The Birmingham Six were six Irishmen who were each sentenced to life imprisonment in 1975 following their false convictions for the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings. Their convictions were declared unsafe and unsatisfactory and quashed by the Court of Appeal on 14 March 1991. The six men were later awarded financial compensation ranging from £840,000 to £1.2 million.
The Birmingham pub bombings took place on 21 November 1974 and were attributed to the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA).Improvised explosive devices were placed in two central Birmingham pubs: the Mulberry Bush at the foot of the Rotunda, and the Tavern in the Town – a basement pub in New Street. The resulting explosions, at 20:25 and 20:27, collectively were the most deadly attacks in the UK since World War II (until surpassed by the Denmark Place fire in 1980); 21 people were killed (ten at the Mulberry Bush and eleven at the Tavern in the Town) and 182 people were injured.
Six men were arrested: Hugh Callaghan, Patrick Joseph Hill, Gerard Hunter, Richard McIlkenny, William Power and John Walker. Five were Belfast-born, while John Walker was born in Derry. All six had lived in Birmingham since the 1960s. All the men except for Callaghan had left the city early on the evening of 21 November from New Street Station, shortly before the explosions. They were travelling to Belfast to attend the funeral of James McDade, an IRA member whom they all knew.McDade had accidentally killed himself on 14 November when his bomb detonated prematurely while he was planting it at a telephone exchange in Coventry. ,
When they reached Heysham, Lancashire, they and others were subject to a Special Branch stop and search. The men did not tell the police of the true purpose of their visit to Belfast, a fact that was later held against them. While the search was in progress the police were informed of the Birmingham bombings. The men agreed to be taken to Morecambe, Lancashire, police station for forensic tests.
On the morning of 22 November, after the forensic tests and questioning by the Morecambe police, the men were transferred to the custody of West Midlands Serious Crime Squad police unit. Callaghan was taken into custody on the evening of 22 November.
While the men were in the custody of the West Midlands Police they were allegedly deprived of food and sleep, and were sometimes interrogated for as much as 12 hours without a break. Threats were made against them and they suffered abuse: punches, dogs being let loose within a foot of them, and a mock execution.William Power alleged that he was assaulted by members of Birmingham Criminal Investigation Department. Richard McIlkenny's daughter said, "When they (the family) saw him the next day, he had been so badly beaten he was unrecognisable."
Power confessed while in Morecambe while Callaghan, Walker and McIlkenny confessed at Queens Road in Aston, Birmingham.
On 12 May 1975, the six men were charged with murder. Three other men, James Kelly, Mick Murray and Michael Sheehan, were charged with conspiracy.
The trial began on 9 June 1975 at the Crown Court sitting at Lancaster Castle, before Mr Justice Bridge and a jury. After legal arguments the statements made in November were deemed admissible as evidence. The unreliability of these statements was later established. Thomas Watt provided circumstantial evidence about John Walker's association with Provisional IRA members.
Forensic scientist Dr Frank Skuse used positive Griess test results to claim that Hill and Power had handled explosives. Callaghan, Hunter, McIlkenny and Walker all had tested negative. GCMS tests at a later date were negative for Power and contradicted the initial results for Hill.Skuse's claim that he was 99% certain that Power and Hill had explosives traces on their hands was opposed by defence expert Dr Hugh Kenneth Black of the Royal Institute of Chemistry, the former HM Chief Inspector of Explosives, Home Office. Skuse's evidence was clearly preferred by Bridge. The jury found the six men guilty of murder. On 15 August 1975, they were each sentenced to 21 life sentences.
On 28 November 1974, the men appeared in court for the second time after they had been remanded into custody at HM Prison Winson Green. All showed bruising and other signs of ill-treatment.Fourteen prison officers were charged with assault in June 1975, but were all acquitted at a trial presided over by Mr. Justice Swanwick. The Six brought a civil claim for damages against the West Midlands Police in 1977, which was struck out on 17 January 1980 by the Court of Appeal (Civil Division), constituted by the Master of the Rolls, Lord Denning, Goff LJ and Sir George Baker, under the principle of estoppel.
In March 1976 their first application for leave to appeal was dismissed by the Court of Appeal, presided over by Lord Widgery CJ.Journalist Chris Mullin investigated the case for Granada TV's World in Action series. In 1985, the first of several World in Action programmes casting doubt on the men's convictions was broadcast. In 1986, Mullin's book, Error of Judgment: The Truth About the Birmingham Pub Bombings, set out a detailed case supporting the men's claims that they were innocent. It included his claim to have met some of those who were actually responsible for the bombings.
The Home Secretary, Douglas Hurd, referred the case back to the Court of Appeal. In January 1988, after a six-week hearing (at that time the longest criminal appeal hearing ever held), the convictions were ruled to be safe and satisfactory. The Court of Appeal, presided over by the Lord Chief Justice Lord Lane, dismissed the appeals. Over the next three years, newspaper articles, television documentaries and books brought forward new evidence to question the safety of the convictions.
Their second full appeal, in 1991, was allowed. Hunter was represented by Lord Gifford QC, the others by Michael Mansfield QC. New evidence of police fabrication and suppression of evidence, the successful attacks on both the confessions and the 1975 forensic evidence caused the Crown to decide not to resist the appeals. The Court of Appeal, constituted by Lord Justices Lloyd, Mustill and Farquharson, stated that "in the light of the fresh scientific evidence, which at least throws grave doubt on Dr. Skuse's evidence, if it does not destroy it altogether, these convictions are both unsafe and unsatisfactory."On 14 March 1991 the six walked free.
In 2001, a decade after their release, the six men were awarded compensation ranging from £840,000 to £1.2 million.
Richard McIlkenny, one of the six men wrongly convicted of the Birmingham pub bombings, died of cancer on 21 May 2006, aged 73. He had returned to Ireland shortly after he was freed from prison, and died in hospital with his family at his bedside.McIlkenny was buried on 24 May in Celbridge, County Kildare. The other members of the Birmingham Six were present at his wake and funeral.
Of the five surviving members of the Birmingham Six, Patrick Hill currently resides in Ayrshire; Gerard Hunter in Portugal; John Walker in Donegal; and both Hugh Callaghan and William Power in London.
The success of the appeals and other miscarriages of justice caused the Home Secretary to set up a Royal Commission on Criminal Justice in 1991. The commission reported in 1993 and led to the Criminal Appeal Act 1995 which established the Criminal Cases Review Commission in 1997. Superintendent George Reade and two other police officers were charged with perjury and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice but were never prosecuted. During the inquest into the bombings in 2016, Hill stated that he knew the identities of three of the bombers who were still "free men" in Ireland.
On 28 March 1990, ITV broadcast the Granada Television docudrama, Who Bombed Birmingham?, which re-enacted the bombings and subsequent key events in Chris Mullin's campaign. Written by Rob Ritchie and directed by Mike Beckham, it starred John Hurt as Mullin, Martin Shaw as World in Action producer Ian McBride, Ciarán Hinds as Richard McIlkenny, one of the Six, and Patrick Malahide as Michael Mansfield (QC).It was repackaged for export as The Investigation – Inside a Terrorist Bombing, and first shown on American television on 22 April 1990. Granada's BAFTA-nominated follow-up documentary after the release of the six men, World in Action Special: The Birmingham Six – Their Own Story, was telecast on 18 March 1991. It was released on DVD in 2007 in Network's first volume of World in Action productions.
In 1994, Frank Skuse brought libel proceedings against Granada, contending that World in Action had falsely portrayed him as negligent. His counsel asserted in the High Court that scientific tests performed in 1992, after the Crown's substantive concession of the accused men's third appeal, showed that traces of nitroglycerine were detected on swabs taken after the bombings from the hands of Hunter and Hill, and on rail tickets handled by McIlkenny and Power. Granada maintained there were never any traces of explosives on the six men.Skuse abandoned the action later that year.
In December 1987, the Court of Appeal granted an injunction which prevented Channel 4 from re-enacting portions of a hearing in the litigation, as it was "likely to undermine public confidence in the administration of justice" if shown during the appeal, in violation of the Contempt of Court Act 1981.In their book The Three Pillars of Liberty (1996) Keir Starmer, Francesca Klug, and Stuart Weir said the decision had had a "chilling effect" on other news and current affairs programmes.
In January 1988 after their first appeal failed, The Sun said "LOONY MP BACKS BOMB GANG" and an editorial said, "If The Sun had its way, we would have been tempted to string 'em up years ago".
In 1993 and 1994, the Birmingham Six received an undisclosed amount from both The Sunday Telegraph and The Sun in an action for libel for the newspapers' reporting of police statements.The New York Times reported in 1997 that the Six had brought libel actions against publications for reporting slurs against them, and that a libel law that usually favours plaintiffs was sending a chill through the British press. The Conservative MP David Evans was sued by them in March 1997 for saying that they were guilty of killing hundreds of people before they were caught. Evans apologised 16 months later. He paid both damages and costs and promised he would never repeat the allegation again.
During his investigation, that proved crucial in establishing the innocence of the Six, Chris Mullin located one of the actual bombers and persuaded him to provide information which helped the men falsely convicted. Mullin promised that he would never reveal his source. At the time the police were not interested, as they believed that they had already arrested the culprits.
However, in 2018 the West Midlands police reopened the investigation, almost 50 years after the event. Two of the four bombers had died. Mullin cooperated with the investigation as far as he felt was possible, for example providing notes of interviews with dead bomber Michael Murray and a redacted copy of notes of other interviews. But Mullin refused to name other people interviewed. The West Midlands police applied for an order under the Terrorism Act 2000 to compel Mullin to reveal his sources; he refused, later saying that source protection is a cornerstone of the free press in a democracy.
In March 2022 Judge Lucraft ruled that it was not in the public interest to oblige Mullin to identify the living perpetrator. Mullin's legal team later said, hailing the ruling, that the right of a journalist to protect their sources was fundamental to a free press in a democracy.
The 1999 London nail bombings were a series of bomb explosions in London, England. Over three successive weekends between 17 and 30 April 1999, homemade nail bombs were detonated respectively in Brixton in South London; at Brick Lane, Spitalfields, in the East End; and at The Admiral Duncan pub in Soho in the West End. Each bomb contained up to 1,500 4-inch (100 mm) nails, in holdalls that were left in public spaces. The bombs killed three people and injured 140 people, four of whom lost limbs.
The Birmingham pub bombings were carried out on 21 November 1974, when bombs exploded in two public houses in Birmingham, England, killing 21 people and injuring 182 others.
Christopher John Mullin is a British journalist, author and Labour politician.
The Guildford Four and Maguire Seven were the collective names of two groups whose convictions in English courts in 1975 and 1976 for the Guildford pub bombings of 5 October 1974 were eventually quashed after long campaigns for justice. The Guildford Four were wrongly convicted of bombings carried out by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA); the Maguire Seven were wrongly convicted of handling explosives found during the investigation into the bombings. Both groups' convictions were eventually declared "unsafe and unsatisfactory" and reversed in 1989 and 1991 respectively after they had served up to 15–16 years in prison. Along with the Maguires and the Guildford Four, a number of other people faced charges relating to the bombings, six of them charged with murder, but these charges were dropped. No one else was charged with the bombings, or supplying the material; three police officers were charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, but found not guilty.
GerardPatrick "Gerry" Conlon was an Irish man known for being one of the Guildford Four who spent 15 years in prison after being wrongly convicted of being a Provisional IRA bomber.
The West Midlands Serious Crime Squad was a police unit in the English West Midlands which operated from 1974 to 1989. It was disbanded after an investigation into allegations of incompetence and abuse of power on the part of some of the squad's members. Some of this misconduct resulted in wrongful convictions, including the high-profile case of the Birmingham Six. The sister Regional Crime Squad based at Bilston was responsible for the investigation of the Bridgewater Four.
The Guildford pub bombings occurred on 5 October 1974 when the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) detonated two 6-pound (2.7-kilogram) gelignite bombs at two pubs in Guildford, Surrey, England. The pubs were targeted because they were popular with British Army personnel stationed at Pirbright barracks. Four soldiers and one civilian were killed. Sixty-five people were wounded.
The M62 coach bombing, sometimes referred to as the M62 Massacre, occurred on 4 February 1974 on the M62 motorway in northern England, when a 25-pound (11 kg) Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) bomb hidden inside the luggage locker of a coach carrying off-duty British Armed Forces personnel and their family members exploded, killing twelve people and injuring thirty-eight others aboard the vehicle.
Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi was a Libyan who was head of security for Libyan Arab Airlines, director of the Centre for Strategic Studies in Tripoli, Libya, and an alleged Libyan intelligence officer. On 31 January 2001, Megrahi was convicted, by a panel of three Scottish judges sitting in a special court at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands, of 270 counts of murder for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, on 21 December 1988 and was sentenced to life imprisonment. His co-accused, Lamin Khalifah Fhimah, was found not guilty and was acquitted.
The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) is the statutory body responsible for investigating alleged miscarriages of justice in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. It was established by Section 8 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1995 and began work on 31 March 1997. The commission is the only body in its area of jurisdiction with the power to send a case back to an appeals court if it concludes that there is a real possibility that the court will overturn a conviction or reduce a sentence. Since starting work in 1997, it has on average referred 33 cases a year for appeal.
On 4 December 1971, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), an Ulster loyalist paramilitary group, detonated a bomb at McGurk's Bar in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The pub was frequented by Irish Catholics/nationalists. The explosion caused the building to collapse, killing fifteen Catholic civilians—including two children—and wounding seventeen more. It was the deadliest attack in Belfast during the Troubles.
"Streets of Sorrow/Birmingham Six" is a political song by the Irish folk punk band The Pogues, written by Terry Woods and Shane MacGowan and included on the band's 1988 album If I Should Fall from Grace with God.
Eamon Collins was a Provisional Irish Republican Army member in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He turned his back on the organisation in the late 1980s, and later co-authored a book called Killing Rage detailing his experiences within it. In January 1999 he was waylaid on a public road and murdered near his home in Newry in Northern Ireland.
Michael Joseph Murray, also known as Squire Murray, was a Provisional Irish Republican Army volunteer, later named as an organiser of the Birmingham pub bombings, which killed 21 people on 21 November 1974.
Frank Skuse is a British former forensic scientist for the North West Forensic Laboratories based in Chorley, Lancashire. His flawed conclusions, eventually discredited, contributed to the convictions of Judith Ward and the Birmingham Six.
Sarah Conlon was an Irish housewife and a prominent campaigner in one of the most high-profile miscarriage of justice cases in British legal history. She spent decades clearing the names of her husband Giuseppe and son Gerry over the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) pub bombings at Guildford and Woolwich, and helped secure an apology from former British prime minister Tony Blair in 2005 for their wrongful imprisonment.
Nick Spanos and Stephen Melrose were Australian tourists shot dead in Roermond, the Netherlands by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) on 27 May 1990, which stated it had mistaken them for off-duty British soldiers. The attack was part of an IRA campaign in Continental Europe.
On 25 and 27 November 1974 the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) placed several bombs in pillar boxes and one in a hedge behind a pillar box. This was a new tactic used by the IRA in England, although a similar tactic had been used in Northern Ireland during The Troubles several times previously. 40 people were wounded from five explosions in several districts.