Six Irishmen Jailed for 1974 Pub Bombings Begin Appeal
LONDON (AP) _ Six Irishmen serving multiple life sentences for Britain’s worst terrorist bombing begin a court appeal today.
The so-called Birmingham Six maintain they are innocent of the twin pub bombings that killed 21 people on Nov. 21, 1974. They say they were beaten into confessing and were convicted on faulty forensic evidence.
The Court of Appeal hearing was scheduled in the Old Bailey Central Criminal Court.
The bombs injured 162 people at the Tavern in the Town and the Mulberry Bush pubs in downtown Birmingham, Britain’s second largest city. The Irish Republican Army, fighting a bloody guerrilla campaign to oust the British from Northern Ireland, claimed responsibility.
Within hours, police rounded up the six men among dozens of suspects. Five of them were arrested as they boarded a Belfast-bound ferry to attend the funeral of an IRA man.
Four signed confessions and two were said to have made verbal confessions. On Aug. 16, 1975, after a 45-day trial, Hugh Callaghan, Patrick Hill, Gerry Hunter, Richard McIlkenny, William Power and John Walker each were given 21 life sentences, one for each of the people who died.
They said they were sympathetic to the IRA, but the IRA never claimed they perpetrated the bombings.
The three-judge court, headed by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Lane, has to determine whether the convictions are safe enough to be allowed to stand. The convicted men, who have been in jail for 12 years, argue they are victims of a miscarriage of justice.
Chris Mullin, an investigative journalist who dug up the evidence to justify the appeal hearing, says he has identified four men who carried out the bombings, pointed up contradictions between the confessions and the events as they occurred, and produced a police officer who swears the suspects were mistreated.
Mullin, now a member of Parliament for the opposition Labor Party, demonstrated that nitrate traces found on the convicted men’s hands could have come not from explosives but from cigarettes and playing cards the men handled.
Dr. Frank Skuse, the Home Office scientist who testified for the prosecution, was retired from his job in 1985 because of his ″limited efficiency.″
The Home Office took the unusual step of allowing an appeal in January. News reports say it intends to continue to rely on Skuse’s forensic evidence.
″I am satisfied that there is new evidence that would justify my referring this case,″ said Home Secretary Douglas Hurd.
The six men appealed their convictions in 1976 and lost. Their suit against the police for damages was thrown out in 1978 and they were refused permission in 1980 to appeal again.
The Irish government has expressed misgivings about the trial and cites it, among other things, as a hindrance to ratifying a new extradition treaty with Britain on Dec. 1.
Ivy Roberts, whose 20-year-old daughter, Maureen, died in the Tavern in the Town, described the campaign to release the six men as ″just one big con.″
″Two trials and now they’re back again. The innocent were the 21 that were killed and can’t come back,″ she was quoted today by The Independent, a London daily.
If the appeal is upheld, it will add pressure on the Home Office to order retrials in other controversial cases, principally the conviction of three men and a woman for two IRA pub bombings in Guilford near London that killed five people six weeks before the Birmingham bombings.
In August, the government ordered a police investigation into new evidence concerning the Guilford Four.