Ministers urged to meet Birmingham pub bombings families over Troubles plans

(PA) (PA Archive)
0:01am, Wed 28 Jul 2021
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Boris Johnson’s Government is being urged to explain to the families of the Birmingham pub bombings victims why it wants to “close the book” on the case.

Julie Hambleton, whose sister Maxine was among 21 people killed in the 1974 blasts, said ministers lacked “the courage to face the families” to discuss plans to end prosecutions for violence linked to Northern Ireland’s Troubles.

A group of Birmingham MPs, along with shadow Northern Ireland secretary Louise Haigh, have written to Brandon Lewis about the “shameful” lack of a meeting with victims’ families.

Julie Hambleton, whose sister Maxine died in the 1974 attack (Jacob King/PA) (PA Archive)

The MPs, including Tory former cabinet minister and Sutton Coldfield MP Andrew Mitchell, called on the Northern Ireland Secretary to meet the families and “look them in the eye”.

Mr Lewis set out plans this month to introduce legislation to create a statute of limitations which would end all prosecutions for incidents up to April 1998 and would apply to military veterans as well as ex-paramilitaries.

The proposals, which the Prime Minister said would allow Northern Ireland to “draw a line under the Troubles”, would also end all legacy inquests and civil actions related to the conflict.

Ms Hambleton said ministers had not had the “basic common decency to discuss this with the victims’ families and survivors of the horrendous atrocities that were committed against so many across Northern Ireland, England and beyond”.

“What is it about the lives and mass deaths of our loved ones that they appear to not have the courage to face the families to discuss such abhorrent ideas with?”

The wreckage left at The Tavern in the Town pub in Birmingham (PA) (PA Archive)

In their letter to Mr Lewis, the MPs said: “It is shameful that families were not even granted the basic courtesy of a meeting to discuss plans to grant an amnesty to those who murdered their loved ones.

“It is time you urgently held a meeting with the families of those killed and injured by the appalling atrocity in Birmingham, looked them in the eye and explain why you want to close the book on their cases.

“As local Members of Parliament, we stand four-square behind the families in their long campaign, and urge you not to undermine the rule of law and with it any prospect of justice.”

Two bombs planted in the Mulberry Bush and Tavern in the Town pubs exploded on November 21 1974, killing 21 people and injuring up to 220 more.

A flawed investigation by West Midlands Police into the bombings led to the wrongful convictions of the Birmingham Six.

Brandon Lewis (Julien Behal Photography/PA) (PA Media)

Nobody has been brought to justice for the blasts despite years of campaigning led by the group Justice 4 The 21.

In 2019, an inquest found a botched IRA warning was responsible for the victims’ unlawful killings.

However, the coronial process was described as “unsatisfactory” by some of the bereaved, for not prompting criminal charges against any of the perpetrators.

The Government put forward its statute of limitations plan amid concern about prosecutions of soldiers for incidents during the Troubles, but it will also apply to terrorists.

Mr Lewis acknowledged to MPs earlier this month that “the end of criminal prosecutions will be difficult for some to accept, and this is not a position that we take lightly” but it is “the best way to help Northern Ireland move further along the road to reconciliation”.

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