Thursday 19 January 2017

Relatives of Birmingham pub bombing victims believe new inquests may help fill 'void'

Richard Vernalls

Published 01/06/2016 | 07:41

The wreckage left at the Mulberry Bush pub in Birmingham after a bomb exploded, as a coroner is set to rule on whether to open new inquests for the 21 victims of the Birmingham pub bombings after years of campaigning by relatives Credit: PA Wire
The wreckage left at the Mulberry Bush pub in Birmingham after a bomb exploded, as a coroner is set to rule on whether to open new inquests for the 21 victims of the Birmingham pub bombings after years of campaigning by relatives Credit: PA Wire
Pamela Palmer, who died in the Birmingham pub bombings, as a coroner is set to rule on whether to open new inquests for the 21 victims of the attacks after years of campaigning by relatives. Credit: Family Handout/PA Wire
Maureen Roberts, 20, who died in the Birmingham pub bombings, as a coroner is set to rule on whether to open new inquests for the 21 victims of the attacks after years of campaigning by relatives Credit: Family Handout/PA Wire
Paul Rowlands' father John, who was killed in the blast at the Mulberry Bush pub, as Paul has said the Birmingham Pub Bombings had left a "void" in his life and has called for new inquests to be opened so his questions can be answered Credit: Family Handout/PA Wire
Maralyn Paula Nash, 22, who died in the Birmingham pub bombings, as a coroner is set to rule on whether to open new inquests for the 21 victims of the attacks after years of campaigning by relatives Credit: Family Handout/PA Wire
Clifford Jones, of Handsworth, Birmingham, who died in the Birmingham pub bombings, as a coroner is set to rule on whether to open new inquests for the 21 victims of the attacks after years of campaigning by relatives Credit: Family Handout/PA Wire
Jane Davies, 17, who died in the Birmingham pub bombings Credit: Family Handout/PA Wire
Desmond Reilly (left) on his wedding day, who died in the Birmingham pub bombings Credit: Family Handout/PA Wire
James Craig, 34, who died in the Birmingham pub bombings, as a coroner is set to rule on whether to open new inquests for the 21 victims of the attacks after years of campaigning by relatives Credit: Family Handout/PA Wire
Paul Rowlands (left) as a young boy sitting on a beach in Majorca with his father John, who was killed in the blast at the Mulberry Bush pub Credit: Family Handout/PA Wire
Stephen Whalley, 21, of Bloxwich, Staffordshire, who died in the Birmingham pub bombings Credit: Family Handout/PA Wire

Grieving relatives of those killed in the Birmingham pub bombings believe new inquests are their best chance at filling the void left in their lives by the deadly attacks.

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Loved ones hope that following what they welcomed as a precedent set by the recent Hillsborough inquiry their application to a senior coroner to resume the original pub bombing inquests will be granted.

The double bombing, which destroyed the Mulberry Bush pub at the base of the city's landmark Bullring Rotunda and the underground Tavern in the Town, is widely acknowledged to have been the work of the IRA.

It was the worst terrorist attack on the British mainland until the London 7/7 bombings and left 21 dead and 182 injured.

Bill Craig, at his home in Yardley, Birmingham. When his 34-year-old brother James Craig was fatally wounded in the Birmingham Pub Bombings, Bill had to search the city's hospitals himself before he found his sibling lying in a ward Credit: Richard Vernalls/PA Wire
Bill Craig, at his home in Yardley, Birmingham. When his 34-year-old brother James Craig was fatally wounded in the Birmingham Pub Bombings, Bill had to search the city's hospitals himself before he found his sibling lying in a ward Credit: Richard Vernalls/PA Wire
Maxine Hambleton, 18, who died in the Birmingham pub bombings, as a coroner is set to rule on whether to open new inquests for the 21 victims of the attacks after years of campaigning by relatives Credit: Family Handout/PA Wire

Those responsible have never faced justice and the only men to be tried for the crime - the Birmingham Six - had their convictions overturned by the Court of Appeal in 1991, after a botched investigation by West Midlands Police.

Now the relatives, led by the Justice4the21 campaign, are hoping all the circumstances can be heard in the public forum of a coroner's court.

Paul Rowlands lived in a city block of flats with parents John and Iris Rowlands, while older brother Steve was away serving in the RAF, when he found out his father had died.

As an 11-year-old he remembered lying in bed on the night of November 21 1974 and hearing "a knock at the door".

His father John Rowlands, a 46-year-old electrician, had been drinking in the Mulberry Bush when the first bomb went off.

"There were two policewomen," Mr Rowlands recalled.

Desmond Reilly (left) on his wedding day, who died in the Birmingham pub bombings Credit: Family Handout/PA Wire
Desmond Reilly (left) on his wedding day, who died in the Birmingham pub bombings Credit: Family Handout/PA Wire
James Craig, 34, who died in the Birmingham pub bombings, as a coroner is set to rule on whether to open new inquests for the 21 victims of the attacks after years of campaigning by relatives Credit: Family Handout/PA Wire
Paul Rowlands (left) as a young boy sitting on a beach in Majorca with his father John, who was killed in the blast at the Mulberry Bush pub Credit: Family Handout/PA Wire
Stephen Whalley, 21, of Bloxwich, Staffordshire, who died in the Birmingham pub bombings Credit: Family Handout/PA Wire

"They gave the news to my mother and left.

"She was just sitting on the chair, rocking back and forwards saying 'I can't believe it'."

The rigging manager, who now lives in Lye in the West Midlands, added: "My brother had it very difficult.

"He had to identify the body.

"There was no form of support. It's left a void in our lives."

Mr Rowlands said growing up had been "difficult", trying to stay out of care because of his mother's mental breakdown following her husband's death.

He described feeling until recently a sense of "embarrassment" talking about the bombings, in part because the botched police investigation had "tainted" any public discussion.

Read more: Birmingham pub bombings inquest may be reopened 40 years after adjournment

The 52-year-old only recently found out a work colleague Paul Thrupp, whom he has known for years, also lost his father Trevor Thrupp, a 33-year-old rail guard, in the Mulberry Bush bombing.

James Craig worked at the same city car plant as his brother, former police officer Bill Craig, who now lives in Yardley, Birmingham.

The popular 34-year-old was a talented amateur footballer who died in hospital 18 days after the bombings, with doctors telling his brother it was only his fitness that had kept him alive so long.

When his funeral cortege passed the car factory workers lined the streets in his honour before his burial at the city's Witton cemetery, a week before Christmas.

Mr Craig recalled that before going out that night, the funeral of Belfast-born IRA bomber James McDade was on the television news.

"I was walking home and someone on the way told me there'd been bombs in the city," said the 70-year-old.

"I got home, and my brother wasn't home but there was nothing unusual in that because we knew the bombings had stopped all the buses."

When James failed to return home by noon the next day, his brother went searching the city's hospitals asking if they had "a man aged 34 with a beard".

He said: "I was just walking away when they called me back and said there is a bloke in here but we don't know who he is.

"They told me 'you can't go in there because the other victims' relatives are going hysterical at the Irish nurses, so you'll have to wait'.

"When I got in there it was him."

The former West Midlands Police officer is now damning of the force that once employed him over its handling of the pub bombings.

He said: "What we've been told by West Midlands Police is not what happened that night as far as I can see - it just isn't."

Lawyers for the police told the Birmingham coroner during the special review hearings the force had no objection in principle to her reopening inquests but there was "no evidential basis" to do so.

Mr Rowlands said: "It's 41 years on - an inquest is surely a basic right isn't it?"

He added: "Even if the coroner says 'no', my view is the genie is out of the bottle."

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