Birmingham pub bombings: Families seek public inquiry decision within weeks

Richard Vernalls, PA
·4-min read

Relatives of victims of the Birmingham pub bombings have called on the Home Secretary to give a firm commitment within weeks on holding a public inquiry into their loved ones’ deaths.

After speaking to the Home Secretary on a Zoom call, the families of those killed in the 1974 blasts asked Priti Patel “to indicate when she will provide a written decision” before the May local elections.

Ms Patel agreed to a video meeting with the relatives, held on Wednesday, after a request from West Midlands mayor Andy Street.

Mr Street, who was also on the dial-in, had raised the campaigners’ case with Ms Patel earlier last year.

Two bombs planted in the Mulberry Bush and Tavern in the Town pubs exploded on November 21 1974, killing 21 people and injuring up to 220 more.

A flawed investigation by West Midlands Police led to the wrongful convictions of the Birmingham Six – one of the worst miscarriages of justice in British legal history.

Nobody has been brought to justice for the blasts despite years of campaigning led by the Justice 4 The 21 group.

Birmingham pub bombings
Aftermath of the fatal bomb attack on the Mulberry Bush pub (PA)

In 2019, an inquest found a botched IRA warning was responsible for victims’ unlawful killings.

However, the coronial process was described as “unsatisfactory” by some of the bereaved, for not prompting criminal charges against any of the perpetrators.

Following the video meeting, the Home Secretary said: “My sympathies are with all those families who shared incredibly powerful and moving accounts of this awful event.

“I recognise the desire of the victims’ families and the wider community to see those responsible brought to justice, and I want to thank the families for taking the time to meet with me to discuss the case.”

Birmingham pub bombings
Julie Hambleton, whose older sister Maxine died in the Tavern in the Town blast (Jacob King/PA)

Mr Street said it “was another step towards a public inquiry and securing justice for the 21 murdered that night” and he would “continue to make the case”.

Julie Hambleton, a lead member of Justice 4 The 21 and whose older sister Maxine died in the bombings, echoed Mr Street’s comment that it was “another step” to achieving “truth, justice and accountability”.

She added: “Therefore, we urge the Home Secretary to a meeting with us within a month’s time when lockdown restrictions will be lighter so that we may discover whether she is going to give us what our loved ones deserve, which is a full statutory inquiry.”

Following the video meeting, Belfast-based lawyers KRW Law, which is representing 10 of the bereaved families including Miss Hambleton’s, said their clients had made it clear they wanted a public inquiry.

Birmingham pub bombings
West Midlands mayor Andy Street (Jacob King/PA)

Barry O’Donnell, a KRW solicitor, said: “We need a commitment from the Home Secretary for a meeting with the relatives in Birmingham before the mayoral election in May at which she will indicate her position on a public inquiry.”

The families criticised publication of a written Home Office ministerial response relating to any possible inquiry – without any notice and less than 24 hours before their meeting – as “insensitive and inept”.

In the response, published on the parliamentary website, Kevin Foster, Home Office minister for future borders and immigration, said it would be “inappropriate” to make a decision to hold a statutory inquiry into the bombings while the police investigation is still active.

The minister was responding to a question from Labour’s Birmingham Edgbaston MP Preet Gill.

The families’ lawyers said they would be “seeking clarification” from Ms Gill “as to what prompted her question”.

When relatives raised the publication of the ministerial response with the Home Secretary, Ms Patel told the families it “was a standard response when there is a live police investigation”, according to their lawyers.

Ms Patel said she would consult with civil servants and ask “sharp” questions, KRW added.

In November 2020, a 65-year-old man was arrested in Belfast in connection with the bombings by officers from West Midlands Police assisted by the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

He was later released and the police investigation continues.