Sunday 21 January 2018

Birmingham bomb victims' inquest is told an IRA 'mole' tipped off police

Firemen searching through debris in Birmingham after IRA bombs destroyed two packed pubs. One victim's sister has said a decision to grant an inquest review would be 'seismic' Photo: PA Wire
Firemen searching through debris in Birmingham after IRA bombs destroyed two packed pubs. One victim's sister has said a decision to grant an inquest review would be 'seismic' Photo: PA Wire
Paddy Hill of the Birmingham Six at yesterday's hearing Photo: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

Richard Vernalls

West Midlands Police may have been tipped off about the Birmingham pub bombings by an IRA 'mole' before the deadly blasts, a coroner has been told.

It was suggested to the Birmingham and Solihull coroner, Louise Hunt, who was hearing an application to resume an inquest into the deaths of the 21 victims, that there was "reason to believe it's the case".

Ashley Underwood QC, representing some of the victims' families, also said there was suspicion among relatives that West Midlands Police's investigating officers lied in order to gain the wrongful convictions of the Birmingham Six.

The Irishmen were released in 1991 after their convictions for murder had been overturned by the Court of Appeal.

The force's barrister, Jeremy Johnson QC, told Ms Hunt that the chief constable had "no principled objection to the resumption" but claimed that the coroner had no legal jurisdiction in the case.

On the night of November 21, 1974, blasts ripped through the packed city-centre pubs the Tavern In The Town and the Mulberry Bush.

The bombings, which also left 182 people injured, are widely acknowledged to have been carried out by the IRA.

Mr Underwood said it would be a question for any future inquest as to why police may have lied to gain convictions, but suggested that one such reason may be that officers wanted to cover up their informant's involvement.

He said: "These were appalling deaths and the only reason it has not been investigated, as common sense dictates, is the false convictions.

"These cry out for a proper, fearless investigation, which represents the best closure these relatives can have."

Putting forward the families' application to resume the inquest, he added: "There is reason to believe the gang of murderers had an informant in their ranks and that the police knew in advance.

"And there is reason to believe the police had sufficient time, between the telephone warnings and the first bomb going off, to evacuate - and that the emergency services could have arrived earlier - but that records were falsified."

He recounted a 2014 newspaper interview with one of the Birmingham Six, Paddy Hill, who was also present at the coroner's court in Solihull yesterday and who raised the subject of "the alleged informer".

Mr Underwood, addressing the coroner, said: "I can't say if that's true, that's for an inquest to determine.

"But if it is (true), then the police had a mole in the gang, which raises the question, did they know it was going to happen and did they lie to the (criminal) court to cover their knowledge of that and cover their mole?"

Before hearing submissions, Ms Hunt had requested that West Midlands Police provide her with a list of "lost" evidence, including an unexploded third bomb.

A separate police review of evidence in the case, ending in 2014, discovered that of the 168 original exhibits listed for the Birmingham Six trial, 35 items could not be located.

Opening the hearing, the coroner said: "This was a terrible atrocity resulting in the deaths of innocent people and serious injury to many more."

The coroner will hear submissions from lawyers representing the families and the police over the next three days but will not make her decision until later this month.

Inquests were opened and adjourned in the aftermath of the bombings, but were never resumed as a result of the Birmingham Six's convictions in August 1975.

Speaking outside court before yesterday's proceedings, Julie Hambleton - whose then 18-year-old sister Maxine was killed by the Tavern bomb - said any decision to resume a new inquest would be "seismic".

Irish Independent

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