Thursday, 27 September 2018

Birmingham 1974 bombings - "Perpetrator issue" excluded from new inquests

 Bombs detonated on 21 November 1974 in Birmingham and wrecked the Mulberry Bush and the Tavern in the Town.  21 people were killed and 182 injured.  A third explosive device failed to detonate.  Six men - (Hugh Callaghan, Patrick Joseph Hill, Gerard Hunter, Richard McIlkenny, William Power and John Walker) - were arrested and subsequently tried in the Shire Hall of Lancaster Castle before Bridge J and a jury.  The trial commenced on 9 June 1975 and the men, having been convicted, were sentenced on 15 August 1975.  Their convictions were quashed by the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) on 14 March 1991 - R v McIlkenny, Hill, Power, Walker, Hunter and Callaghan [1991] EWCA Crim 2 - Lloyd, Mustill and Farquharson LJJ.

In June 2016 the Chief Coroner ruled that there should be fresh inquests into the deaths - post 27 January 2018.

The names of alleged Birmingham pub bombing suspects will not be part of the new inquests into victims' deaths - Sky News 26 September.   This is referred to as the "Perpetrator Issue" - that is, the identities of those who planned, planted, procured and authorised the bombs used on 21 November 1974.

The Court of Appeal (Civil Division) so ruled in Coroner for the Birmingham Inquests (1974) v Julie Hambleton and others [2018] EWCA Civ 2081 and via Bailii.

The court stated (para 56 and 57) -

"At the resumed inquests, what will be the "the central issues"? The statutory questions remain. In the present case, the stark answers to those questions are known. The identities of the deceased are known; the dates and the places of the deaths are known and it is known that all the deceased were unlawfully killed. An issue identified both by the Senior Coroner who directed the resumption of the inquests and the Coroner concerns prior knowledge. Others may emerge. But the identity of those responsible for the bombings is not a central issue in the inquests. It is difficult to criticise the Coroner, still less to stigmatise as unlawful a decision to refuse to explore a distinct question which the jury is prohibited by statute from answering.

In our judgment the Coroner's statement of "the meaning of scope", in paragraphs [18] and following of his ruling (see [20] above) was correct. Moreover, however the test is formulated, his decision in the present case to exclude the Perpetrator Issue from the scope of this inquest was not, in our view, unlawful in the public law sense."

Previous posts are 26 November 201414 March 2016 - and 27 January 2018.

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