PUB BOMBING FREEDOM OF INFORMATION APPEAL DISMISSED
KRW LAW LLP (KRW) is instructed by ten families who are relatives of those victims killed in The Birmingham Pub Bombings 1974.
On 15 November 2017 Christopher Stanley, Litigation Consultant, KRW made a request to the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) for a file held by the National Archives. This file was described in the catalogue as “Provisional IRA intentions and activities in Great Britain 1975 Jan 01 – 1975 Dec 31”.
Our interest in this file was generated by assurances given by the British government to the Coroner to the Birmingham Pub Bombing 1974 inquest that there was no material held in relation to the events of 21 November in which 21 innocent civilians were killed. The inquest concluded in 2019.
Even though the material in this file was collated in 1975 we considered access to it might have been significant in the government’s response to the bombing and the monitoring of the IRA in Great Britain.
On 24 February 2021, the Information Rights Tribunal reject Christopher Stanley’s appeal against the refusal of NIO to disclose the file save for a number of pages.
At the appeal hearing in February 2020 evidence was heard from Julie Hambleton, whose sister Maxine was killed in the pub bombings and Professor Mark McGovern, Edge Hill University, an expert on the Conflict in Northern Ireland in support of Mr Stanley’s application and from senior civil servant Mark Lamour of NIO. Much of the hearing was closed.
The Tribunal concluded that there continues to be a threat to National Security in Northern Ireland from dissident Republicans and that that threat is continuous from 1975. Further, the Tribunal noted that the file held by NIO relates to Great Britain, technically out-with the jurisdiction of the data-holder. The Tribunal concluded that our argument that historic information would contribute to the out-workings of the truth and reconciliation process was unlikely because the file covered Great Britain.
The dismissal of this appeal is open to further appeal. However, the prospects of success of appeal are low given the reasoning of the Tribunal.
KRW would contest the reasoning of the Tribunal particularly in its assessment of the link between terrorist activity in 1975 and the contemporary dissident. Republican threat, which Professor McGovern clearly analysed in favour of disclosure. Further, we would contest the interpretation of the truth and reconciliation processes provided by the Tribunal and we will continue to stress the importance of information held by the government being released to the public to assist in greater understanding of the Legacy of the Conflict.
Barry O’Donnell, Associate Solicitor, KRW said:
“KRW will continue to make FOIA requests and exercise information rights on behalf of those we represent. Further, in our civil litigation in relation to the Legacy of the Conflict, we shall continue to seek relevant material by way of discovery and disclosure. We will continue to argue that National Security cannot continue to use to suppress information which would benefit relatives of victims and survivors of the Conflict in Northern Ireland. If National Security means anything it must mean protecting democracy and the Rule of Law the foundations of which are transparency and accountability.”