Convicted bomber names four men behind 1974 IRA Birmingham pub blasts

A convicted bomber has named four men he claims carried out the 1974 Birmingham pub attacks - telling inquests he had been given permission to do so by the head of the IRA.

In a dramatic turn, an anonymous ex-IRA volunteer giving evidence at the inquests, said he had been told six months ago by the current head of the IRA that he could name those he knew were involved.

The man, identified only as Witness O - speaking over a secure video-link - named the officer commanding (OC) the Birmingham IRA at the time, Seamus McLoughlin, as the person responsible for selecting the targets.

The blasts at the Mulberry Bush at the bottom of the city's landmark Rotunda, and the basement Tavern in the Town in nearby New Street, killed 21 people and injured 220 others.

Bereaved families have waited 44 years for fresh inquests, which are now in their fourth week.

The remnants of the Mulberry Bush pub in Birmingham, one of the two pubs in Birmingham where bombs exploded. Credit: PA

He added that Mick Murray was "one of the bombers", and claimed he recalled Murray telling him there would be "no harm" if similar attacks had been repeated, because of the "chaos" caused.

Pressed by Leslie Thomas QC, the barrister representing nine of the bereaved families, that another member of the bombing team was Michael Hayes, he replied: "Hayes, Hayes - I'll give it (the name) to you now."

But he added, in apparent reference to the Good Friday Agreement: "But 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."

Then asked about "James Gavin", he replied: "Well, he was (involved), I met him in Dublin and he said he was."

All the men have been named before in connection with the bombings, but never in a formal setting.

Julie Hambleton, whose sister Maxine Hambleton was a victim, ahead of the start of the inquest. Credit: Aaron Chown/PA

Mr Thomas then asked whether a fifth man, Michael Patrick Reilly, had been involved.

The witness, who earlier told the jury he was a convicted IRA bomber who served a prison sentence in the 1970s, replied: "No, I don't remember him at all.

"Reilly? I would remember that."

The barrister then used an alleged reference to Mr Reilly, used in the book Error Of Judgement by former MP and journalist Chris Mullin, when he asked the former IRA man: "Michael Patrick Reilly, sometimes referred to as 'The Young Planter'?

"You know who he is, don't you? He's the one you're protecting, isn't he?"

The witness replied: "Who? Protecting who? No.

"My situation was I was in Manchester, and I came to Birmingham and I was only in Birmingham a couple of weeks."

The aftermath of the fatal bomb attack on the Mulberry Bush pub in Birmingham. Credit: PA

Witness O, who was in jail at the time of the attacks and said he had no knowledge they were being planned, described the bombings as "an atrocity".

He added that the Birmingham IRA active service unit responsible was "stood down" by the organisation's Army Council following the blasts.

When coroner Sir Peter Thornton QC asked him who had given that authorisation, he replied "The head of the IRA", adding that he had approached the organisation's chief in Dublin six months ago.

But her refused to identify that person.

Six men, known as the Birmingham Six, were jailed in 1975 for the double bomb attacks, but their convictions were quashed by the Court of Appeal in 1991.

Outside court, Julie Hambleton, whose sister Maxine was killed in the Tavern in the Town, said the families had been told the police inquiry into the bombings was on-going.

She said: "We expect action ... information as a matter of urgency now as to what is going to happen, what, where and when."