45 years and counting: Why Birmingham journalists won’t give up on a city’s quest for the truth
If you are of a certain age, you will know that six men were wrongly convicted of the Birmingham pub bombings.
They were the victims of the worst miscarriage of justice in modern British legal history.
A worldwide campaign resulted in their convictions being quashed and them being freed amid huge fanfare in 1991.
But what of the bereaved families of the 21 who died in the carnage in The Mulberry Bush and The Tavern in The Town on November 21, 1974?
Barely a thought was given to them. After believing for years, that the murderers where behind bars, they were left without answers.
So when the Birmingham Mail teamed up with the Justice4the21 campaign group, it was to try to find out what really happened on the bloodiest night in Birmingham’s recent history — and in the knowledge that, with the passage of time, it was probably the last chance to do so.
The big break came while Content Editor Andy Richards was researching for coverage of the 40th anniversary of the bombings in 2014.
He spotted that although an inquest was opened after the tragedy, it was never concluded because police rapidly arrested the men they believed — incorrectly — to be the perpetrators.
When the Birmingham Six were eventually acquitted almost 18 years later, the inquest should have been resumed. It wasn’t.
Richards then worked with the families to prepare for a succession of legal challenges to counter the reluctance of the authorities to resume the inquest.
And, although the Coroner had ruled that the identity of the bombers was not an issue that could be decided by the inquest, names were finally revealed in court.
Taking cues from sister newspaper Liverpool Echo’s coverage of the Hillsborough inquests, the Birmingham Mail and its online digital brand BirminghamLive offered daily reports of proceedings or analysis.
It was gruelling for elderly witnesses re-living that awful night, and relatives hearing about it for the first time, but necessary.
Perhaps the case for frail Hilda Turner illustrates why. Hilda, in her 80s, lost her son Tommy, in the tragedy. He was only 16 and the youngest victim.
For nigh on 45 years, church-going Hilda’s pain was compounded by her belief that Tommy had been drinking in the doomed Mulberry Bush pub when IRA terrorists struck.
What was underage Tommy doing in a bar, drinking? The new inquest revealed that Tommy was never in the pub. Tragically, he was merely walking past as it was ripped apart in the blast.
A little solace at last for a dear, elderly lady and a consolation that she should have had many years ago.
Richards said: “It is frankly immoral and repugnant that UK families bereaved in such awful circumstances should have to wait for 45 years to find out why.
“The importance of the inquest verdict is that for the families there is now an official record of the murder of their loved ones and the duty to investigate this appalling crime remains with the police and prosecutors who must assess the new evidence which has been presented.
“The families dream of truth, justice and accountability. West Midlands Police Chief Constable Dave Thompson says police are “very active” with inquiries following the inquest. So watch this space.
“Evidence also suggested that there was complacency and a lack of preparation and communication skills by the authorities to deal with a terror attack on this scale.
“Mr Thompson said the force was sharing details of each day of the hearing with all staff so that they understand the events of 1974. Good.
“The families have always insisted that lessons of the past need to be learned in order to make the future more secure for all of us.”