Monday 20 May 2019

Birmingham pub bombings: Botched IRA warning call caused or contributed to 21 deaths, inquest hears

File photo of the wreckage left at the Mulberry Bush pub in Birmingham after a bomb exploded. Photo: PA
File photo of the wreckage left at the Mulberry Bush pub in Birmingham after a bomb exploded. Photo: PA
File photo dated 22/11/74 of the outside of the Mulberry Bush public house and surrounding buildings in Birmingham the day after the bombings. Photo: PA/PA Wire
The Birmingham pub bombs killed 21 people in 1974
‘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

Matthew Cooper

A BOTCHED warning call by the IRA caused or contributed to the deaths of 21 people killed in the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings, an inquest jury at the city's civil court has concluded.

Two massive detonations caused what one witness described as "pure carnage", ripping apart the packed Mulberry Bush and Tavern in the Town pubs on the night of November 21, killing 21 and injuring 220 more.

The 11-member jury panel, which sat for almost six weeks and deliberated for almost five hours, unanimously determined that an inadequate warning call by the Provisional IRA, which carried out the attacks, cost the stretched police vital minutes.

They also found there were no failings, errors or omissions by West Midlands Police's response to the bomb warning call, and further concluded there was no tip-off to the force, giving advanced warning the blasts were going to happen.

The six female and five male jurors concluded all the victims were unlawfully killed, following a direction from coroner Sir Peter Thornton QC.

An ex-MP who has refused to name living suspects accused of involvement in the Birmingham pub bombings faced anger from bereaved relatives campaigning for justice for their loved ones.

Chris Mullin was branded a "disgrace to the human race" as he was confronted outside the fresh inquests into the IRA bombings - and was told he had "done nothing" for the 21 people killed in November 1974.

The 71-year-old - whose research into the atrocities helped free six wrongly-convicted men - was shielded by security guards as he left the inquests on March 27.

Amid scenes which could not be reported until the conclusion of the inquests due to potential prejudice to the jury, the former Labour MP for Sunderland South appeared shaken by shouts of "scum" and "disgrace".

Video footage of the incident shows a security guard losing his footing as he tries to usher Mr Mullin away.

Justice campaigners Julie, Jayne and Brian Hambleton - whose teenage sister Maxine died in the blasts on November 21 1974 - were among those who demanded answers from Mr Mullin, who was wheeling a suitcase.

After filming Mr Mullin on her mobile phone, Julie Hambleton asked him: "How do you sleep at night? You did all that for the Birmingham Six and you've done nothing for 21 victims who were slaughtered in cold blood."

Mr Mullin, who appeared to make no comment to the relatives, told the inquests he had interviewed around 17 people involved in planting dozens of IRA devices in the West Midlands prior to the pub bombings.

During his testimony, Mr Mullin was asked to comment on a 1990 book he wrote about the wrongful conviction of the Birmingham Six, entitled Error Of Judgement.

Barrister Leslie Thomas QC, representing nine of the bereaved families, asked whether he was right in thinking that Mr Mullin had reached an agreement with the IRA and those who carried out the bombings that he would not reveal their identities while they were alive.

Mr Mullin answered: "That's right, yes. I should say that I interviewed about 16 or 17 of the people who had been planting bombs in and around Birmingham.

"And many of those were in prison at the time, and that did not require any liaison with Sinn Fein or the IRA.

"My primary interest was in rescuing these six other innocent victims of the pub bombings. I was never under the illusion at any stage that I could bring the perpetrators to justice.

"The only way to establish beyond doubt that the six people in jail were not responsible was to find out who was responsible and to persuade them to describe in sufficient detail what they had done so that it would not be possible for anyone to carry on pretending, as some were at the time, that the right people were in jail."

Suggesting that the identity of the pub bombers was now "becoming public knowledge" in any case, Mr Mullin added: "I was never under the illusion that I could bring the perpetrators to justice.

"That was a job for the police, had they been interested.

"I would say that I volunteered an understanding that I was not interested in naming the names but what I wanted was to hear from the people who I believed did actually carry out the bombings."

Mr Mullin conceded that he had steadfastly refused to name those responsible for the bombings, including the so-called "young planter" who helped another man carry the devices into Birmingham.

Asked if the "young planter" had been masked when he interviewed him in Ireland, Mr Mullin said: "No. He had about 15 minutes' notice of my appearance on his doorstep."

The inquest heard details of the account given by the "young planter" contained in the book, in which he said someone had told him he was "needed for an operation" and had taken him to a house.

According to the man's account to Mr Mullin, the bombs were "in the parlour behind the sofa" - one in a duffel bag and another in a luggage case.

The man claims he was then handed a gun and walked "a good mile" into the city centre to plant the devices, with the other man stopping to prime them near some shops.

The inquest heard that the "young planter" told Mr Mullin he was assured there would be plenty of warning - adding "if they had said 'we are going to kill people' there is no way I would have gone".

More to follow...

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