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Former IRA bomber ready to speak out at inquest on Birmingham pub attacks

Former bomber Shane Paul O’Doherty
Former bomber Shane Paul O’Doherty

By Eamon Sweeney

A convicted IRA bomber says he is willing to give evidence to the inquest into the Birmingham pub bombings because he believes the victims deserve the "reparation of truth and justice".

Shane Paul O'Doherty, originally from Londonderry, received 30 life sentences in 1976 for conducting a letter bombing campaign in London. He later renounced the IRA and sought forgiveness from his victims.

The IRA attacks on two pubs in Birmingham on November 21, 1974 left 21 dead and almost 200 more injured. The Provisionals have never formally admitted that they carried out the atrocities.

But last year one of the alleged bombers, Michael Hayes, claimed the intention of the bombs had not been to harm civilians and that the deaths and injuries had been caused by an unintentional delay in delivering an advance telephone warning to the security services.

However, in his statement to the inquest, Shane O'Doherty said that he was the man who coined the codeword 'Double X' used in the attacks in Birmingham around a year before they took place.

He also says that he later passed it to just two senior IRA figures - Martin McGuinness and the other he has named in his statement to Coroner Sir Peter Thorton QC as the so-called IRA director of operations in England.

Last month the High Court said it would overturn the coroner's decision to ban naming the members of an IRA unit allegedly responsible for the attcks.

In his statement, Mr O'Doherty stated: "In late June of 1973 I was making the very first crude IRA letter bombs in Derry when one exploded and I was injured. I was taken to Dublin for treatment by Martin McGuinness. At that time he was both a member of the Derry Brigade Staff and the IRA Army Council."

It was in Dublin that O'Doherty says he was introduced to the IRA director of operations in England and was recruited to mount the letter bombing campaign in London in the summer and again at Christmas 1973.

After planting a bomb in a store in Oxford Street and making a warning call, he said he noticed little police presence and realised that his call was being regarded as a hoax. After this, he established the code word 'Double X' with the Press Association and it was used in all his subsequent attacks.

However, it is well documented that at around 8.10pm on the night of the attacks a call was received at the Birmingham Post newspaper from a man with an Irish accent. The caller said 'there is a bomb planted in the Rotunda and there is a bomb at the tax office in New Street. This is Double X'.

He said: "I never told anyone else. As far as I am aware, the 'Double X' code word was not known to anyone else.

"I do not believe anyone outside the IRA army council would have been aware of the 'Double X' warning code.

"It was a closely guarded secret and it only occurred to me much later when reading about the IRA's army council denial of responsibility for the Birmingham pub bombings that the operation must have been authorised, because the bombers used the 'Double X' code word."

Asked why he had agreed to appear at the inquest into the Birmingham atrocities, Shane O'Doherty said: "The IRA personnel who authorised these kinds of bombings are guilty of crimes against humanity.

"The willingness to bomb targets in England without any warning was purely anti-civilian, anti-British - quite racist at heart" and was not truly republican. He added: "I believe I owe it to the victims of IRA bombings that they deserve the reparation of truth and justice."

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