'Odd alliance' forged by Birmingham bombing doc

Brian and Julie Hambleton with Paddy Hill Brian and Julie Hambleton turned a 'massive corner' to meet Paddy Hill

When I first met Brian and Julie Hambleton I wasn't prepared. Not because I hadn't done my research, but because I hadn't appreciated quite how raw their grief would be almost 40 years after their sister Maxine was murdered. It was like it had happened yesterday.

Maxine was 18 when she died alongside 20 other people in the 1974 Birmingham Pub Bombings. Almost 200 others were injured in the terrorist attack on two city centre pubs. Brian, the eldest of the six Hambleton children, dropped her off that night. But he puts it another way.

'I delivered her to her death,' he told me, trying to explain the guilt he still carries.

The events of November 21 1974 have been comprehensively covered over the past four decades; so has the story of the Birmingham Six and their notorious miscarriage of justice. A docu-drama even tried to answer the question 'Who Bombed Birmingham?'

Anthony Bartram Anthony Bartram sought a different approach

What could we do that was different?

The answer came from an unlikely source. A man who the Hambletons had hated for years was now offering to help them and I wanted to find out if they would accept it.

Convictions quashed

For 16 and a half years Brian and Julie believed Paddy Hill was the ringleader of a six-man IRA cell. Even though he and the other five Irishmen had their murder convictions for the bombings ruled unsafe and quashed in 1991, meeting him face to face was a massive corner for the Hambletons to turn, but I felt I had to ask them.

He was a seasoned campaigner and knew the case inside out. Getting him on board would surely raise their profile and his influential contacts could help the Hambletons. At first they said no. Meeting him would be too upsetting for them and the rest of the family, there was too much history.

With plenty of other interesting angles to pursue we began filming; capturing their memories of Maxine; why they wanted the police to re-open the investigation after all this time and their struggle to get people in Birmingham to support them. Then I got a call from Brian. He said they had changed their minds about meeting Paddy, but warned me this would be the hardest thing they had ever done.

Start Quote

A man who the Hambletons had hated for years was now offering to help them and I wanted to find out if they would accept it.”

End Quote Anthony Bartram Producer, Who Murdered Maxine?

From opposite ends of this tragedy I wasn't about to just throw them together, we would need expert help in arranging and facilitating such a potentially volatile meeting.

It happened in Warrington at The Tim Parry and Jonathan Ball Peace Centre, built in memory of the two boys who were killed in an IRA attack on the town 20 years ago. Its work bringing people affected by terrorism together peacefully is recognised around the world and they kindly offered to help us with the film.

'An odd alliance'

With only a door between Paddy and the Hambletons there was no way of knowing how this was going to go. After the tension broke there were tears from all three. Two hours had barely scratched the surface of the history between them but they did find some common ground and, in Julie's words, 'an odd alliance' has now formed.

The documentary is narrated by the Homeland actor and proud Brummie David Harewood. He is currently treading the boards as Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream in New York, but was the perfect choice to tell the story. David was nine at the time of the bombings and still has a very strong connection with the city he grew up in.

The documentary is not a history lesson. It tells the story of a family who want to know the truth about who murdered their sister and why no-one has been brought to justice. It is a very personal account of what remains a national scandal.

Who Murdered Maxine?, BBC One (West Midlands), Monday, November 18 7.30pm and on BBC iPlayer.


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