An inquest into the death of 21 people in the 1974 Birmingham pub bombing is to be reopened after 42 years, an English coroner has ruled.
Twenty-one people were killed and 222 injured when bombs exploded in two pubs - Mulberry Bush and Tavern in the Town - in Birmingham, England, on November 21, 1974. Widely believed to be the work of the IRA, six men were wrongly imprisoned for placing the bombs, spending 16 year in jail before their acquittal in 1991. The men were to become known as the “Birmingham Six.”
Original hearings about the bombings, the worst terrorist attack in Britain until 7/7 in 2005, were discontinued once the “Birmingham Six” were jailed and although their jail sentences were later quashed, the inquest into the 21 deaths has never been reopened until now.
Louise Hunt, the senior coroner for Birmingham and Solihull, yesterday ruled to reopen the case, stating that the Birmingham police may have missed two potential warnings about the attacks and that there was a "wealth of evidence that still has not been heard."
It is believed that evidence included an overheard comment made by a person linked to the IRA saying "Birmingham would be hit next week" just days before the bombings.
In earlier hearings, Ashley Underwood QC, who acted for the relatives, said “there is reason to believe that the murder gang had an informant in their ranks and that the police knew in advance” that the bombings were going to take place.
The Birmingham police have argued that there is no evidence available to justify reopening the inquest and stated that it was not within the coroner's jurisdiction.
The Police barrister Jeremy Johnson QC stated there was "simply no evidential basis" for reopening hearings and that such comments could not be deemed as advance warning of a bombing.
Families of those killed in 1974, however, have welcomed the decision. Julie Hambleton, whose 18-year-old sister Maxine was killed in the blasts, said "All we want is to be heard - truth, justice and accountability.”
Hambleton, who has led the fight for justice for her sister and the other victims, was present at the coroner's court when the decision was made.
"Today, we stand united. I'm so proud of all the families, legal team and you (the media),” she continued.
"I cannot put into words how we feel... we've been crying.
"An inquest gives us the opportunity to hear from people you wouldn't normally hear from and it can lead to all sorts of things... the truth... the truth is fundamental."
Hunt made her decision after hearing testimony in February 2016 from victims’ relatives and other interested parties who wish to bring those responsible to justice.
The coroner stated that there was "no indication that the police took any active steps in response” to the comment made on November 10, 1974, just eleven days before the bombings that Birmingham city center was going to be hit.
"I have serious concerns that advanced notice of the bombs may have been available to the police and that they failed to take the necessary steps to protect life," she continued.
Also present was Paddy Hill, one of the six men wrongfully imprisoned for the crime, who was skeptical that the truth would ever be found.
"They (police) don't want [the inquests] because there's too many skeletons in the cupboard,” he said.
"They had advanced warning and they took no notice. I don't think Birmingham police could spell truth - they're rotten.
"I'm very sceptical about getting the truth."
On the release of the Birmingham Six, a reinvestigation began in 1994 to establish whether there was grounds to reopen the inquest, but then Chief Constable for the West Midlands, Ron Hadfield, and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Barbara Mills concluded there was insufficient evidence for proceedings to be brought against any person.
Hunt, however, feels that there is still evidence to be heard although warning families and survivors that the inquest may still finish as inconclusive.
After years of fighting for justice for his sister, Brian Hambleton Described himself as “overwhelmed” on hearing that the inquest was to be reopened.
"I just thought about my sister, the atrocity... and West Midlands Police are battling so hard to prevent the truth from coming out. But luckily, coroner Louise Hunt is allowing the truth to come out now.
"The truth will prevail. I believe that and that's what keeps me going."
"People need to be brought to justice... It's time people came forward" fmr Met Police Commander on Birmingham bombing inquest #newsnight— BBC Newsnight (@BBCNewsnight) June 1, 2016
Despite their opposition, the police also welcomed the news yesterday.
"West Midlands Police not only failed to catch those responsible but caused a miscarriage of justice," said West Midlands Police Chief Constable Dave Thompson.
"I have said, and reiterate again, it is the most serious failing in this force's history.
"I understand families of those who lost their lives are frustrated, disappointed and angry.
"West Midlands Police will support this inquiry as we have done through the recent hearings by the coroner which determined whether the inquest should reopen. I hope the new inquest provides answers to families."
A full hearing is not to be held until next year.