Birmingham pub bomb bereaved meeting Sinn Fein with ‘blank sheet’

Julie Hambleton, whose sister Maxine died in the Birmingham pub bombings, with her mother Margaret Hambleton (Brian Lawless/PA) Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

The sister of a young woman killed in Birmingham by a bomb planted by the IRA said she is going into a meeting with Sinn Fein with a “blank sheet”.

Julie Hambleton, whose teenage sister Maxine died in the atrocity, is among a number of families of the 21 people killed in the 1974 blasts who will meet senior figures in Sinn Fein and the DUP.

The families are currently raising money to defend against an appeal by a coroner against a High Court ruling to name the suspects over the Birmingham pub bombings in new inquests.

The families raised £40,000 to pay for the judicial review after they were refused legal aid by the Ministry of Justice, who said the bid did not meet strict criteria.

They have fought for years to have the inquests reopened.

Hearings were held days after the bombings, but closed without hearing any evidence.

No-one has been charged with the attacks since six men wrongfully convicted of carrying out the bombings were freed from prison in 1991.

On Wednesday afternoon, the families will have separate meetings with DUP leader Arlene Foster and Sinn Fein’s Northern Ireland leader Michelle O’Neill.

Ahead of the meeting with Sinn Fein, who have been historically linked with the IRA, who carried out the bombings, Ms Hambleton said she wants to start with a blank sheet.

“We don’t come with a script, we are not politicians. Whenever we go into a meeting we go in with a blank sheet. We start from a blank slate and hope to try and fill out that sheet,” she said.

“I think that there are times when you have to put aside certain concerns and this is that time.

Paul Bodman, whose father Stanley was killed in the Birmingham pub bombs Credit: Brian Lawless/PA

“We have struggled, we are continually grieving, continually being re-traumatised, but today is a significant day for us and a day when we hope we can move forward.

“Our thoughts are actually quite positive. We feel fortunate that both ladies have agreed to meet with us – at relatively short notice, I might add.

“This is something that we thought it was time to do because we are non-political. We have no political affiliations but we have always fought for and sought cross-party support which we do have on the mainland.”

She said the families had decided a meeting “would be a great idea, and asked them (the two parties) if they would agree to meet with us to hear about our trauma and the gravity of what we are having to go through”.

Ms Hambleton said her family wants justice Credit: Brian Lawless/PA

Ms Hambleton said all the families have different wishes, but hers would “like to see justice done”.

Five of the 21 families have travelled to Northern Ireland, some for the first time.

Paul Bodkin, whose father Stanley was killed in the blasts, said they want to raise the profile of their Justice For The 21 campaign.

“It’s been 43 years, and we are still no further forward, we still don’t know who killed them,” he said.

“They arrested and put away six innocent people and aren’t looking for anyone else. It’s really quite worrying.

“I am probably more traumatised now than I was then because it’s been 43 years, I am getting on, I am 65 now and I still don’t know the answers to what happened to my father and why.

“There are no answers from anyone. It just feels like a cover-up all the time.”

Speaking after the meeting with the DUP, Ms Hambleton described it as having been positive.

“It was a very positive meeting. She took on board our concerns and she is going to take those forward to the authorities in question on our behalf for which we are very grateful,” she said.

“We are hoping the meeting with Sinn Fein will be a positive meeting, like the one with Arlene Foster has just been.

“We can only hope and pray that we can continue forward, move out of the tunnel of dark into the light. That’s why we are here today.”

DUP leader Arlene Foster said she had committed to following up on the issues which the families raised with her.

“It was a privilege to meet with the families today and to support their quest for truth, justice and accountability. It was particularly poignant that our meeting started by remembering each of the 21 people who were murdered on that night in 1974,” she said.

“Those who planted the bombs in Birmingham are responsible for taking the lives of 21 innocent people and the families deserve support in their drive for full justice. The families are pursuing a number of avenues in their campaign and they were assured of the DUP’s support in those efforts.

“We have committed to following up on the issues raised during today’s meeting with the families in the future and I look forward to that ongoing relationship.”

The families are due to meet Sinn Fein’s Northern Ireland leader Michelle O’Neill on Wednesday evening.