On 5th April 2019, the jury returned its determination in the Birmingham Inquests 1974, which concerned the deaths of 21 people in the Birmingham Pub Bombings on 21 November 1974.
The jury concluded that the 21 were murdered, that the bombs were planted by the IRA, and that the inadequacies of a warning call made by an IRA member contributed to the deaths. The first bomb exploded only seven minutes after the call was received by a telephonist at a local newspaper. The call gave imprecise locations for the bombs, and did not mention the pubs in which they had been placed.
The jury also found, on the evidence presented, that the deaths were not caused or contributed to by errors or omissions of the West Midlands Police.
It had been suggested that lives could have been saved if the police had done more to respond to the warning call, or if they had taken investigative steps following information allegedly received prior to the bombings. The jury found in both instances that no such errors or omissions had caused or contributed to the deaths.
Peter Skelton QC led the Counsel to the Inquests team, which comprised Matthew Hill, Gideon Barth and Emma-Louise Fenelon. They were instructed by Tim Suter of Fieldfisher. The Coroner was His Honour Sir Peter Thornton QC, the former Chief Coroner.
The Inquests lasted six weeks. Two IRA members were called to give evidence, including the Director of Intelligence of the IRA at the time of the bombings. The journalist and former MP, Chris Mullin, gave evidence about his interviews with other IRA members who were said to have been involved in the bombings. Mr Mullin’s work led to the release of the Birmingham Six, who had been unsafely convicted of the bombings in 1975 and who spent 16 years in prison as a consequence. Other witnesses included police officers who responded to the warning call, people who had been in the pubs at the time of the explosions, and doctors and members of the emergency services who were on duty that evening. Expert witnesses included specialists in bomb blasts and bomb injuries, a pathologist, an historian, and a sociologist who has researched terrorist warning calls during the Troubles.
The Inquests also heard moving evidence about the deceased from their family members.
The Inquests were renewed in 2016 following a successful campaign by some of the families. However, the Coroner ruled at an early stage that they would not seek to identify which individuals were responsible for the bombings, that being a matter for the criminal courts. This led to a judicial review and an appeal to the Court of Appeal, which held that the Coroner’s ruling was correct (here).
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