Birmingham pub bombings: What we know

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Firefighters search through the wreckage after a bomb went off in BirminghamImage source, PA
Image caption,
Ten of the people who died had been at the Mulberry Bush pub in the city

More than 40 years ago 21 people were killed by bombs in two Birmingham pubs. No-one has been brought to justice for the murders, although members of the IRA are believed to have been responsible. BBC News looks at what we know about the killings.

What were the Birmingham pub bombings?

On the evening of 21 November 1974, hundreds of people, many who were young and out with friends, family and work colleagues, chatted in two busy Birmingham city centre pubs.

Meanwhile, a man telephoned the Birmingham Post and Mail to warn two bombs had been planted in the city centre.

Officers in Birmingham, which had seen a spate of IRA bombings during the mainland campaign, rushed to the scene, but were too late.

At 20:17 GMT a bomb exploded in a duffel bag in the Mulberry Bush pub in the Rotunda building, killing 10 people.

Minutes later a second bomb went off in the Tavern in the Town leaving 11 more dead.

A total of 220 people were also injured in what was, at the time, the worst terrorist atrocity on English soil.

Who were the victims?

Image caption,
Twenty-one people died when two bombs were detonated in Birmingham in 1974

The 21 people killed - seven women and 14 men - were aged between 16 and 51. Thirteen of the victims were under 30, including five in their teens.

Over the decades stories have emerged of those who died and some of the people seriously injured have spoken of their experience and the lasting effect it had on them.

Julie Hambleton, who has led calls for a public inquiry into the attacks, recalled how her "world fell apart" aged 11 when her 18-year-old sister Maxine, who was "like another mother", was killed while handing out party invitations.

Who carried out the bombings?

Six men were wrongly convicted but finally released in 1991.

During the near 17 years they spent behind bars "the Birmingham Six" became a cause célèbre as one of the worst miscarriages of justice seen in Britain.

The IRA is believed to have carried out the bombings, although no-one has ever admitted responsibility.

However, in 2017 self-confessed IRA bomb maker Michael Hayes said he had been part of the group responsible.

West Midlands Police began re-investigating the case in 1991 and officers generated 5,000 documents, statements and reports.

But in 1994, it said there was insufficient evidence for any prosecutions.

Although the force says the investigation into the bombings remains active, no arrests have been made.

Why were the inquests halted?

Image source, West midlands Police
Image caption,
Paddy Hill, Gerry Hunter, Johnny Walker, Hugh Callaghan, Richard McIlkenny and Billy Power were wrongly convicted of the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings

Inquests were opened and adjourned days after the attack but because the case was subject to a criminal investigation - which resulted in the conviction of the Birmingham Six - they were never resumed.

Even though the convictions were quashed in 1991, the inquests have remained on hold.

Media caption,

Julie Hambleton talks about her sister, Maxine, who died in the 1974 bombings

Why have the inquests resumed now?

The move follows a campaign by the Justice 4 the 21 campaign group, led by family members of victims of the bombings.

In June 2016, Louise Hunt, senior coroner for Birmingham and Solihull, said the inquests would be reopened and there was a "wealth of evidence that still has not been heard" about the atrocities.

Ms Hunt reviewed a huge body of police evidence and heard submissions from the victims' relatives and other interested parties.

This could be the last chance in their lifetimes for campaigners to have evidence heard in public which was not available in 1974.

Julie Hambleton said: "All we want is one thing - justice. No more, no less. We don't want money, we don't want an apology. All we want is justice."

Before giving her decision on resuming the inquests, Ms Hunt had wanted to hear from "interested persons" to help her decide.

Justice 4 the 21 urged other relatives and "those who want to know the truth" to contact the coroner.

What is happening now?

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The second of the two bombs exploded at the Tavern In The Town, in New Street

The resumed inquests are taking place at Birmingham Civil Justice Centre and the coroner is sitting with a jury.

Families of the victims had campaigned for suspects in the bombings to be named.

Relatives had argued the hearings could not take place without naming suspects, while their lawyers said discussing potential perpetrators "is central to the case".

However, in July 2017 coroner Sir Peter Thornton QC decided the names of the alleged bombers would not be part of the framework of the hearings.

Sir Peter said "the perpetrator issue is not within scope".

Image source, PA
Image caption,
Coroner Sir Peter Thornton QC ruled the names of the alleged bombers would not be part of the framework of the hearings

He also ruled out the reactions of the emergency services on the night of the bombings forming any part of the evidence, despite relatives asking for it be included.

But Mr Thornton said evidence could be heard on the issue police may have been tipped off twice about the possibility of a bomb attack in the run up to the blasts.

Amendment 14 March 2019: This story has been updated to reflect the most recent information that 220 people were injured in the blasts.

Correction 31 January 2018: This report has been updated to remove an incorrect reference to an embargo on files relating to an inquiry into the West Midlands Police investigation preventing their release.

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