Belfast Telegraph

'No evidence' of spy within IRA Birmingham pub bombs cell

By Richard Vernalls

The coroner who will hear the Birmingham pub bombings inquest has been told there is "no evidence" of involvement in the attacks by a state agent or informant.

The issue of whether there had been anyone with links to the British state within the IRA cell that bombed two pubs in the city in 1974 had been raised previously by families of the victims.

At a pre-inquest hearing yesterday Peter Skelton QC, counsel to the coroner Sir Peter Thornton QC, said: "At present there is no evidence of a state agent or informant in the bombings."

Turning to the evidence of witnesses at the forthcoming hearing, Mr Skelton QC said much of it would have to be read.

He said: "Forty-four years have passed, memories have faded and people have died.

"Many witnesses, those in the pubs, have physical and mental injuries that last to this day."

Sir Peter replied: "Some of them are really quite shocking."

Mr Skelton added: "They remain extremely damaged.

"It follows, much of the evidence will have to be read."

He added the inquest would include "pen portraits" in tribute to each of the deceased.

Mr Skelton said: "These are 21 people, each was someone's husband, wife, child or sibling.

"Behind these public attacks are private tragedies."

The inquest jury will also visit the former sites of both pubs.

The issue of disclosure of evidence was once again raised at preparatory hearings ahead of the inquest next month.

Kevin Morgan, a barrister representing a group of 10 bereaved families, raised the issue of evidence of British security forces' policies for handling an IRA bomb attack.

Two blasts ripped apart the Tavern in the Town and Mulberry Bush pubs in Birmingham city centre on the night of November 21.

The attack was the worst in Britain since the Second World War, until the July 7/7 bombings.

A botched investigation by West Midlands Police led to the convictions of the Birmingham Six, who were found guilty of the murders a year later. But their convictions were overturned after spending 16 years in jail.

A new inquest is set to begin on February 25. The coroner has already ruled out hearing evidence on naming who may have planted the bombs, to the dismay of some of the bereaved families.

In a series of pre-inquest reviews, the issue of disclosure by the security forces, including West Midlands Police, MI5 and MI6, has been repeatedly raised by the families.

Last month the coroner heard that two folders of evidence destined for a government intelligence sub-committee at the time of the attacks had since gone missing.

To date, 2,838 documents have been disclosed to lawyers for the relatives, totalling more than 28,000 pages. Among these, the families have for the first time been given sight of two investigations into the bombings, Operation Aston and Operation Review.

Belfast Telegraph

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