Birmingham pub bombings

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Birmingham pub bombings
Part of the Troubles
Mulberry bush pub bomb.jpg
The devastation inside the "Mulberry Bush" pub caused by the bombing. This first attack 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
Suspected perpetrator
Provisional Irish Republican Army

The Birmingham pub bombings occurred on 21 November 1974 in Birmingham, England. The explosions killed 21 people and injured 182.[1] The devices were placed in two central Birmingham pubs – the "Mulberry Bush" and the "Tavern in the Town". Although warnings were sent, the pubs were not evacuated in time. The Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) was immediately and widely blamed for the bombings, although it denied responsibility.[2] The attack was claimed by a small militant group called Red Flag 74, but this was treated with scepticism by police.[3]

As the IRA was believed to have been responsible, the bombings yielded a wave of anti-Irish sentiment and attacks on the Irish community in parts of Great Britain.[4] A few days after, the Prevention of Terrorism Act was swiftly introduced by the British government. Six Irishmen, who became known as the Birmingham Six, were arrested immediately after and in 1975 were given life sentences for the bombings. After 16 years in prison, their convictions were quashed after the court finally acknowledged that the scientific evidence and their "confessions", which had been obtained through violence, were unreliable.

The bombings were the deadliest such attacks in England until the July 2005 London bombings.[5] A memorial service was held in Birmingham Cathedral on the 35th anniversary and a memorial plaque is in the grounds of Saint Philip's Cathedral in Birmingham.[6]


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"

At 20:11 a man with an Irish accent telephoned the Birmingham Post newspaper and said: "There is a bomb planted in the Rotunda and there is a bomb in New Street at the tax office".[7] A telephoned warning was also sent to the Birmingham Evening Mail newspaper giving an IRA code name and warning of a bomb in the Rotunda.[8][9] The Rotunda was a 25-storey office block that housed the "Mulberry Bush" pub on its lower two floors.[10] The police started to check the upper floors of the Rotunda but failed to clear the crowded pub at street level. Six minutes after the warning, at 20:17, the bomb exploded inside a duffel bag, devastating the pub.[7] Ten people were killed in this explosion and dozens injured, including one woman who was so badly wounded she was given the last rites administered by the Catholic Church to those on the point of death.

Police were attempting to clear the nearby "Tavern in the Town" basement pub on New Street below King Edward House, when at 20:27 a second bomb exploded there, killing another 11 people and leaving many with appalling injuries. The bodies of the dead and injured were strewn about the ruined pub.[2] A passing West Midlands bus was wrecked in the blast.[11] The explosion was so powerful that several victims were blown through a brick wall into an area just below the main front entrance to King Edward House. Their remains were wedged between the rubble and underground electric cables; it took hours for firemen to remove them.[12] 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 shop windows.

A third device, an "Eversoft Frangex" bomb,[13] was placed outside a branch of Barclays Bank on Hagley Road but failed to detonate.[14]

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, Desmond and Eugene Reilly. One of the victims, 18-year-old Maxine Hambleton, had not been a customer. She had just 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 Jane Davis, aged 17, was the youngest victim of the two bombings.[15] The others who were killed by the bombs were Michael Beasley (30), Lynn Bennett (18), Stanley Bodman (51), James Caddick (40), Thomas Chaytor (28), James Craig (34), Paul Davis (20), Charles Gray (44), Anne Hayes (19), John Jones (51), Neil Marsh (20), Marylin Nash (22), Pamela Palmer (19), Maureen Roberts (20), John Rowland (46), Trevor Thrupp (33), and Stephen Whalley (21).[16]


The media, the police and the government immediately blamed the IRA for the bombings.[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.[10][17] Roy Jenkins, then British Home Secretary, called the Act "draconian measures unprecedented in peacetime", but nevertheless deemed it necessary.[17] There were also calls to reintroduce hanging for those convicted of terrorist acts. Dáithí Ó Conaill, a member of the IRA's Army Council, replied: "For every IRA volunteer they hang, we will hang two British soldiers until the British give in". The bid to reintroduce hanging was unsuccessful.[18] However, the Prevention of Terrorism Act was passed on 29 November 1974.[17]

As the bombings were blamed on the IRA, anti-Irish feeling rose in parts of Great Britain. There was a wave of firebombings, bomb threats and attacks on Irish people and Irish-owned businesses. In Birmingham, the Irish Centre was attacked[3] and there was "talk of English workers dropping bricks on the heads of Irish Catholic workmates on building sites and in factories".[4] 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.[19]


Red Flag 74[edit]

Two days after the bombings, a girl in London phoned a news agency and claimed responsibility on behalf of the "Manchester Brigade of Red Flag 74". This was a small breakaway group from the International Marxist Group and claimed to have about 500 members. Red Flag 74 had claimed responsibility for bombings before, including one at the Tower of London. It also claimed that its members had trained with the IRA in Ireland and that it had received explosives from the IRA. All claims were treated with scepticism by the police.[3][20]

Provisional IRA[edit]

The day after the bombings, the Provisional IRA denied responsibility.[17] Dáithí Ó Conaill, then a member of the IRA's Army Council, said shortly after the bombings:

If IRA members had carried-out such attacks, they would be court-martialled and could face the death penalty. The IRA has clear guidelines for waging its war. Any attack on non-military installations must be preceded by a 30-minute warning so that no innocent civilians are endangered.[18]

At the time, IRA sources in London said that the bombs might have been planted by Ulster loyalists "bent on stirring-up a wave of anti-Irish feeling in Britain".[4]

Robert White wrote in his biography of Ruairí Ó Brádaigh that the IRA leadership and IRA supporters were "horrified" by the bombings.[21] Ó Brádaigh, then Sinn Féin President, "made inquiries and confirmed that the IRA leadership had not sanctioned the bombs".[21] Ó Conaill's internal IRA investigation "led him to believe that IRA personnel were not involved". However, journalists undertook their own investigations and concluded that the (lower ranking) IRA members responsible had lied to Ó Conaill.[21] In a 1985 Granada TV World in Action program, former IRA Chief of Staff, Joe Cahill, acknowledged the IRA's role.[22] Maureen Mitchell, who survived the bombing, describes meeting an IRA member who she says admitted his involvement, but said that the bombings were a mistake.[23] 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".[24]

Mick Murray has been named as one of the IRA bombers [25] and was sentenced to 12 years at the same trial that convicted the Birmingham Six.[1] Patrick Hill, one of the Six, said in April 2012 that the Six had learned the names of the real bombers and claimed it was common knowledge among the upper echelons of both the IRA and the British government.[26] He says he was told in around 1980 that IRA members had admitted that five people carried out the bombings, and that two of the five have since died, and two have been promised immunity.[27]

Birmingham Six[edit]

For more details on this topic, see Birmingham Six.

On the night of the bombings, six Irishmen were arrested 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 eventually made confessions, which were obtained through violence, and were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in August 1975. During their 16 years in prison there were numerous calls for their release and protests against their ill-treatment and imprisonment. At the conclusion of their second appeal, their convictions were quashed after the scientific evidence and the confessions were found to be unreliable.[30] They were released on 14 March 1991 after the judgment of the Court of Appeal was handed down.[31][32][33]

Campaign to get the criminal investigation reopened[edit]

In 2013 Julie and Brian Hambleton, brother and sister of Maxine Hambleton, a 21 year-old victim of the bombings, started a campaign entitled "Justice For The 21". This was in the form of an online petition. The aim was to get the criminal investigation into the bombings reopened and the perpetrators brought to justice.[34]

Cultural references[edit]

On 28 March 1990, ITV broadcast the Granada Television documentary drama Who Bombed Birmingham?, which re-enacted the bombings.[35] 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).[36][37]

Key elements of the novel The Rotters Club by Jonathan Coe involve the bombings.[38]

A memorial to the victims of the bombings is in the precinct of St. Philip's Cathedral, Birmingham.[39]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b 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. 1974-11-21. Retrieved 2007-08-15. 
  3. ^ a b c "Bombings Trigger Backlash". Reading Eagle (Reading, Penn.). 24 November 1974. Retrieved 12 July 2011. 
  4. ^ a b c "Every Briton now a target for death". Sydney Morning Herald. 1 December 1974. 
  5. ^ "Britain 'defiant' as bombers kill 52 in attack on the heart of London". The Times. 8 July 2005. Retrieved 23 November 2010. 
  6. ^ "Birmingham pub bombings: Families remember victims in moving service". Birmingham Mail. 21 November 2009. Retrieved 5 April 2010. 
  7. ^ a b Mullin, Chris (1990). "Chapter 1". Error of Judgement (3rd ed.). Poolbeg. p. 1. ISBN 1-85371-090-3. 
  8. ^ Dillon, Martin (1996). 25 Years of Terror: The IRA's war against the British. Bantam Books. p. 188. ISBN 0-553-40773-2. 
  9. ^ "The man who spoke to a Birmingham pub bomber: "A voice calm, collected and full of hatred.”". The Birmingham Mail. 22 November 2012.
  10. ^ a b McKittrick, David. Lost Lives. p.497
  11. ^ "David Cameron says new Birmingham pub bombings probe unlikely". The Sunday Mercury. 22 November 2009.
  12. ^ The Birmingham Pub Bombings, 21 November 1974, a personal account by Alan Stuart Hill
  13. ^ Chris Upton, 30th anniversary of the IRA's attack on Birmingham, Birmingham Post 20 November 2004
  14. ^ Mullin, Chris (1990). "Chapter 1". Error of Judgement (3rd ed.). Poolbeg. p. 5. ISBN 1-85371-090-3. 
  15. ^ " Family of Teenager Killed in Birmingham Pub Bombings in 1974 'insulted' by plans for compensation": Birmingham Edward Chadwick. 3 February 2009. Retrieved 3 February 2012
  16. ^ David McKittrick, Seamus Kelters, Brian Feeney and Chris Thornton (2008), Lost Lives. Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing, pp.496-500
  17. ^ a b c d Chronology of the Conflict: November 1974, Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN)
  18. ^ a b "Two-for-one reprisal vowed for each IRA member hanged". Montreal: The Gazette. 12 December 1974. 
  19. ^ "Millimetres from disaster". Sunday Mercury. 13 April 2003.
  20. ^ O'Ballance, Edgar. Terror in Ireland: The Heritage of Hate. Presidio Press, 1981. p.204
  21. ^ a b c White, Robert W. Ruairí Ó Brádaigh: The Life and Politics of an Irish Revolutionary. Indiana University Press, 2006. pp.221, 381
  22. ^ "IRA fails to say sorry for Birmingham pub bombs". The Guardian. 22 November 2004.
  23. ^ "Birmingham Pub Bombings were a 'mistake' IRA bomber tells survivor ". Birmingham Mail. 20 November 2009.
  24. ^ "IRA should apologise for pub bombings: Sinn Fein". The Guardian. 18 November 2004.
  25. ^ Sean O’Neill (2004-11-18). "The man behind the pub bombs in Birmingham that killed 21". The Times. Retrieved 2007-08-05. 
  26. ^ Guardian newspaper: Birmingham Six man signs petition, 22 April 2012
  27. ^ Don Hale (2014-03-02). "Birmingham pub bombers given secret letters promising immunity - claims Paddy Hill". The Birmingham Mail. Retrieved 2014-03-10. 
  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. ^ Schurr. "Expert witnesses and the duties of disclosure and impartiality: The lessons of the IRA cases in England". 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." 
  31. ^ Expert Witnesses And The Duties Of Disclosure & Impartiality: The Lessons Of The IRA Cases In England; Beverley Schurr
  32. ^ Chronology of the Conflict: 1991, Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN)
  33. ^ "Birmingham Six member dies in hospital". The Guardian 22 May 2006.
  34. ^ "Birmingham pub bombings: Call to reopen investigation". BBC News. Retrieved 16 November 2013. 
  35. ^ New York Times; 29 March 1990; British TV Names Bombing Suspects
  36. ^ BFI Screenonline - World in Action
  37. ^ 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)
  38. ^ The Rotters Club Jonathan Coe ISBN 0141033266
  39. ^ "Birmingham honours pub bomb victims". The Independent. 22 November 1995.

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