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Birmingham pub bombing victims' families slam partial legal aid offer as 'draconian' and 'unreasonable'

Watch ITV News Central reporter Chris Halpin's full report

Birmingham Pub bombing campaigners have described approval of partial legal aid funding for resumed inquests as 'draconian' and 'unreasonable', just days before the deadline for legal submissions.

Last night campaigners were given an award by human rights organisation Liberty in recognition of the Justice for the 21's fight for the resumed inquests.

But with the first hearing a month tomorrow, the campaigners say they feel like second class citizens.

The Government rejected a call from families for a special funding model to help them pay their legal costs at a reopened inquest.

They had asked Home Secretary Amber Rudd to establish a fund similar to that created for the families represented at the Hillsborough stadium disaster inquests but the request was turned down.

21 people died in the 1974 blasts. Credit: ITV News

However, Ms Rudd did back an application for legal aid funding through the conventional route of the independent Legal Aid Agency (LAA).

The Government has confirmed that one application for funding has now been granted. However, the timing of the funding decision sparked outcry from Birmingham MPs who pointed out that the inquest process is due to start at the end of October.

Jess Phillips, the Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley, said the victims had been "largely forgotten" as she read their names aloud during an adjournment debate in the Commons:

Twenty-one people were killed and 182 injured when suspected IRA bombs exploded in two city centre pubs on November 21 1974.

Justice Minister Sir Oliver Heald said:

The Legal Aid Agency decides legal aid applications entirely independently. It isn't for politicians to interfere in their independent decision-making.

Two applications have been received by the Legal Aid Agency. So far one has been granted and a way has been suggested of finding the other application to be within the rules.

– Justice Minister Sir Oliver Heald
Scene of the pub bombings in 1974 Credit: PA

Six men wrongly convicted of the murders - the Birmingham Six - were release in 1991 after their convictions were overturned by the Court of Appeal.

Relatives campaigned for years for the inquest to be reopened to probe what they said was a litany of unanswered questions, including claims that police failed to act on intelligence that could have prevented the attacks.

Earlier this year, senior coroner for Birmingham and Solihull Louise Hunt ruled that fresh hearings should take place. Preliminary hearings are scheduled for November.

A preliminary inquest hearing had been scheduled for November 28, however lawyers for some of the families have already written to coroner Peter Thornton QC asking for an adjournment over funding concerns.

Those lawyers have been calling on the Government to provide them with an "equality of arms" in funding.

Scene of the pub bombings in 1974 Credit: PA

West Midlands Police has already set aside £1 million against the potential cost of legal services for the hearings, while public money has been spent on lawyers for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Home Office and Ministry of Defence.

In a statement after the debate, KRW Law, which represents the family of victim Maxine Hambleton and others, said:

KRW Law is still in a position where they can negotiate with the LAA - that door has not closed.

However the families are simply asking for the parity that was afforded to their friends, the Hillsborough familes, and which has already been extended to the state agencies.

They, including West Midlands Police, will be provided with full taxpayer funding and so it is important that we achieve equality of arms in these complex, sensitive and lengthy proceedings.

Politicians across the House have supported this call for parity and the families are rightly concerned that the LAA has not yet been able to provide us with the degree of parity which is required.

– KRW Law statement

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