Birmingham pub bombings: Campaigner cleared of taking part in 'lockdown breaching memorial rally'

ITV News Central has spoken to Julie Hambleton, a Birmingham pub bombings campaigner who has been cleared of breaching lockdown rules.

The woman at the centre of the campaign to get justice for the victims of the Birmingham pub bombings says senior management at West Midlands Police singled her out for prosecution over a breach of COVID regulations.

Julie Hambleton, who lost her sister in the 1974 explosions, was given a fixed penalty notice after a remembrance rally during last November's lockdown.

She and three other campaigners who were also served with the notices fought them in court and yesterday a judge found them not guilty - leaving them questioning why West Midlands Police had pursued the case.

The force says the COVID restrictions at the time applied to everyone.

Julie Hambleton, Kevin Gormley, John Porter and Michael Lutwyche were on trial for refusing to pay fines after the memorial rally in November 2020.

She later accused West Midlands Police of trying to 're-traumatise' the families of the bombings.

She told ITV News Central: "I wasn't prepared to pay for something that I hadn't done, and I was prepared to take the police on against this defamation.

The senior management at West Midlands Police are looking for ways to try and re-traumatise us in any way they possibly can.

"Because why else would they want to bring these fixed penalty notices and then go the full hog and waste taxpayers money?

"What a waste of our taxpayers' money. And we did nothing wrong."

Julie Hambleton with Kevin Gormley (left), Michael Lutwyche (middle left) and John Porter (right) Credit: PA Images

All four had stood trial at Birmingham Magistrates Court, accused of taking part in a gathering outside West Midlands Police HQ on November 21st last year.

The event was the 46th anniversary of two devastating IRA bomb blasts in the city, which claimed the lives of 21 people.

As leader of the Justice 4 the 21 (J421) group, which has campaigned to bring the perpetrators to justice, Miss Hambleton was part of a motor rally organised to commemorate the day.

Miss Hambleton and her co-defendants had denied any wrongdoing at the event, held amid the second national lockdown.

The four were then prosecuted after refusing to pay fixed penalty notices issued by the West Midlands force.

It had been alleged by prosecutors there was a "clear and deliberate" breach of the rules after 15 to 25 protesters, including all four defendants, got out of their vehicles at the end of the rally, outside the force's Birmingham HQ.

But clearing the defendants after a two-day trial, District Judge Shamim Qureshi said the protest had happened against a national backdrop of changing lockdown regulations concluding that "frankly, most of the country was confused".

Julie Hambleton (second right) arriving at Birmingham Magistrates' Court where she is appearing for an alleged Covid-19 breach. Credit: PA

The judge pointed out the right to protest had been discussed by MPs at the time, with lawmakers told that right still "absolutely" existed.

He said the defendants' case had "boiled down" to whether they had acted without "reasonable excuse" as set out in England's national Covid regulations in force at the time.

He added that there were "important" points in the case, including the fact protesters "never planned to get out the cars" and the fact demonstrators were only outside Lloyd House for a few minutes, and had been "peaceful".

Judge Qureshi also said he made "no criticism of the decision by the police not to engage with people there", after it emerged officers had not warned any demonstrators outside Lloyd House they faced being fined.

The judge added: "Everybody knew it was going to finish, all any conversations would have done was simply drag things out, tempers could have boiled over."

"The court sees nothing wrong in anything the four defendants did and therefore the court considers they fall within the reasonable excuse defence.

Julie Hambleton (centre) speaks to the media outside the Civil Justice Centre in Birmingham after the conclusion of the Birmingham Inquests. Credit: PA

Speaking after the verdicts, Miss Hambleton said she was "relieved that Judge Qureshi, has seen sense, basically".

She thanked her legal team for making the group's case " during this traumatic hearing ".

The Crown Prosecution Service proceeded with its case after a "careful" review of the facts, the court heard during the trial, and only after the four refused to pay fines issue by West Midlands Police.

Miss Hambleton said: "I do wonder if the senior management of West Midlands Police are trying to find as many ways as they can to try and re-traumatise the families of the Birmingham pub bombings.

"Because that is exactly how it feels and how it looks to many, many people.

"We did everything right, we behaved, our supporters always behave with dignity and respect out of the memory of our loved ones, which the judge acknowledged.

"There's never been any trouble yet we are hauled before the courts for quite literally remembering our dead.

On hearing that a fifth person had paid their fine after attending Lloyd House during the rally, the judge asked the CPS lawyer in court to "speak to police and reconsider the fine", adding it would be a "severe injustice" for the penalty to stand, given the acquittals.

  • Read more: