Record failure


Lawyers for the relatives of the victims of the Birmingham pub bombing victims are to challenge “frankly incredulous claims” that no one – no police force, no government department, not MI5, MI6 or military intelligence, nor even the Cabinet Office – hold any relevant material relating to the 1974 IRA atrocity.


Ahead of the forthcoming inquest into the deaths of the 21 who died in the two explosions at the Mulberry Bush and The Tavern in The Town pubs, the families have been told by the coroner, Sir Peter Thornton QC, that despite searches ‘up hill and down dale’, absolutely nothing has been found within the Home Office, the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence, the West Midlands Police and the Police Service of Northern Ireland.


Although Sir Peter has already decided to exclude all evidence relating to the bombers (the Birmingham Six were wrongly jailed for 18 years before proving their innocence), the families had still expected disclosure of a wealth of other relevant material, for example, details of what contingency planning at a local and national level was on place to deal with the threat from the IRA at the time, the height of the “Troubles”.


Christopher Stanley of KRW Law, representing ten of the families told the Eye:


“If it is true that no documentation exists, it means that vital files –particularly from the Cabinet Joint Intelligence Committee – have been lost of destroyed. It also suggests that despite the ever-present threat of a terrorist bomb, no state agency or emergency service, whatsoever, produced any guidelines, policies or protocols on how to prevent, or respond to a bomb threat, or what action to take in the immediate aftermath of an explosion or the discovery of an explosive device. That simply beggars belief.”


Such material could, for example, shed light on troubling questions such as why – ahead of the blasts – police officers were sent to search empty offices in Birmingham’s Rotunda building immediately above the Mulberry Bush – but failed to evacuate the pub itself. Ten of the victims died in the pub and dozens more were seriously wounded.


The lawyers are to ask the Coroner, to use his powers to order “statements of truth”, from the heads of each department or agency, confirming that details of how, when and why material was lost of destroyed, are true. Lawyers argue that making individuals accountable to the courts, should ensure the searches have been both “scrupulous and meticulous”.


It should also prevent the kind of 11th – hour disclosure of crucial Ministry of Defence material, that was recently seen at the on-going inquest into the killing of 10 people by the Parachute regiment back in Ballymurphy, Northern Ireland, back in 1971. More importantly, it should prevent a failure to disclose evidence at all – a feature of so many miscarriages of justice.


Whether the Coroner, who has also ruled out any exploration of whether there was an undercover agent or informer, involved with the Birmingham terrorist cell, will agree to their request remains to be seen.


But Sir Peter might care to look at events in Surrey Coroner’s court, wherelast week relatives and survivors of the almost identical IRA atrocity – the bombing of two pubs in Guildford in October the same year – last week succeeded in getting the original inquest re-opened. It had been halted when the so-called Guildford Four – three young innocent men and one young innocent woman – were wrongly jailed for the killing five and injuring 65 more.


Like Sir Peter, the Surrey Coroner, Richard Travers, has also – again much to the relatives and victims dismay – decided not to explore the identity of the bombers. He said the full scope of the inquest and the extent of disclosure would be decided at a future hearing. But he was told Surrey police – unlike their Birmingham and Northern Ireland counterparts – have already unearthed some 4000 documents and are expecting to find much more.