Belfast Telegraph

IRA mole tipped off police about Birmingham pub bombs plan, hearing told

By Richard Vernalls

West Midlands Police's Chief Constable was yesterday ordered to produce any information surrounding a claim the force may have been tipped off in advance of the Birmingham pub bombings by an IRA mole.

A coroner made the order after hearing legal submissions on whether there was enough evidence to resume an inquest into the 21 deaths in 1974.

Louise Hunt, the senior coroner for Birmingham and Solihull, said she was adjourning proceedings because of an "evidential vacuum" around the mole claim.

Earlier, Ashley Underwood QC, representing three of the families, said: "There is reason to believe the murderers had an informant and that the police knew in advance. There is reason to believe police had time, between the warnings and the first bomb, to evacuate, and that emergency services could have arrived earlier, but that records were falsified."

The force's barrister, Jeremy Johnson QC, told Ms Hunt Chief Constable Dave Thompson had "no principled objection to the resumption" of the inquest but questioned if the coroner had the right to make such an order. But he added the police would comply with the order on documents.

On the night of November 21, 1974, devastating blasts ripped through the Tavern in the Town and the Mulberry Bush pubs, which were packed with pre-Christmas revellers. The attacks are believed to have been the work of the IRA.

A police investigation led to the wrongful convictions of the Birmingham Six, who were released in 1991. One of their number, Paddy Hill, was at the Coroners Court yesterday to hear proceedings.

Concluding the first of what was scheduled to be three days of submissions, Ms Hunt said she needed more information before a decision on the inquest.

Making her order, the coroner asked for any information held by the police "in relation to the timing of the bombings and any evidence that the state had advance notice of the bombings".

She also asked the force for any evidence held surrounding "whether or not there was an informant", and whether the response to telephoned bomb warnings was delayed.

A summary of the previous police investigations carried out since 1991 was also requested, along with a list of "lost" and destroyed evidence from the original criminal investigation. A police review ending in 2014 found that of 168 exhibits listed for the original trial, 35 could not be located.

All the information must be provided by March 4, along with a statement from a senior officer.

Addressing the families, the coroner said: "I know you've waited a long time, and it's never helpful to wait a little longer, but I want to get everything right."

Earlier, she described the events of that night as "a terrible atrocity resulting in the deaths of innocent people".

Outlining the current state of the police's criminal investigation into the bombings, Mr Johnson said there had been three developments in the case, including new potential forensic evidence, a book by former IRA spymaster Kieran Conway, and a first-hand account from now dead West Midlands fireman Alan Hill.

An inquest was opened and adjourned after the attacks but was never resumed after the convictions of the Birmingham Six.

Speaking outside court, Julie Hambleton, whose 18-year-old sister Maxine, was killed by the Tavern bomb, said the families had been "left in limbo".

A provisional decision date has been set by the coroner for April 6.

Belfast Telegraph

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