Birmingham bomb victim’s sister asks: Is ex-IRA man being protected?

Julie and Brian Hambleton, whose sister Maxine Hambleton was aged just 18 when she was killed in the Birmingham pub bombings
Julie and Brian Hambleton, whose sister Maxine Hambleton was aged just 18 when she was killed in the Birmingham pub bombings

The sister of a young woman killed in the Birmingham pub bombings has asked whether a self-confessed IRA man who said he accepts ‘collective responsibility’ for the massacre is being protected.

Julie Hambleton, whose sister Maxine was killed in the bombings, asked why Michael Christopher Hayes has not yet been interviewed by police over his role in the atrocity.

She had been speaking after Mr Hayes, a 69-year-old who lives in Dublin, said in a BBC interview that he accepted “collective responsibility” for the bombings. Mr Hayes, who refused to name those who planted the bomb, offered an apology to the families of those killed.He said he was speaking to give the “point of view of a participant”.

Mr Hayes also said the bombs had not been intended to kill people, a view dismissed along with his apology by Ms Hambleton.

The Birmingham pub bombings occurred on November 21 1974. The IRA planted two bombs which ripped through the Tavern in the Town and nearby Mulberry Bush pubs, killing 21 and injuring 182 others.

Mr Hayes repeatedly refused to comment when asked if he had any direct involvement in the attacks.

Julie Hambleton, speaking to the News Letter, said he should be arrested and interviewed by police – a view echoed by politicians from a range of political parties in NI.

She said: “How is it possible someone who has just openly admitted collective responsibility for all the crimes that were comitted on British soil in the 1970s and the early 1980s that he has not been arrested? How is it possible that this man is still at his liberty?”

Ms Hambleton said she believes Mr Hayes may be in receipt of a so-called ‘on-the-run’ letter. The letters, which became public knowledge when the 2014 trial of convicted IRA man John Downey for the Hyde Park bombings collapsed, were issued to IRA men suspected of committing various crimes.

Ms Hambleton said: “I think he is being protected and, it could be argued, he is being protected by the British establishment. Tony Blair, remember, did his secret dirty deals to write out these on-the-run letters. Maybe he is holding one of them and he is being protected.”

Regarding Mr Hayes’ apology, Ms Hambleton said: “He didn’t say anything we didn’t already know. He hasn’t told us anything. He spoke in riddles. He’s nothing but a coward, short and simple. He says ‘we didn’t mean to hurt anybody’. Why plant bombs in two pubs that were full of young people?”

Ms Hambleton posed some difficult questions for those who have continued to withhold information about the bombings.

“Have any of those lost a father or a mother, a brother or a sister, a son or a daughter,” she asked. “Have they had to go in and ID them and you can’t because their hair is melted onto their face? We know what killed our sister because we’ve seen the post-mortem report. You know what killed our sister, beside the fact that her hair had melted into her face? The bomb blast was so powerful it literally blew apart her whole back.”

When the News Letter asked the NIO whether Mr Hayes has received an on-the-run letter, a spokesperson said: “The UK government does not comment on individual cases. The government made clear in September 2014 that the OTR scheme was at an end, and that there was no basis for any reliance on letters received by so-called on the runs under the scheme.”