ONE of the Birmingham Six has claimed that police sent secret letters promising immunity to two of the men responsible for the 1974 pub bombings.
Paddy Hill, who received a life sentence for the terrorist atrocity but later saw his conviction quashed, believes two of the pub bombers were told they would not face prosecution for IRA crimes.
The 68-year-old, who now lives in Scotland, said he had been told IRA members previously admitted five people carried out the bombings.
He told the Birmingham Mail that two of the five had since died, and two were promised immunity, but that a fifth bomber had not received any assurances that he could escape prosecution.
Mr Hill said he feared that if the on-the-run deal was revoked, it could prevent the true identity of the pub bombers ever being revealed – and stop the IRA from admitting responsibility.
The IRA has never officially admitted it carried out the pub bombings, and Mr Hill has been campaigning for them to come clean about their involvement. Nobody has ever been brought to justice for the murder of 21 people in Birmingham on November 21, 1974.
"I think it was about 1980 that I was told about the IRA claiming five people were involved in the Birmingham bombings," said Mr Hill. "I understand two have since died. They never named anyone.
"I understand that two of these men received letters from the British Government, telling them that they would not be prosecuted. One of the five has not received such a letter. The other two have died.
"No-one seems to know who was on this list for certain, but the authorities and the IRA knew who they were. Before the revelations, everyone understood they wouldn't be prosecuted under the Good Friday Agreement.
"Many people are sweating, not knowing what's going on. It might prevent further admissions of guilt because they will now wonder if they will face prosecution.
"I thought this immunity was across the board, but it seems that some people have received letters and some have not – so much for equality and government transparency. It's just one big dirty can of worms."
Mr Hill added: "We demand to know the truth for the relatives, and for the victims who were murdered. The authorities have deliberately lied to us, and lot of questions still need to be answered. I know for a fact that the police had two men in custody.
"They admitted they had been top of their radar but they didn't have enough to hold them.
"The police had information about people who made the bombs and details about the planters. They claimed we were the only ones believed to be responsible.
"The government has now placed a 75-year embargo on case papers. The families have been kept in the dark. Many were led to believe that the Birmingham Six had somehow managed to fool everyone."
Brian Hambleton, whose 18-year-old sister Maxine was killed in the bombings, claimed the letters appear to show the government was prepared to secure a political settlement in Northern Ireland "at any cost". He said the letters showed how victims' families had been treated "with utter contempt" by the government.
Mr Hill's claims follow the revelation that almost 200 republican paramilitary suspects received letters assuring them they were not being sought by police. Their existence emerged on Tuesday after the collapse of the trial of John Downey, the suspect in the 1982 Hyde Park bombing, who was sent a letter by mistake.
Paddy Hill was jailed for the Birmingham pub bombings in 1975 with Hugh Callaghan, Gerard Hunter, Richard McIlkenny, William Power and John Walker. The Birmingham Six, as they became known, spent 16 years in jail before having their convictions quashed in 1991. The IRA has never officially claimed responsibility. Paddy Hill (right)has repeatedly challenged those behind the 1974 pub bombing atrocity in the city to "come clean". Devices were placed in two central Birmingham pubs – a third failed to detonate – killing 21 people.