Birmingham pub bomb killers won’t be investigated by inquest, court rules

The sister of a young woman killed in the Birmingham pub bombings has expressed her disappointment that the inquest will not seek to establish who was responsible.

Julie Hambleton said a Court of Appeal ruling on Wednesday – that a coroner’s decision to exclude the “perpetrator” issue from his proceedings was correct in law – felt like a “punch in the stomach” for the families.

Julie Hambleton and other Birmingham pub bombing campaigners pictured at the launch of a recent fundraising drive

Julie Hambleton and other Birmingham pub bombing campaigners pictured at the launch of a recent fundraising drive

The bombing of two city centre pubs in 1974, widely believed to be the work of the IRA, killed 21 people.

Last year a group representing a number of bereaved relatives sought a judicial review of Sir Peter Thornton QC’s original decision not to investigate the identity of the perpetrators.

As a result, in January this year, the High Court quashed Sir Peter’s ruling and ordered him to reconsider that decision.

However, on Wednesday the Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett, Lady Justice Hallett and Lord Justice McCombe allowed the coroner’s appeal.

Firemen at work following the 1974 bomb attacks in Birmingham city centre that targeted the Mulberry Bush pub and the Tavern in the Town. PA/PA Wire

Firemen at work following the 1974 bomb attacks in Birmingham city centre that targeted the Mulberry Bush pub and the Tavern in the Town. PA/PA Wire

Lord Burnett, announcing the Court of Appeal’s decision, said the coroner had made “no error of law” and his decision “is not open to legal objection”.

He added: “We allow the appeal and restore the original decision.”

Members of Justice4the21 group have said they are now seeking legal advice with a view to an appeal.

Speaking near a memorial to the victims in the grounds of Birmingham’s Anglican Cathedral Julie Hambleton, whose sister Maxine was 18 when she was killed in the bombings, told reporters: “Without the perpetrator issue being a part of the scope (of the inquest) how can you ever possibly finish the jigsaw? You have got a major part of it missing.

“We feel as though we’ve been punched in the stomach again. What we do, we do for 21 people who aren’t here to do it for themselves. They don’t have a voice, they don’t have a physical presence, but we do so we are their voice.”

Mrs Hambleton added: “We are clearly very disappointed and we feel rejected but we will continue to fight for truth, justice and accountability.

“We will take stock, speak to our legal team and get their assessment of the decision - and then either decide appeal or just to continue on with the inquest process.

“We are continually traumatised every single time we have to do interviews and go to court, but we will dust ourselves down and continue to fight.”

Six men, the Birmingham Six, were imprisoned for the murders and served 17 years behind bars before their convictions were quashed.

During the appeal proceedings before the three judges, lawyers for the coroner said the hearings will not resolve the “enduring injustice” for victims and their families.

Peter Skelton QC, representing the coroner, said the victims, their families and the public interest “cannot be served” by a promised resolution that “cannot be delivered”.

Hugh Southey QC, representing the families, told the appeal judges: “There is the utmost public interest in the proper investigation of who was responsible for the Birmingham bombings.

“The families of the deceased said to the appellant (Sir Peter) that the investigation of this issue was so important to them that if it did not form part of the scope of the inquest ‘we may as well not have an inquest at all’.”