Birmingham pub bombings campaigner Julie Hambleton has described as “tasteless” a police decision to fine her £200 for an alleged Covid breach after taking part in an anniversary convoy to mark the blasts.
Miss Hambleton said she and five others who took part had been issued with a fixed penalty notice just before Christmas, after joining the motorcade through Birmingham, on November 21 last year.
The notice reads that Miss Hambleton contravened a rule “to not participate in a gathering of more than two people” outside West Midlands Police’s city headquarters at Lloyd House, where the convoy broke up.
Miss Hambleton, whose sister Maxine was among 21 people killed by IRA bombers in 1974, denied any wrong-doing, adding: “I am not paying the fine.”
“It’s disgusting and tasteless,” added Miss Hambleton, who leads the Justice 4 the 21 (J421) group, which campaigns for the Birmingham bombers to be brought to justice.
The force said it had issued notices to a number of people for an alleged breach in Colmore Circus, Birmingham, “following a review” of the circumstances.
While Miss Hambleton did get out of her vehicle outside Lloyd House, she said it was only to briefly thank people and wish them well for their journeys home – and she said she remained socially distanced.
She added that nobody from the force came out to warn those outside, and that the convoy of more than 500 people had complied with an earlier police request not to gather by a campaign mural in Bromsgrove Street.
Miss Hambleton said that victims’ families and supporters had also respected the rules by cancelling the annual vigils at the city’s St Philip’s Cathedral and the Birmingham Irish Association memorial at New Street train station.
The first she heard of the fine was when police arrived at her door on December 20 with the notice, she added.
“They rolled up and cautioned me at my door, and said we’re here to hand you a summons and that I’d been fined for contravention of the Covid regulations,” she said.
On the night of November 21 1974, at the height of an IRA bombing campaign in England, two deadly devices detonated in the packed Tavern in the Town and Mulberry Bush.
The blasts also injured more than 200 people.
The Birmingham Six were convicted of involvement but their convictions later quashed by the Court of Appeal after a botched investigation by West Midlands Police led to one of the worst miscarriages in British legal history.
Nobody has ever been held to account for the killings, although the force did arrest and release a man from Belfast in connection with the bombings, last year.
Miss Hambleton has campaigned for justice on behalf of the victims and been critical in the past of the force’s handling of the investigation to track down those responsible for the pub bombings.
She said the decision to fine her and the campaign’s supporters was “crass”.
“It epitomises the sheer contempt for us that we feel senior management at West Midlands Police have for the victims’ families,” she said.
“If I pay the fine, it would be like stamping on Maxine’s memory and the memories of all those who died.”
Miss Hambleton said: “The convoy was not disruptive and we worked with the police to make sure it wasn’t, and complied with Covid rules.
“We cancelled the other events out of respect for those who have lost their lives and loved ones to Covid.
“We know what it is to lose people and we would never do anything to put people at risk.”
The Belfast-based law firm KRW Law, representing Miss Hambleton, said a written request to the force’s chief constable Sir David Thompson to annul the fines had been rejected.
The firm said: “Those we represent who have received these penalty notices question the efficacy of the actions of the West Midlands Police in relation to the sensitivities around the pub bombings whilst respecting the need to protect the public health of the community at this time of pandemic.”
In a statement, the force said: “A number of fixed penalty notices have been issued following a gathering outside West Midlands Police headquarters on November 21.
“Following a review, the people present were found to be in breach of regulation nine of coronavirus legislation.
“This relates to gatherings of more than two people in a public place.”
Meanwhile, Miss Hambleton said a scheduled meeting between the J421 families and Home Secretary Priti Patel to discuss their justice campaign had been “postponed” until after lockdown.