By David Hennessy
West Midlands Police is to investigate claims by Paddy Hill of the Birmingham Six that two of the people responsible for the 1974 pub bombings received controversial Good Friday Agreement “letters of comfort”.
Police and crime commissioner Bob Jones said that he has asked Chief Constable Chris Sims to find out more about the claim and stressed it was the first he had heard of it. There is a growing campaign by some relatives of those killed and injured by the IRA bombs to hold a public inquiry to find the real bombers.
Their campaign echoes demands by Paddy Hill for a proper official investigation into the forty-year old atrocity which saw him and five others spend several years in top security jails for a crime they didn’t commit.
Mr Hill, who lives in Scotland and campaigns for victims of miscarriages of justice, prompted the latest development in the row over “letters of comfort” – or amnesties – that were first officially revealed and acknowledged at last month’s aborted trial of alleged Hyde Park bomber John Downey.
Mr. Downey, an oyster farmer in Donegal who originally came from Kilrush in Co. Clare, was given his letter in 2007 but was arrested at Gatwick Airport last year. His trial collapsed last week as officials said Downey – whose fingerprint was allegedly found on a car park ticket for the car used in the Hyde Park barracks bombing – received his letter “by mistake”.
Mr. Hill fears two of the real bombers received letters similar to the one that last week allowed Hyde Park bomb suspect John Downey to walk free.
Paddy and five other men, Hugh Callaghan, Gerard Hunter, Richard McIlkenny, William Power and John Walker, were arrested in connection with the Birmingham Pub Bombings of November 21 1974, attributed to the Provisional IRA. They were sentenced to life imprisonment in 1975 but in 1991, their convictions were quashed by the Court of Appeal and they were released after spending 16 years behind bars. No one else has ever convicted of the bombings that killed 21 at the Tavern in the Town and Mulberry Bush pubs in an attack that will be 40 years old this year. The IRA has never officially admitted responsibility.
Paddy Hill, 68, said that an IRA member had admitted that five of their men were behind the attack. He said two had received “immunity”, two had since died, and the fifth man had been given no assurance.
Paddy Hill told The Birmingham Mail: “I think it was about 1980 that I was told about the IRA claiming five people were involved in the Birmingham bombings.
“I understand two have since died. They never named anyone.
“I understand that two of these men received letters from the British government, telling them they would not be prosecuted. One of the five has not received such a letter.
“No-one seems to know who was on this list for certain, but the authorities and the IRA knew who they were.
“Before the revelations, everyone understood they wouldn’t be prosecuted under the Good Friday agreement.”
The Justice 4 the 21 Campaign’s Julie Hambleton, whose sister Maxine, was one of the victims of the bombs, told The Irish World: “We, my family, are incandescent with rage and believe it or not, it is just as iniquitous for us as the crime. It’s such an insult to us.
“I think Peter Hain, Tony Blair and their ilk should be done for sedition and treachery against the citizens of the UK for what they’ve done. They’re pandering to the few above the needs and wants of the many. They have no moral or ethical compass whatsoever and they have no integrity, courage or honour in the bodie, and they have no conscience.
“What is more abhorrent is the fact that nobody’s looking for them. Even our police force are colluding and conspirators protecting the people they should be looking for and putting away.
“We are an ordinary family who want what any family would want. We don’t want money, we don’t want an apology, we only want justice to be done. With these OTRs in play, what does that say about our justice system? Tony Blair has literally adulterated, bastardised our legal system, our judiciary in the worst, most insulting kind of way to so many people.
“You might think this is far fetched- If we would have been told about these OTRs ten, fifteen years ago, we would have thought that was far fetched. In fact two weeks ago, we would have thought it was far fetched- Imagine the two specimens that have just been put away for the Lee Rigby murder and how they may try to adulterate the same legislation, judiciary that our own previous PM has done to suit the needs of the few as opposed to looking after the many. You can’t say never. Look at what’s just come to pass.”
Paddy still campaigns for those behind the bombings to admit to their crimes. The outrage over Downey’s case has forced British Prime Minister David Cameron to order a review into the letters promising immunity to terrorist suspects. Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson threatened to resign if an inquiry was not launched and the letters rescinded. But Hill fears that if immunity is revoked, it will prevent the real bombers ever being unmasked.
“Many people are sweating, not knowing what’s going on. It might prevent further admissions of guilt because they will now wonder if they will face prosecution.
“I thought this immunity was across the board, but it seems that some people have received letters and some have not – so much for equality and government transparency. It’s just one big dirty can of worms.”
Mr Hill added: “We demand to know the truth for the relatives, and for the victims who were murdered. The authorities have deliberately lied to us, and lot of questions still need to be answered. I know for a fact that the police had two men in custody.
“They admitted they had been top of their radar but they didn’t have enough to hold them.
“The police had information about people who made the bombs and details about the planters. They claimed we were the only ones believed to be responsible.
“The government has now placed a 75-year embargo on case papers. The families have been kept in the dark. Many were led to believe that the Birmingham Six had somehow managed to fool everyone.”
Paddy Hill’s comments come amid the controversy of Hyde Park bomb suspect John Downey’s trial collapsing. Downey was one of 187 “on the run” IRA fugitives who were sent letters assuring them they would not be prosecuted after the Good Friday Agreement.
The letter sent to Downey stated he was not wanted for questioning or prosecution in the UK despite the Metropolitan Police having a warrant for his arrest for the murder of four British soldiers in 1982. Downey has always denied planting the bomb that injured 50 others.
Former Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain has been heavily criticised for his comments that state that the same immunity should be given to soldiers who took part in the shooting of unarmed civilians on Bloody Sunday.
Justice Minister John Ford likened Hain’s words to Attorney General John Larkin’s words last year when he said there should be no further police investigations, inquests or inquiries into any relevant killings that took place before the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Larkin was criticised by both Peter Robinson and Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
Justice Minister Ford said: “I think we saw what happened when John Larkin, the attorney general, suggested we draw a line under the past – it was almost universally rejected.
“Yes, there are real difficulties in getting evidence when you go back that far, but that doesn’t mean that we should abandon the opportunity if there is an opportunity in some cases.”
A Donegal homecoming celebration for Downey was cancelled at the weekend with a statement from Downey reading: “I would never try to insult or add to the hurt of anybody who is bereaved as I am only too aware of their pain as there are many bereaved families also in the republican community.”