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Botched IRA warning call led to 21 Birmingham pub bombing deaths

Sky News logo Sky News 05/04/2019 Becky Johnson, news correspondent

a group of people posing for the camera: A total of 21 people were killed in the Birmingham pub bombings of 1974 © Other A total of 21 people were killed in the Birmingham pub bombings of 1974 A botched warning call by the IRA caused or contributed to the deaths of 21 people killed in the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings, an inquest jury has concluded.

Two bombs exploded in the Tavern in the Town and the Mulberry Bush pub in the city centre on 21 November 1974, with more than 200 people left injured.

Nobody has ever successfully been brought to justice for the attack.

Inquests were opened in the days after, but were adjourned due to the ongoing criminal investigation. The families of those killed have campaigned for many years for fresh inquests into their deaths.

Paul Bridgewater and Michelle Sealey's father, Paul Anthony Davies, was among those killed. They have no memories of him. Michelle was a baby when he died and Paul had not yet been born.

They have fought to find out the truth about what happened that night.

Mr Bridgewater said: "There's loads of things that I've heard about him that I'd have had in common with him so we could have had a father-son bond. It makes me angry, but sad as well."

a man standing in front of a store: The Tavern in the Town pub was targeted in the bomb attack © PA The Tavern in the Town pub was targeted in the bomb attack

The attacks happened at the height of a campaign of IRA bombings in the West Midlands.

The inquests heard from a former IRA intelligence chief that it was an attack that had gone wrong and civilians had been killed by accident.

Coroner Sir Peter Thornton had ruled that the perpetrators would not be named, but - giving evidence under condition of anonymity - a convicted IRA bomber said he had been given permission by the current head of the IRA in Dublin to tell the inquests who did it.

a group of people standing in front of a building: Firemen searching through rubble in one of the pubs bombed in 1974 © PA Firemen searching through rubble in one of the pubs bombed in 1974

The man, known as Witness O, told the inquest that Seamus McLoughlin, Mick Murray, James Gavin and Michael Hayes were all involved.

McLoughlin was commanding officer of the IRA in Birmingham and would have selected the targets, Witness O said.

McLoughlin, Murray and Gavin have all since died, but Hayes is still alive and has previously apologised for the loss of innocent lives.

a person wearing a red shirt: Julie Hambleton's sister was killed in the attack © Other Julie Hambleton's sister was killed in the attack

After naming Hayes, Witness O told the inquests, in an apparent reference to the Good Friday Agreement: "He can't be arrested. There is nobody going to be charged with this atrocity.

"The British government have signed an agreement with the IRA."

Julie Hambleton, whose sister Maxine was among the victims, said the end of these inquests marks just the start of her fight for justice.

She said: "What kind of a society are we going to leave behind where we allow mass murderers to continue to have their liberty, come to any of our cities, kill with impunity without any fear of retribution?"

a person with collar shirt: Julie Hambleton's sister Maxine © Other Julie Hambleton's sister Maxine

Six men were arrested in the immediate aftermath of the bombings. Paddy Smith was among the group who became known as the Birmingham Six. They were convicted and jailed.

Eventually, their conviction was overturned and they were released after serving nearly 17 years in prison for a crime they did not commit.

Mr Smith told Sky News he is still very angry with the authorities.

"There have been too many lies and cover ups over the last 40-odd years," he said.

"And they have too many questions to answer. For instance, one of the questions I would like them to answer is why the hell they had three of the men in 1974, the week after the bombings. They let them go.

"Why did they let them go? Why have they never asked them to be extradited back to the UK? Because they know if they did anything, there's going to be a hell of a lot of questions to answer about us six."

West Midlands Police has previously told Sky News: "The pub bombing investigation has never closed. Our approach is where new facts come to light, they are scrutinised to see if people can be brought to justice.

"The force will never lose sight of the tragic fact that 21 people lost their lives in the atrocities that took place in Birmingham in 1974."

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