Tuesday 21 May 2019

Birmingham pub bombs victims remembered as inquests begin

‘Terrible events’: A fireman and rescue workers carry a barefooted body away from the scene of one of the Birmingham pub bombings in 1974. Picture: PA
‘Terrible events’: A fireman and rescue workers carry a barefooted body away from the scene of one of the Birmingham pub bombings in 1974. Picture: PA

Richard Vernalls

The long-awaited inquests into the deaths of 21 people in the 1974 IRA Birmingham pub bombings have begun with a minute's silence for the victims.

Coroner Peter Thornton told jurors they would hear evidence of how the two bomb blasts ripped apart two pubs on what was a "perfectly ordinary evening" in Birmingham.

He told them there would be evidence alleging British security forces may have had some forewarning about the attacks, widely thought to have been carried out by the Provisional IRA, including an "over-heard" conversation which took place in prison two weeks before the bombings.

Mr Thornton, continuing his opening statement, added that the inquests would not deal with the issue of who planted the bombs, adding that was a "task of police, prosecutors and the criminal courts".

He added that although a single hearing, lasting up to six weeks, the inquests would deal with "21 separate people, 21 separate lives lost from two terrible events".

As well as those killed, 220 were injured in the blasts which were carried out at the height of an IRA bombing campaign in the West Midlands in England, the jury was told.

A third bomb, jurors heard, was planted near the Barclays Bank on the Hagley Road but failed to properly detonate that night.

The coroner said that there had been "over 50" incidents involving bombs and incendiaries "in and around Birmingham" in 1973 and 1974, but that after the pub blasts "the campaign in the West Midlands stopped".

He told the six women and five men of the jury it would be a matter for them whether the IRA called off its Midlands campaign because of the "outrage of civilian deaths on this scale" or "some other reason".

Mr Thornton said: "This is something that the city of Birmingham has suffered now for many years.

"While the inquests will inevitably focus on those who died we must also remember many other lives were and continue to be affected."

Jurors, sitting at Birmingham Civil Justice Centre, were told they would hear evidence from only a few eyewitnesses of those there on the evening, because some were "no longer alive".

He added: "They will be doing their best to recollect events accurately, but we all know memory will sometimes have gaps.

"Recollection may sometimes be distorted or inaccurate, it may be correct."

He said "nobody has been successfully prosecuted for the attack", and that the only men ever to stand trial, the Birmingham Six, were freed on appeal in 1991.

He also said: "Nobody is on trial here, an inquest does not decide matters of criminal or civil liability, and this is not a question of attributing blame to any individuals."

Hearings will continue today and tomorrow with pen portraits of each of the victims, while on Thursday, the jurors will be taken to the former sites of the pubs - both long since gone.

Irish Independent

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