Home Secretary mulls decision on Birmingham pub bombings inquiry

The Home Secretary is to mull a decision to hold a public inquiry into the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings, after years of campaigning by the victims’ families.

Priti Patel said she would consider establishing a statutory inquiry into the blasts, after Conservative West Midlands mayor Andy Street raised the issue with the Home Secretary at a meeting in London some weeks ago.

In April last year, an inquest jury found a botched IRA warning call led to the deaths of 21 people unlawfully killed in the atrocity on November 21 1974.

Two bombs planted in the Mulberry Bush and Tavern in the Town pubs also injured up to 220 other victims.

A flawed investigation by West Midlands Police led to the wrongful convictions of the Birmingham Six – one of the worst miscarriages of justice in British legal history.

Birmingham pub bombings
The remnants of the Mulberry Bush pub in Birmingham (PA)

Mr Street, a long-time supporter of the Justice for the 21 Campaign, said he was optimistic a final decision could follow within “months”, adding the bombings were “the biggest unsolved murder in recent British history”.

Welcoming the announcement, the mayor added: “We have been pressing, along with the families, different home secretaries to make this decision.

“I simply sat down with the current Home Secretary and said ‘Priti there is a real issue here, we need you to make this decision’.

“She’s examined it herself and she has now decided there is sufficient of a case here to look really thoroughly at the case for a public inquiry.”

He added “full credit” should go to the victims’ families for applying “consistent pressure” down the years.

Priti Patel
Home Secretary Priti Patel (Victoria Jones/PA)

Ms Patel also wanted to visit Birmingham to meet justice campaigners, including Julie Hambleton, whose sister Maxine died in the bombings, to “really hear first-hand how the pain of this still lives on”, said Mr Street.

He added: “I am sure that when she meets the families she will be even more certain that it’s the right thing to do.”

Asked about the timing of the announcement, Mr Street said the conclusion of the inquest last year meant “every other step in the chain has been exhausted”.

“The only thing that is left as an option, is a public inquiry,” he said.

He added it was also Ms Patel’s “own personal judgment” to consider a public inquiry, when previous home secretaries from both parties “have chosen not to”.

“I do believe we have to get justice, that’s the principle of British law,” Mr Street said.

“You must get justice and that has not been delivered in this case and if this is the only way of achieving it, then we must press for it.”

Birmingham pub bombings
West Midlands Mayor Andy Street and Julie Hambleton, who lost her sister Maxine Hambleton in the 1974 attack (Jacob King/PA)

In a statement, Ms Patel said: “My sympathy remains with all those affected by these awful events 46 years ago.

“And I recognise the desire of the victims’ families and the wider community to see those responsible brought to justice.

“So I would welcome the opportunity to meet some of the families so that I can take their views into account, together with official advice, before making any decision.”

In December 2019, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there was a “powerful case” for a panel-led public inquiry.

Mrs Hambleton said the announcement was “fantastic news”, adding the unsolved bombings had “left a stain on our city and will continue to do so until justice is seen to be done”.

The families have long campaigned for a full inquiry with the scope and powers to access any evidence which might help bring the real bombers to justice, and were critical of the limitations of last year’s inquest process.

She added: “We hope that the Home Secretary will follow through and allow us to have a public inquiry because if they’re able to give other public inquiries to other campaigns, particularly terrorism-related, why should we not be given the same equality?

“Otherwise you are creating a hierarchy of victims. That just isn’t democratic.”

She added: “There’s only one question which needs answering here, just one – who bombed Birmingham?

“These cowards, prepped, planned and planted bombs.

“They murdered 21 innocent people, committed attempted murder of more than 200 other innocents, who have been left with life-changing injuries.”

She added: “What also needs to be asked is why were six men convicted of a crime they didn’t commit?”

Belfast-based lawyers KRW Law, who represented many of the victims’ families at the inquest, said they believed an inquiry “would be the most effective method of investigating the bombings”.

West Midlands Police’s investigation into the bombings remains active, with the Labour police and crime commissioner David Jamieson saying the force was “fully committed” to catching the culprits.

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