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Coroner receives 'significant' information on Birmingham pub bombings

Published 12/05/2016

The scene of the Birmingham pub bombings
The scene of the Birmingham pub bombings
A total of 21 people died in the IRA Birmingham pub bombings
Firemen searching through debris after the pub bombings (PA/file)
The wreckage at the Mulberry Bush pub in Birmingham after a bomb exploded
A candle is lit at a vigil at Birmingham Cathedral to mark 40 years since the Birmingham pub bombings
A woman weeps at a memorial service and vigil at Birmingham Cathedral last night to mark 40 years since the Birmingham pub bombings on November 21, 1974. Twenty-one people were killed and 182 injured in the IRA attack
Maxine Hambleton was killed in the Birmingham pub bombings in 1974
Patrick Hill was one of six men wrongly jailed for the murder of 21 people in the Birmingham pub bombings

A "significant" piece of information has been sent to the coroner who is considering reopening the Birmingham pub bombings inquests.

Senior coroner for Birmingham and Solihull Louise Hunt said she received "sensitive information" from an undisclosed source in a submission sent to her office on April 27, just days before a key hearing.

Speaking on Thursday ahead of what is due to be her final decision on whether to reopen the inquests on June 1, Ms Hunt added the material was "significant" and related to an allegation the security services had some advanced notice of the deadly bombings on the night of November 21 1974.

She said: "It's significant and does raise concerns in relation to potential advanced notice.

"That's as much as I can say."

Ms Hunt said she was not aware the information had ever appeared in the public domain.

Lawyers for the families of the 21 people killed in the double bombing of the Tavern in the Town and Mulberry Bush pubs in 1974, have already alleged the security services may have had prior knowledge of the attacks.

Loved ones of some of the victims who attended Thursday's hearing in Solihull, West Midlands, said they had not been told what was contained in the secret memo.

It will be 42 years this November since the blasts ripped apart the two pubs packed with pre-Christmas revellers, in attacks which are widely acknowledged to have been the work of the IRA.

A third bomb found in a bag on the Hagley Road in Edgbaston, Birmingham, failed to go off and was later lost by West Midlands Police.

The investigation into the bombings, which injured 182 people, led to the jailing of the Birmingham Six, who were later released in 1991 after their convictions for murder were overturned by the Court of Appeal.

Ms Hunt confirmed she would now make a long-awaited ruling on whether to reopen the inquests on June 1.

The original hearings were suspended in 1975 after being overtaken by the criminal inquiry which led to the Birmingham Six's convictions.

The coroner said she had written to the Home Secretary, the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary asking them to look through their records and deliver any relevant documentation from around the time.

However, after being told such a search may take at least three months to carry out, she agreed that process should be put on hold, subject to her decision in June.

The coroner also heard final remarks from West Midlands Police's lawyer and the families' barrister Ashley Underwood QC.

Jeremy Johnson QC, on behalf of the police, said: "We have no principle objection to you resuming these inquests but we do say, having regard to the material you have, it has not been shown it's appropriate to resume."

He added there was "no evidential basis" for the victims' families' allegation that the police or security services had any prior warning of the bombings.

Mr Johnson added there was also no evidence that the use of taxis as ambulances to ferry casualties to hospitals in the chaotic aftermath led to more people dying.

He said there were also no grounds to have new hearings simply to look at alleged police misconduct in the follow-up criminal investigation.

Mr Johnson said: "The function of an inquest is not to inquire into police misconduct allegations, but to inquire into circumstances of the deaths themselves."

Ms Hunt concluded: "We will reconvene here on June 1."

Julie Hambleton, whose older sister Maxine died in the bomb attacks, said before the hearings that she would be "heartbroken" if their application to have the inquests restarted was turned down.

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