IRA murdered 21 victims at Birmingham pub bombings in 1974, jury rules

The 21 people killed in the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings were murdered by the IRA, an inquest jury at the city's civil court has ruled.

Two detonations caused what one witness described as "pure carnage", ripping through the busy Mulberry Bush and Tavern in the Town pubs on the night of November 21, killing 21 and injuring 220 more.

The jury, which sat for six weeks, unanimously ruled there was inadequate warning from the Provisional IRA, who carried out the attacks, which stretched police forces.

They found there were no failings, errors or omissions by West Midlands Police's response to the bomb warning call.

They concluded there was no tip-off to the force, giving advanced warning about the bomb.

Coroner Sir Peter Thornton QC said: "The atrocities of the night of Thursday 21 November 1974 are now etched in the history of Birmingham.

"Those dreadful events will never be forgotten because the people of Birmingham will never forget the 21 lives that were tragically lost."

He added: "I wish to express my condolences to the families and friends who lost loved ones in these terrible bombings.

"I wish to express my admiration and respect for the dignity in which you have conducted yourselves during the difficult time of the inquests."

The aftermath of the bombing, which happened more than 44 years ago. Credit: PA

The inquests came after years of campaigning by relatives of the dead, who have demanded answers into what happened that night.

The pub bombings were the deadliest post-Second World War attack on British mainland until the 7/7 London terror attacks in 2005.

A botched investigation by West Midlands Police wrongfully led to the convictions of the Birmingham Six, whose convictions were quashed by the Court of Appeal in 1991.

Julie Hambleton, who lost her older sister in the bombings, said prior to the hearing the families of the deceased wanted "truth, justice and accountability".

After the jury reached their conclusion she said: "I wouldn't say we feel vindicated.

"I would say that our loved ones have now been officially put on the books as being officially murdered."

West Midlands Police Chief Constable described the pursuit of any suspects in connection with the bombings as "a very active investigation".

Asked if, as was suggested in the inquest, the Good Friday Agreement had blocked any realistic prospect of bringing the killers to justice, he said it would not "prevent" that process.

He said: "This is simply about the evidence.

"The criminal investigation will take the direction it is going to take.

"We will bring people to justice within our ability to do that.

"I don't see anything in terms of any political arrangement that prevents us carrying out that enquiry."

During the hearing, the jury heard that a coded telephone warning from the IRA to the Birmingham Post and Mail at 8.11pm on the evening of the blast was not enough time for police to adequately deal with the bombs.

The call, made to newspaper telephonist Ian Cropper, gave the bomb locations as the famous Rotunda building and the nearby tax office in New Street, making no reference to the two pubs.

Police searched the Rotunda office first, wrongly believing the bombs were inside.

One detective told the inquest that bomb threats were dealt with "lightheartedly".

Michael Hayes, who was named by an anonymous ex-IRA volunteer giving evidence at the inquests, told ITV News nobody was meant to die in what he described as a "commercial bombing campaign".

Speaking in March during an inquest into the deaths, an ex-IRA volunteer, known as Witness O, said the IRA had granted permission for Hayes and three other men, who are all dead, to be named as suspects in the attack.

However, Hayes has described the "mysterious" witness' claims as an "opinion" and not fact.

He told ITV News: "You have to have proof, you can't go into a court without proof.

"I didn't do anything, I literally, I didn't do it. I don't care who believes it or not.

"I'll probably go down in history as the perpetrator but I'm not, see I know it and those people that know me, know I wouldn't do it."

Hayes, by his own admission, was considered to be an "explosives expert" but despite this, he denies any involvement in making the bombs used in Birmingham.

Timeline of events:

  • November 14, 1974: Bomber James McDade, 28, a lieutenant in the Birmingham IRA, is blown up planting explosives at Coventry telephone exchange.

  • November 21, 1974: West Midlands Police deploys 1,600 officers to Coventry and Birmingham airport over fears of violence as McDade's body taken back to Belfast.

  • It leaves just 15 officers on duty at Birmingham's two city centre stations.

  • 8.11pm: Telephonist at Birmingham Post and Mail receives call about two bombs at Rotunda and at the tax office on New Street.

  • 8.14pm-8.18pm: Six officers arrive at Rotunda. Some search office block while others search Rotunda.

  • 8.18pm and 8.20pm: Two explosions at Tavern in the Town and Mulberry Bush pubs in Birmingham city centre. Nineteen killed, 220 injured.

  • August 15, 1975: Birmingham Six convicted of 21 counts of murder after trial.

  • March 27, 1991: The Birmingham Six released following Court of Appeal ruling.

  • June 1, 2016: Senior coroner for Birmingham and Solihill Louise Hunt rules original inquest should resume.

  • Delivering her ruling, she said: “I am of the view that the evidence does now need to be heard publicly, so that a decision can be made based on evidence as to how these 21 people came by their deaths.”

  • February 2019: Fresh inquests into the pub bombings begin.

  • April 5 2019: More than 44 years after the bombings, the inquests into the deaths of the bereaved loved ones conclude the victims were unlawfully killed.