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Birmingham bomb victims' families 'being held to ransom' over legal funding

Published 21/11/2016

(left to right) Jayne Hambleton, Soraya Rowlands, Julie Hambleton, Paul Bridgewater and Michelle Sealey, some of the relatives of the 21 victims of the IRA Birmingham pub bombings.
(left to right) Jayne Hambleton, Soraya Rowlands, Julie Hambleton, Paul Bridgewater and Michelle Sealey, some of the relatives of the 21 victims of the IRA Birmingham pub bombings.

Lawyers for the Birmingham pub bombings families have warned "justice will not have been served" unless the victims' relatives are given equal legal funding.

In an announcement on the 42nd anniversary of the deadly double attacks, the law firm representing eight of the bereaved families said their seats at a forthcoming inquest hearing could be left empty if the situation did not change.

A pre-inquest hearing is due to be held at the end of this month into the deaths of the 21 people killed in blasts at the Tavern In The Town and The Mulberry Bush on November 21, 1974.

One of the country's most experienced coroners, Peter Thornton QC, will hear proceedings on November 28.

After years of campaigning led by the Justice4the21 group, the families won fresh inquests into the deaths of their loved ones earlier this year.

That decision has since been overshadowed by what the victims' families are claiming is an unequal funding settlement offer for their lawyers.

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

The relatives had asked Home Secretary Amber Rudd to establish a fund similar to that created for the families represented at the Hillsborough stadium disaster inquests.

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

On Monday the Government said it was "committed to continuing to work with the families" and had suggested a route to funding for the families, through legal aid.

One family, represented by Broudie Jackson Canter - who were involved in the Hillsborough inquiry - have been granted legal aid.

Lawyers from KRW Law, who have been acting pro bono, have said they cannot continue to work for free against Government-funded legal teams representing West Midlands Police, and other arms of government.

The police force alone has set aside £1 million to cover its legal costs.

Julie Hambleton, who leads the Justice4the21 campaign and lost her 18-year-old sister Maxine in the blasts, said: "Our Government is holding us to ransom, using delaying tactics to stop us getting legal funding and parity."

Speaking at the launch of a music CD in memory of the dead on Monday in Birmingham, she added that the Government was "implying that the death of our loved ones are worth nothing".

At the end of October, answering questions from the city's MPs in the House of Commons, Justice Minister Sir Oliver Heald said the LAA decided applications independently.

He added: "Whether it's funding through the legal aid fund or it's funding through the Hillsborough-type of approach, isn't so much the issue as the fact that the families should be represented if the case requires it, and that's the system we're trying to create."

On Monday, a KRW Law spokesman said: "Today, our clients do not have state-funded legal representation in order for KRW Law to continue our work on their behalf at the resumed inquests."

He added: "Our clients expect - and have a right to - both parity of funding with the Hillsborough families and for equality of arms with the other parties to the resumed inquests, in order for us to undertake the work required on their behalf.

"Otherwise both their seats and our seats in Birmingham next week will be empty, justice will not have been served and the opportunity to establish truth and accountability will be tragically lost.

"We hope that this can be avoided and that our clients can be given some assurance that public funding for their continued legal representation can be secured."

A Government spokeswoman said: "Our deepest sympathies remain with all those affected by the horrific pub bombings in Birmingham in 1974.

"The Legal Aid Agency has set out how the matter can be taken forward and has committed to continuing to work with the families to ensure this reaches a satisfactory conclusion."

Justice4the21 released a CD at the event attended by comedian Jasper Carrott, featuring tracks by ex ELO and Wizzard's Roy Wood and others, with proceeds going to charity.

Mr Carrott said: "Brummies want the truth and we're afraid the truth won't come out."

Wood, who designed the CD's front cover, added: "We're not here for political reasons. If I had lost someone in my family, I'd be wanting answers too."

Meanwhile, the victims are now set to posthumously receive the freedom of Birmingham after a cross-party motion was announced by city councillors.

Elsewhere, an annual service to remember the victims is to be held at the city's cathedral.

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