Sunday 21 November 2004,
BBC ONE (West Midlands only), 11.0511.35pm
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
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
"I just remember people walking about with seemingly
dreadful injuries and not being aware they were injured. I guess it's
"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
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
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
"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
30 Years On: The Birmingham Bombings is made by BFM
Productions for the BBC.