Birmingham pub bombings campaigner to stand trial after Covid rule breach charge

Richard Vernalls, PA
·5-min read

Birmingham pub bombings campaigner Julie Hambleton is to stand trial for refusing to pay a fine after allegedly breaking Covid rules, during an anniversary convoy marking 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.

After all entering not guilty pleas, Miss Hambleton stood outside, flanked by her two co-defendants and surrounded by about 30 campaign supporters, some carrying banners, to query whether the prosecution was “a good use of taxpayers’ money”.

Birmingham pub bombings inquest
The remnants of the Mulberry Bush pub in Birmingham (PA)

She contrasted the decision to issue fines with the fact that more than 46 years after the deadly IRA blasts, there had been “zero justice” for the bereaved families.

Miss Hambleton added, in reference to the Birmingham Six, that men had also been jailed “for a crime they didn’t commit” in that time.

“You tell me, who’s right and who’s wrong?” she said.

The Birmingham Six were found guilty 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.

It is alleged Miss Hambleton and the others contravened the rules outside the force’s city centre headquarters at Lloyd House, last year, when the anniversary 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, previously called the force’s decision to fine her and others “disgusting, tasteless and crass”.

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

Also in court to enter pleas of not guilty to the same allegation were Kevin Gormley, 53, of Beacon Road, and Michael Lutwyche, 54, of Hayes Grove, both Birmingham.

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 her co-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 concluded their review, with Mr Rule asking the court to direct prosecutors provide their reasons for continuing the case to the defence lawyers, in due course.

Mr Rule said once defence lawyers had a “summary of reasons” they 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.

Outside court, Miss Hambleton, Crossway Lane, Birmingham, said that at the end of the rally, by Lloyd House, she spoke for “86 seconds” to thank supporters who had attended and “ask them to disperse”.

She said: “The police chose not to intervene…or ask any of our supporters to move on.”

“They left it on our shoulders, for us, to do their job for them – which is exactly what we did,” she added.

Miss Hambleton said: “Because we did what the police refused to do, we are being fined by the police for doing their job for them.

“If that is a good use of taxpayers’ money – God help us.

“21 people were murdered 46 years ago – zero justice.”

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.

In court, magistrates fixed a two-day trial back at the same court, starting September 7.

Chairwoman of magistrates, Fiona Williams, said: “We direct the bodycam footage from the prosecution is served to the defence and the CPS is to review the prosecution – whether it is in the public interest for this to continue, and disclose reasons for doing so.”

A fourth man is due to appear in court next month, facing the same charge in connection with the rally, while two others issued with fixed penalty notices after the event have since paid their fines.

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.

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 West Midlands Police’s handling of the investigation to track down those responsible for the attacks.

The criminal investigation into who carried out the bombings remains open.