A leading Birmingham pub bombings campaigner accused of taking part in a lockdown-breaking gathering has told her trial she believed giving a short thank you speech to loyal supporters would “get them to disperse”.
Julie Hambleton became emotional and had to be handed tissues as she gave evidence at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday, where she and three other men are accused of taking part in a Covid-19 rule-breaking meeting outside West Midlands Police headquarters on November 21, last year.
It was the 46th anniversary of two devastating IRA bomb blasts in the city, which claimed the lives of 21 people – including Miss Hambleton’s older sister Maxine.
As leader of the Justice 4 the 21 (J421) group, which has campaigned to bring the perpetrators to justice, Miss Hambleton was part of a motor rally organised to commemorate the day.
Miss Hambleton and her co-defendants deny any wrongdoing at the event, held amid the second national lockdown when gatherings of “more than two people” were banned.
The 58-year-old, of Crossway Lane, Kevin Gormley, 53, of Beacon Road, Michael Lutwyche, 54, of Hayes Grove, and John Porter of Corner Way, 59, all of Birmingham, are being prosecuted after refusing to pay fixed penalty notices.
It is alleged by prosecutors that there was a “clear and deliberate” breach of the rules after 15-25 protesters, including all four defendants, got out of their vehicles at the end of the rally, outside the force’s Birmingham HQ.
The trial has previously heard evidence the force was aware of the rally, had officers present and had at the time been following a nationwide approach to policing the lockdown, namely the four Es; engage, explain, encourage and enforce
Lead rally organiser Mr Gormley had liaised closely with the police ahead of the day, and told the court what the plan had been on the day.
From the witness box, he said: “The intention was to drive to Lloyd House and make a lot of noise, so they knew we were there and exit to Weaman Street onto Colmore Circus, disperse and go home, that was always the plan.”
He said there was never any plan for campaigners to leave their convoy vehicles and that as a marshal, his job was to encourage people to keep moving.
Giving evidence for the first time, Miss Hambleton was asked why she had got out of her vehicle, to make an 80-second speech outside Lloyd House.
“As we pulled up I saw a small group of people gathering and I thought ‘oh’.
“So you have to think on your feet.”
She added: “We had parked on Weaman Street, the side road by Lloyd House and as I got there I realised there were people there (to support us) who weren’t on the convoy.”
In all, witnesses have told the court 15-25 people ended up gathering outside Lloyd House.
Miss Hambleton said: “The speech came about, there were people gathering and I thought the only way to try and get them to disperse was if I gave a speech to thank everybody for coming out and paying their respects.
“That would bring an official end and it did work, fortunately.”
As she spoke she started crying, adding: “We are very lucky, our supporters are incredibly kind, always behave with dignity and are so respectful and that’s why we have such a fantastic reputation – they always behave out of respect for the memory of our loved ones.
“It’s something our mother holds very dear.
“Mum’s 87 and she said for years nobody cared and now she sees that people do care.
“And when people meet me – people I may never have met them before – they are very tactile to me and want to hug me as if I need loving. I’m sorry.”
Asked why instead of thanking people, she did not encourage them back into their vehicles, she replied: “I couldn’t do that for half of them, as they’d made their own way there. They weren’t part of the convoy.”
At one point on the first day of the trial on Tuesday, District Judge Shamim Qureshi addressed a West Midlands Police officer giving evidence and contrasted the force’s decision not to fine any of the thousands who attended the city’s Canon Hill Park in breach of the Rule of Six in March 2021, with those on trial.
He asked: “I’ll tell you how it looks… it seems a bit of an easy target so was there any need to prosecute in this case?”
Chief Inspector Richard Cox replied: “A decision was made above me that it was appropriate, proportionate and necessary.”
The trial continues.