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30 Years On: The Birmingham Bombings


Category: West Midlands TV

Date: 15.11.2004
Printable version


Sunday 21 November 2004, BBC ONE (West Midlands only), 11.05–11.35pm


On Thursday 21 November 1974 two bombs exploded within minutes of each other at the Mulberry Bush and Tavern in the Town public houses in the centre of Birmingham.


The explosions killed 21 people and injured over 200.


The following day six Irish men who had been living in Birmingham - Billy Power, Paddy Hill, Gerry Hunter, Johnny Walker, Richard McIlkenny and Hugh Callaghan - were questioned by police and later charged with planting the bombs and the biggest mass murder of civilians in British history.


Sixteen years later and after three appeals the six were released after doubts were cast upon their signed confessions and the forensic tests carried out on them.


To this day no-one has claimed responsibility for the bombings.


This special programme marks the 30th anniversary of the bombings and looks back at the night's events.


Three of the original police officers at the scene are reunited and for the first time in 30 years they go back inside the former Tavern in the Town pub (now renamed The Yard of Ale) where 11 people lost their lives.


Two of the victims whose lives were changed forever that night speak out, and Billy Power, one of the so-called Birmingham Six, gives a rare and insightful interview.


Former police officers Mike Davey, John Plimmer and Maggie Adams speak for the first time in detail about the events of that night.


Mike Davey featured in an iconic photograph showing him emerging from the Tavern pub carrying a body wrapped in a makeshift blanket. It was shown in newspapers all over the world.


He says: "In many ways it was rather sad because we had to recover the bodies and carry them out in blankets. It was quite traumatic because we were trying to be reverent to the people."


Mike and John were in the Tavern just half an hour before it was blown up. They'd just popped in for a quick half pint while waiting to question an usherette at the cinema who had witnessed a theft. John wanted to stay for another drink but Mike persuaded him not to.


The decision to leave then probably saved their lives. Only 30 minutes later they were helping to remove the injured and dead from the wreckage of the Tavern pub.


Maggie Adams, who was a young WPC at the time, was one of the first officers on the scene at the nearby Mulberry Bush Pub.


She recalls: "It sounds silly really but I was wearing nylon stockings and a straight skirt which is what police women wore those days, totally inappropriate for the circumstances.


"It was mayhem because it was like a building site. There were people running, screaming, flooding out.


"I just remember people walking about with seemingly dreadful injuries and not being aware they were injured. I guess it's shock.


"I remember one guy who I thought was drunk. I said to him, 'You need to go in the ambulance'. His hand was hanging off and he said, 'No. I'm fine...'"


Maureen Mitchell (nee Carlin) was badly injured in the Mulberry Bush pub and was given the last rites.


She has campaigned on behalf of victims for the past 30 years and worked to get a permanent memorial plaque set up in the grounds of Birmingham's St Philip's Cathedral.


She says: "I don't think I have let it dominate my life but it has been a big part of my life and I don't see why it shouldn't be – it was a big thing that happened. But I can understand that a lot of people want to put it behind them."


A large nail went through her hip and she lost her spleen and had bowel and other major internal injuries.


She adds: "They actually told my parents that I'd got a 50/50 chance on the night that it happened, and a couple of days later I was given the last rites. Luckily I pulled through."


Alex Stewart had just gone to the bar in the Tavern pub when the bomb went off.


Several of his friends who were sitting in an area of the pub known affectionately as Scots Corner, including brothers Eugene and Desmond Reilly, were killed.


Alex has suffered from post traumatic stress ever since: "It's been 30 years yet it's like yesterday. I can frame it. I mean people turn round and say, 'Oh you'll get over it – no problem.'


"All I can say to them people is I wish it never happens to them because if it did then maybe they'd understand what a lot of people who suffered in them pubs are going through."


BBC Midlands Today's Nick Owen was a reporter for Radio Birmingham at the time of the bombings and had to cover the story for the station.


He recalls his horror at the scale of the tragedy: "The first thing that struck me was the awfulness of the wreckage where so many people had lost their lives or had been desperately badly wounded and maimed for life.


"It was just a sort of blackened, charred wreckage, smoke rising and emergency services all over the place."


Five of the Birmingham Six had been on their way to the funeral of an IRA bomber, James
McDade, who had blown himself up just a week earlier while planting a bomb at the Coventry Telephone Exchange.


They had boarded the train to Heysham at New Street station at 7.55pm which put them near the scene of the crime just before the bombs went off.


The forensic evidence at the time had suggested that some of the six had been handling explosives and Billy Power had been the first of the six to confess to police.


Billy Power gives a rare television interview about his time in prison and his beliefs:


"When I look back at the trial we were Irish men in the dock at Lancaster Castle. The police had confessions, they had forensic evidence, they say we were guilty of it.


"There are times I've thought if I'd been on the jury I would have convicted us as well. At the time there was, as it were, overwhelming evidence against us… we had passed through New Street station, practically the scene of the crime.


"Forensic experts were saying they'd found explosives on our hands.


"It was an open and shut case because we were going to the funeral of a dead IRA man who had planted a bomb the week before.


"The reality was that we were going to James McDade's funeral. We knew nothing about the pub bombings. There was no explosive on our hands."


Also speaking out in this special anniversary programme is Under Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Chris Mullin.


He made the television programme that questioned forensic evidence against the Birmingham Six. He claims he has spoken to the real bombers.


30 Years On: The Birmingham Bombings is made by BFM Productions for the BBC.



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Category: West Midlands TV

Date: 15.11.2004
Printable version

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