‘IRA man’ may be questioned over Birmingham pub bombings

File photo dated 22/11/74 of the exterior of the Mulberry Bush pub in Birmingham after a bomb exploded. Campaigners for the victims of the Birmingham pub bombings will look to overturn a ruling banning the identification of suspects at their renewed inquests. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Wednesday December 6, 2017. A hearing on Wednesday for an application to widen the scope of the inquest comes after a mammoth legal campaign. See PA story INQUEST Birmingham. Photo credit should read: PA/PA Wire
File photo dated 22/11/74 of the exterior of the Mulberry Bush pub in Birmingham after a bomb exploded. Campaigners for the victims of the Birmingham pub bombings will look to overturn a ruling banning the identification of suspects at their renewed inquests. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Wednesday December 6, 2017. A hearing on Wednesday for an application to widen the scope of the inquest comes after a mammoth legal campaign. See PA story INQUEST Birmingham. Photo credit should read: PA/PA Wire

Self-confessed IRA man Michael Hayes could be questioned in connection with the Birmingham pub bombings, High Court judges have heard.

Two senior judges were also told Dublin-based Hayes may separately be spoken to by lawyers acting for the coroner in the currently suspended inquests into the deaths of the 21 victims.

Hayes previously told a BBC interview he took “collective responsibility” for the organisation’s activities in England, including the pub bombings.

He also claimed to have defused a third bomb placed outside Barclays Bank on the city’s Hagley Road, when the scale of the bloodshed on the night of November 21 1974, became clear.

Speaking in July, when asked if he had planted either bomb in the Tavern in the Town or the Mulberry Bush, he replied: “No comment. No comment.”

Hayes had also made remarks about the explosives’ timers and the telephone warning given prior to the blasts, Lord Justice Simon and Mrs Justice Carr were told on Thursday.

Late last month, West Midlands Police secured a court order to obtain un-broadcast material from the BBC interview as part of the continuing criminal investigation.

Ten of the victims’ families were at the High Court in Birmingham on Thursday, in a legal bid to overturn coroner Sir Peter Thornton QC’s ruling banning the identification of suspects at fresh inquests.

The relatives are asking for a judicial review of that decision, in order to widen the inquests’ scope and include “the perpetrator issue”.

Progress on the hearings is currently suspended, pending a legal ruling on the issue.

In submissions for the coroner opposing the families’ application, his barrister Peter Skelton QC said it was an important distinction in law that coronial and criminal processes were entirely separate.

In court, Mr Skelton said the criminal process was continuing, and raised Hayes as an example of the police’s on-going work.

Mr Skelton said: “The West Midlands Police must go about their own function and the coroner will not seek to in any way compromise that.”

He added: “It is conceivable that if there was a criminal lead during the coroner’s hearing the inquest would again be suspended.

“A person could be charged and prosecuted during those proceedings.

“For example, Michael Hayes.

“That is a possibility and it will will remain a possibility throughout the inquest.”

Lord Justice Simon asked what the aim of the coroner would be in viewing the un-broadcast BBC footage, given the perpetrator issue had so far been ruled out of the inquests’ scope.

Mr Skelton said: “No, the coroner isn’t investigating whether Mr Hayes perpetrated the attacks, but whether the IRA perpetrated the attacks.

“It may be Mr Hayes is interviewed in due course by the coroner’s legal team in order to further those issues.”

After two days of legal submissions, Lord Justice Simon told the hearing judgment would be reserved until the new year.

He said: “This may seem to some to have been rather dry legal analysis.

“But we have not overlooked the background and concerns of those in court over these issues.

“We will however reserve our judgment.

“I don’t think there’s any serious possibility of a judgment being made before the new year.”