Birmingham pub bombings

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Birmingham pub bombings
Part of the Troubles
Mulberry bush pub bomb.jpg
Aftermath of the explosion in the Mulberry Bush pub, which killed ten people.
Location Birmingham, England
Date 21 November 1974
20:17 and 20:27 (GMT)
Target The Mulberry Bush and the Tavern in the Town pubs
Attack type
Time bombs
Deaths 21
Non-fatal injuries
Perpetrators Provisional Irish Republican Army

The Birmingham pub bombings were a series of bombings which occurred in public houses on 21 November 1974 in Birmingham, England, killing 21 people and injuring 182 others.[1] Although the Provisional Irish Republican Army have never officially admitted responsibility for the Birmingham pub bombings,[2] a former senior officer of the organization confessed to their involvement in 2014.[3]

Six Irishmen were arrested within hours of the blasts, and in 1975 sentenced to life imprisonment for the bombings. The men—who became known as the Birmingham Six—consistently maintained their innocence and insisted police had coerced them into signing false confessions through severe physical and psychological abuse. (The convictions of the Birmingham Six were declared unsafe and unsatisfactory and quashed by the Court of Appeal in 1991.)

Within one week of the Birmingham pub bombings, the British Government signed into effect the the Prevention of Terrorism Act of 1974; an Act which allowed suspected IRA activists to be held for up to seven days, and their deportation if proven or suspected of involvement in terrorism.

The Birmingham pub bombings are seen as one of the deadliest acts of the Troubles; the deadliest act of terrorism to occur in Britain between World War II and the 2005 London bombings;[4] and one of the worst miscarriages of justice in British legal history.


The IRA had been carrying out a bombing campaign in England since 1973. It attacked what it saw as military, political, economic and symbolic targets. This included attacks on infrastructure and businesses. Telephoned warnings were usually sent before attacks on civilian targets. The goal was to damage the economy and cause severe disruption to daily life, which would put pressure on the British government to withdraw from Northern Ireland.[5]

In 1974 the IRA stepped up its bombing campaign in England and on average there was an attack every three days.[6] Five bombs exploded in Birmingham on 14 July, including one in the Rotunda and one at Nechells power station.[7] On 5 October the IRA bombed two pubs in Guildford frequented by military personnel, killing four soldiers and a civilian. Another soldier and a civilian were killed on 7 November when a pub near Woolwich Barracks was bombed.

On 14 November, IRA member James McDade was killed in a premature explosion while planting a bomb at a telephone exchange in Coventry. McDade was from Belfast but had been living in Birmingham. The local republican movement planned to have a paramilitary guard of honour accompany his coffin as it left England. The government said it would not be allowed and hundreds of police were deployed to prevent it.[8]

New Street in central Birmingham facing the cylindrical Rotunda. Visible on the right are the sign and doorway of "The Yard of Ale", the premises formerly occupied by the "Tavern in the Town"


Mulberry Bush[edit]

At 20:11, an unknown man with a distinct Irish accent telephoned the Birmingham Post newspaper. The call was answered by an operator named Ian Cropper. To Cropper, this individual stated the words: "There is a bomb planted in the Rotunda and there is a bomb in New Street at the tax office" before terminating the call.[9] A similar warning was also sent to the Birmingham Evening Mail newspaper, with the anonymous caller(s) giving an official IRA code word to indicate the authenticity of these threats.[10][11]

The Rotunda was a 25-storey office block that housed the "Mulberry Bush" pub on its lower two floors.[12] Within minutes of the anonymous phone threat, the police had arrived at this location and had begun to check the upper floors of the building for explosive devices, but had not begun to clear the crowded pub located street level. At 20:17, just six minutes after the first telephone warning had been delivered to the Birmingham Post, the bomb—which had been concealed inside a duffel bag—exploded, devastating the pub.[9] Eight people were people were killed outright in this explosion, with dozens injured. Two of those injured in this explosion—Thomas Chaytor and James Craig—would each succumb to their injuries on 28 November and 10 December respectively.[13] Another individual who had been wounded was a 21-year-old woman named Maureen Carlin, who was so badly wounded she would later recollect informing her fiancé—himself badly wounded in the explosion:—"If I die, just remember I love you."[14] Carlin was given the last rites, with surgeons initially doubtful she would live, although she would recover from her injuries.

Tavern in the Town[edit]

Police were attempting to clear the nearby "Tavern in the Town", a basement pub on New Street, when at 20:27 a second bomb exploded there. It killed a further 11 people and injured every person present in the pub—many severerely.[15] The bodies of the dead and injured were strewn about the ruined pub.[2] A passing West Midlands bus was wrecked in the blast.[16] The explosion was so powerful that several victims were blown through a brick wall. Their remains were wedged between the rubble and underground electric cables; it took hours for firemen to free them.[17] The two pubs were about 50 yards (46 m) apart.[2] Buildings near the pubs were damaged and passersby in the street were struck by flying glass from shattered windows.

After the blasts, police evacuated all pubs in the city centre and halted all bus services. The streets became crowded with people attempting to leave the area on foot. The resulting traffic jams prevented ambulances getting to the scene quickly and many of the injured were ferried to hospital in taxis.[12] Police commandeered all available rooms in the City Centre Hotel on New Street and it became an emergency first-aid post.[12]

Mulberry Bush: 20:17 p.m.
  • Stanley Bodman, 51
  • James Caddick, 40
  • Thomas Chaytor, 28
  • James Craig, 34
  • Paul Davis, 20
  • Charles Gray, 44
  • John Jones, 51
  • Neil Marsh, 20
  • John Rowland, 46
  • Trevor Thrupp, 33
Tavern in the Town: 20:27 p.m.
  • Michael Beasley, 30
  • Lynn Bennett, 18
  • Jane Davis, 17
  • Maxine Hambleton, 18
  • Anne Hayes, 19
  • Marylin Nash, 22
  • Pamela Palmer, 19
  • Desmond Reilly, 22
  • Eugene Reilly, 23
  • Maureen Roberts, 20
  • Stephen Whalley, 21

At 21:15, a third bomb was found concealed in a bag outside a bank on Hagley Road, approximately two miles from the site of the first two explosions. The detonator to this device did activate when a policeman prodded the bag, but the bomb failed to explode.[18][19]

Altogether, 21 people were killed and 182 people were injured. Most of the dead and wounded were young people between the ages of 17 and 25, including two brothers of Irish descent: Desmond and Eugene Reilly (aged 22 and 23 respectively). One of the victims killed in the second explosion, 18-year-old Maxine Hambleton, had only gone into the "Tavern in the Town" to hand out tickets to friends for a party. She was killed seconds after entering the pub and had been standing beside the bag containing the bomb when it exploded. Her friend, 17-year-old Jane Davis, was the youngest victim of the bombings.[20][21]


The bombings were immediately blamed on the IRA, and the police and government came under great pressure to clamp down on the organization.[2] A few days after, the British Government introduced the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Among other things, this allowed suspects to be held up to 7 days without charge and allowed people to be deported from Great Britain to either Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland.[12][22] There were also calls to reintroduce hanging for those convicted of terrorist acts. The bid to reintroduce hanging was unsuccessful.[23]

One week after the Birmingham pub bombings, on 27 November, Roy Jenkins, then British Home Secretary, signed into effect the Prevention of Terrorism Act of 1974. (This Act became law on 29 November.)[22] In reference to the Prevention of Terrorism Act of 1974, Jenkins conceded provisions detailed were "draconian measures unprecedented in peacetime", but nevertheless deemed the Act necessary.[22]

The bombings stoked considerable anti-Irish sentiment in Birmingham, and sparked a wave of attacks on the Irish community in parts of England.[12] Irish homes, pubs, businesses and community centres were attacked, in some cases with firebombs.[12] Irish people were assaulted[12] and there was "talk of English workers dropping bricks on the heads of Irish Catholic workmates on building sites".[24] Workers at thirty factories in the Midlands went on strike in protest at the bombings, while workers at airports refused to handle flights bound for Ireland.[12] Because of the anger against Irish people in Birmingham after the bombings, the IRA's Army Council placed the city "strictly off-limits" to IRA active service units.[25] In Northern Ireland, loyalist paramilitaries carried out a wave of "revenge attacks" on Irish Catholics. In the two days following the bombings, five Catholic civilians were shot dead by loyalists.[26]

External images
The memorial plaque commemorating the victims of the Birmingham Pub Bombings

A memorial plaque for the victims is in the grounds of Birmingham's Saint Philip's Cathedral.[27]


For more details on this topic, see Birmingham Six.

On the night of the bombings, six Irishmen were arrested at Heysham Port while about to board a ferry to Belfast and charged with carrying out the bombings. They became known as the "Birmingham Six".[28][29] The men were from Belfast but had lived in Birmingham for some time. They knew IRA member James McDade and had been travelling to Belfast for his funeral and to visit their families.[12] They had got a train from Birmingham New Street station shortly before the bombs exploded. Four of the men signed confessions written by police. However, they maintained their innocence and claimed officers had coerced them into signing the confessions through severe physical and psychological abuse. This included beating, deprivation of food and sleep, mock executions, intimidation, verbal abuse and threats against them and their families.[30]

At the time, the Provisional IRA denied responsibility for the bombings.[22] It is said that the IRA leadership and IRA supporters were "horrified" by the bombings.[31] Brendan Magill, Sinn Féin's national organizer in Britain, called the bombings "disgraceful".[32] Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, then Sinn Féin President, "made inquiries and confirmed that the IRA leadership had not sanctioned the bombs".[31] Dáithí Ó Conaill, then a member of the IRA's Army Council, said shortly after:

Ó Conaill also said that none of the Birmingham Six had never been members of the IRA.

Red Flag 74—a small breakaway faction of the International Marxist Group—claimed responsibility for the bombings at the time. It had claimed responsibility for bombings before and said it received training and explosives from the IRA. However, the police did not take the claims seriously.[33][34]

The Birmingham Six were sentenced to life imprisonment in August 1975. They were convicted based on their confessions, on Griess test results, and on circumstantial evidence. At the same trial, IRA member Michael Murray, Michael Sheehan and James Kelly were convicted for conspiring to cause explosions. During the trial, one of the six—John Walker—claimed that Murray had privately admitted being one of the bombers.[30] Murray allegedly told Walker: "I'm very sorry to see yous in here. Nothing went right that night. The first telephone box we got to was out of order".[35] The six said they were "scapegoats" because police did not have enough evidence to convict the real bombers. During their 16 years in prison there were numerous calls for their release and protests against their ill-treatment and imprisonment.

In 1985, World in Action, a Granada Television program, presented evidence that seriously challenged the validity of the convictions. On the program, former IRA Chief of Staff, Joe Cahill, acknowledged that IRA members had been involved.[36] In 1986, journalist Chris Mullin published Error of Judgement: Truth About the Birmingham Bombings, which provided further evidence that the men had been wrongly convicted. It also included anonymous interviews with some of those who claimed to have been involved in the bombings. They claimed the bomb warning had been delayed because the telephone box was out-of-order and by the time they got to another phone it was too late.[37] Maureen Mitchell, who survived the bombing, claimed in 2009 she met an IRA member who admitted his involvement, but who called the bombings a mistake.[38] On 28 March 1990, ITV broadcast the Granada Television documentary drama, Who Bombed Birmingham?, which concluded that the six were wrongly convicted. The programme's investigations established five men it believed to be the bombers, it named four of them.[39] One was Michael Murray.[40] The programme also claimed the bombings were planned by Seamus McLoughlin (aka Belfast Jimmy). Others bombers included bomb maker James Francis Gavin (aka James Kelly) and bomb planter Michael Christopher Anthony Hayes.[41]

At the conclusion of the Birmingham Six's second appeal in 1991, their convictions were quashed after the evidence and the confessions were found to be unreliable.[42] They were released on 14 March 1991 after the judgment of the Court of Appeal was handed down.[43][44][45]

One of the Birmingham Six, Patrick Hill, later stated that police had told them from the beginning: "They didn't care if we did it or not – that people right at the top needed convictions". He said that the six had learned the names of the real bombers and claimed their identities were known among the upper echelons of both the IRA and the British government.[46] He said that he was told by IRA members that five people carried out the bombings; two of whom had died, and two of whom had been given immunity by the British government due to the Good Friday Agreement.[47] Both Patrick Hill and Brian Hambleton, of Justice for the 21, believe they have evidence that a British double agent was part of an IRA unit that carried out the bombings.[48][49] The British government has put a 75-year embargo on documents relating to the bombings.[49]

Denis Faul called on the IRA to apologize for the bombings. Sinn Féin called the bombings "wrong" and said that if "issues relating to the IRA concerning the Birmingham bombings are still to be addressed, then it is very clearly the Sinn Féin position that this should happen".[50]

In 2013 Julie and Brian Hambleton—brother and sister of Maxine Hambleton, a victim of the bombings—started a campaign called "Justice for the 21". Its stated aim is to get the criminal investigation into the bombings reopened and the perpetrators brought to justice.[51]

In 2014, former senior IRA officer Kieran Conway admitted that the terrorist group had carried out the Birmingham pub bombings.[52]

Cultural references[edit]

On 28 March 1990, ITV broadcast the Granada Television documentary drama Who Bombed Birmingham?, which re-enacted the bombings.[53] It was written by Rob Ritchie and directed by Mike Beckham, starring John Hurt as Mullin, Martin Shaw as World in Action producer Ian McBride, and Patrick Malahide as Michael Mansfield (QC).[54][55]

Key elements of the novel The Rotters Club by Jonathan Coe involve the bombings.[56]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Birmingham Framework -Six Innocent Men Framed for the Birmingham Bombings; Fr. Denis Faul and Fr. Raymond Murray (1976)
  2. ^ a b c d "Birmingham pub blasts kill 19". BBC News. 21 November 1974. Retrieved 2007-08-15. 
  3. ^ Birmingham Mail 9 Dec., 2014
  4. ^ "Britain 'defiant' as bombers kill 52 in attack on the heart of London". The Times. 8 July 2005. Retrieved 23 November 2010. 
  5. ^ O'Day, Alan. Political Violence in Northern Ireland. Greenwood Publishing, 1997. p.20
  6. ^ Gibson, Brian. The Birmingham Bombs. 1976. p.50
  7. ^ Gibson, p.49
  8. ^ McKittrick, David. Lost Lives. p.494
  9. ^ a b Mullin, Chris (1990). "Chapter 1". Error of Judgement (3rd ed.). Poolbeg. p. 1. ISBN 1-85371-090-3. 
  10. ^ Dillon, Martin (1996). 25 Years of Terror: The IRA's war against the British. Bantam Books. p. 188. ISBN 0-553-40773-2. 
  11. ^ "The man who spoke to a Birmingham pub bomber: A voice calm, collected and full of hatred". Birmingham Mail. 22 November 2012.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i McKittrick, David. Lost Lives. pp.497–498
  13. ^ Lost Lives: The Stories of the Men, Women and Children who Died as a Result of the Northern Ireland Troubles pp. 504-505
  14. ^ Birmingham Mail 22 Nov., 2014
  15. ^ Birmingham Mail 21 Nov., 2012
  16. ^ "David Cameron says new Birmingham pub bombings probe unlikely". The Sunday Mercury. 22 November 2009.
  17. ^ The Birmingham Pub Bombings, 21 November 1974, a personal account by Alan Stuart Hill
  18. ^ Mullin, Chris (1990). "Chapter 1". Error of Judgement (3rd ed.). Poolbeg. p. 5. ISBN 1-85371-090-3. 
  19. ^ "Third explosive on night of Birmingham pub bombings proved real culprits got away". Birmingham Mail. 24 November 2013.
  20. ^ "Family of Teenager Killed in Birmingham Pub Bombings in 1974 'insulted' by plans for compensation". Birmingham Mail. Edward Chadwick. 3 February 2009. Retrieved 3 February 2012
  21. ^ David McKittrick, Seamus Kelters, Brian Feeney and Chris Thornton (2008), Lost Lives. Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing, pp.496–500
  22. ^ a b c d Chronology of the Conflict: November 1974, Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN)
  23. ^ a b "Two-for-one reprisal vowed for each IRA member hanged". Montreal: The Gazette. 12 December 1974. 
  24. ^ "Every Briton now a target for death". Sydney Morning Herald. 1 December 1974. 
  25. ^ "Millimetres from disaster". Sunday Mercury. 13 April 2003.
  26. ^ McKittrick, Lost Lives, pp.501–502
  27. ^ "Birmingham pub bombings: Families remember victims in moving service". Birmingham Mail. 21 November 2009. Retrieved 5 April 2010. 
  28. ^ "Release of Birmingham Six: Statements". Seanad Éireann 128. 15 March 1991. 
  29. ^ "Former MP says sorry to Six over 'guilty' remark". Independent, The (London). [dead link]
  30. ^ a b [ Extract from The Birmingham Framework by Denis Faul & Raymond Murray (1976). Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN).
  31. ^ a b White, Robert W. Ruairí Ó Brádaigh: The Life and Politics of an Irish Revolutionary. Indiana University Press, 2006. pp.221, 381
  32. ^ McGladdery, Gary. The Provisional IRA in England. Irish Academic Press, 2006. p.91
  33. ^ "Bombings Trigger Backlash". Reading Eagle (Reading, Penn.). 24 November 1974. Retrieved 12 July 2011. 
  34. ^ O'Ballance, Edgar. Terror in Ireland: The Heritage of Hate. Presidio Press, 1981. p.204
  35. ^ Gibson, p.148
  36. ^ "IRA fails to say sorry for Birmingham pub bombs". The Guardian. 22 November 2004.
  37. ^ Mullin, Chris. Error of Judgement (3rd Edition). Poolbeg Press, pp.153–154
  38. ^ "Birmingham Pub Bombings were a 'mistake' IRA bomber tells survivor ". Birmingham Mail. 20 November 2009.
  39. ^ "BRITISH TV NAMES BOMBING SUSPECTS". The New York Times. 29 March 1990.
  40. ^ Sean O'Neill (18 November 2004). "The man behind the pub bombs in Birmingham that killed 21". The Times. Retrieved 2007-08-05. 
  41. ^ YouTube: 5:43 Who Bombed Birmingham? (Part 11)
  42. ^ Schurr. "Expert witnesses and the duties of disclosure and impartiality: The lessons of the IRA cases in England" (PDF). Retrieved 10 October 2011. Both the scientific evidence of contamination by nitroglycerine and the documents said to set out the confessions obtained by the police were found to be unreliable following the admission of fresh evidence. 
  43. ^ Expert Witnesses and the Duties of Disclosure & Impartiality: The Lessons Of The IRA Cases In England; Beverley Schurr
  44. ^ Chronology of the Conflict: 1991, Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN)
  45. ^ "Birmingham Six member dies in hospital". The Guardian 22 May 2006.
  46. ^ Guardian newspaper: Birmingham Six man signs petition, 22 April 2012
  47. ^ Don Hale (2 March 2014). "Birmingham pub bombers given secret letters promising immunity – claims Paddy Hill". The Birmingham Mail. Retrieved 2014-03-10. 
  48. ^ "Birmingham pub bombing families' fury as Martin McGuinness speaks at peace conference". Birmingham Mail. 18 September 2014.
  49. ^ a b "Member of Birmingham Six challenges IRA pub bombers to come forward". The Guardian. 2 February 2014.
  50. ^ "IRA should apologise for pub bombings: Sinn Fein". The Guardian. 18 November 2004.
  51. ^ "Birmingham pub bombings: Call to reopen investigation". BBC News. Retrieved 16 November 2013. 
  52. ^ "Birmingham pub bombings: Ex-IRA chief admits 'we did it – and I am ashamed'". Birmingham Mail. Retrieved 9 December 2014. 
  53. ^ New York Times; 29 March 1990; British TV Names Bombing Suspects
  54. ^ BFI Screenonline – World in Action
  55. ^ The Kaleidoscope British Independent Television Drama Research Guide 1955–2010, page 3304 (Simon Coward, Richard Down & Christopher Perry; Kaleidoscope Publishing, 2nd edition, 2010, ISBN 978-1-900203-33-3)
  56. ^ The Rotters Club Jonathan Coe ISBN 0141033266

External links[edit]