoman of magistrates, Fiona Williams, said: “The hearing is now adjourned until September.

“We direct the bodycam footage from the prosecution is served to the defence and the Crown Prosecution Service is to review the prosecution – whether it is in the public interest for this to continue, and disclose reasons for doing so.”

On the night of November 21 1974, at the height of an IRA bombing campaign in England, two deadly devices detonated in the packed Tavern In The Town and Mulberry Bush.

The blasts also injured more than 200 people.

The Birmingham Six were convicted of involvement but their convictions were later quashed by the Court of Appeal after a botched investigation by West Midlands Police led to one of the worst miscarriages in British legal history.

Nobody has ever been brought to justice for the killings, although the force did arrest and release a man from Belfast in connection with the bombings, last year.

Miss Hambleton has been critical in the past of the force’s handling of the investigation to track down those responsible for the pub bombings.