seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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The Arrest of the Birmingham Six

the-birmingham-sixHugh Callaghan, Patrick Hill, Robert Hunter, Noel McIlkenny, William Power, and John Walker, known as the “Birmingham Six,” are arrested on November 22, 1974 in connection with pub bombings which took place earlier in the week.

The Birmingham pub bombings take place on November 21, 1974 and are attributed to the Provisional Irish Republican Army. Explosive devices are placed in two central Birmingham pubs, the Mulberry Bush at the foot of the Rotunda and the Tavern in the Town in New Street. The resulting explosions, at 8:25 PM and 8:27 PM, collectively are the most injurious attacks in England since World War II. Twenty-one people are killed and 182 are injured. A third device, outside a bank in Hagley Road, fails to detonate.

Five of the six arrested are Belfast-born Roman Catholics, while John Walker is a Roman Catholic born in Derry. All six have lived in Birmingham since the 1960s. All the men except for Callaghan leave the city early on the evening of November 21 from New Street Station, shortly before the explosions. They are travelling to Belfast to attend the funeral of James McDade, a Provisional IRA member who had accidentally killed himself on November 14 when his bomb detonates prematurely while he is planting it at a telephone exchange in Coventry.

When they reach Heysham they and others are subject to a Special Branch stop and search. The men do not tell the police of the true purpose of their visit to Belfast, a fact that is later held against them. While the search is in progress the police are informed of the Birmingham bombings. The men agree to be taken to Morecambe police station for forensic tests.

On the morning of November 22, after the forensic tests and questioning at the hands of the Morecambe police, the men are transferred to the custody of West Midlands Serious Crime Squad police unit. Callaghan is taken into custody on the evening of November 22.

The Birmingham Six are charged with murder and conspiracy to cause explosions on May 12, 1975. The trial begins on June 9, 1975 at the Crown Court sitting at Lancaster Castle, before Justice Nigel Bridge and a jury. The jury finds the six men guilty of murder. On August 15, 1975, they are each sentenced to twenty-one life sentences.

On November 28, 1974, the Birmingham Six appear in court for a second time after they had been remanded into custody at HM Prison Winson Green, all showing bruising and other signs of ill-treatment. Fourteen prison officers are charged with assault in June 1975, but are ultimately acquitted. The Six bring a civil claim for damages against the West Midlands Police in 1977, but it is struck out on January 17, 1980 by the Court of Appeal (Civil Division).

In March 1976 the Birmingham Six’s first application for leave to appeal is dismissed by the Court of Appeal, presided over by John Widgery. Their second full appeal, in 1991, is allowed. New evidence of police fabrication and suppression of evidence, the successful attacks on both the confessions and the 1975 forensic evidence causes the Crown to decide not to resist the appeals. The Court of Appeal states that in light of the fresh scientific evidence, the convictions are both unsafe and unsatisfactory. On March 14, 1991 the Birmingham Six are set free.

In 2001, a decade after their release, the six men are awarded compensation ranging from £840,000 to £1.2 million.


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The Release of the Birmingham Six

birmingham-sixThe Birmingham Six – Paddy Joe Hill, Hugh Callaghan, Richard McIlkenny, Gerry Hunter, Billy Power and Johnny Walker – are released from jail on March 14, 1991 after their convictions for the murder of 21 people in two pubs are quashed by the Court of Appeal.

The Birmingham pub bombings take place on November 21, 1974 and are attributed to the Provisional Irish Republican Army. Explosive devices are 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. Up until this point, the resulting explosions collectively are the most injurious attacks in Great Britain since World War II. Ten people at the Mulberry Bush and eleven at the Tavern in the Town are killed and 182 people are injured. A third device, outside a bank in Hagley Road, fails to detonate.

Five of the six are taken into custody on the evening of November 21. The men agree to be taken to Morecambe police station for forensic tests.The following morning, after the forensic tests and questioning at the hands of the Morecambe police, the men are transferred to the custody of West Midlands Serious Crime Squad police unit. Hugh Callaghan is taken into custody on the evening of November 22.

On May 12, 1975 the six men are charged with murder and conspiracy to cause explosions. The trial begins on June 9, 1975 at the Crown Court sitting at Lancaster Castle. After legal arguments the statements made in November are deemed admissible as evidence. The unreliability of these statements is later established. Forensic scientist Dr. Frank Skuse uses positive Griess test results to claim that Hill and Power had handled explosives. Callaghan, Hunter, McIlkenny and Walker all had tested negative. The jury finds the six men guilty of murder. On August 15, 1975, they are each sentenced to 21 life sentences.

In March 1976 their first application for leave to appeal is dismissed by the Court of Appeal. Their second full appeal, in 1991, is allowed. New evidence of police fabrication and suppression of evidence, the successful attacks on both the confessions and the 1975 forensic evidence causes the Crown to decide not to resist the appeals. The Court of Appeal states 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 March 14, 1991 the six walk free.

In 2001, a decade after their release, the six men are awarded compensation ranging from £840,000 to £1.2 million.

The success of the appeals and other miscarriages of justice cause the Home Secretary to set up a Royal Commission on Criminal Justice in 1991. The commission reports in 1993 and leads to the Criminal Appeal Act 1995 which establishes the Criminal Cases Review Commission in 1997. Superintendent George Reade and two other police officers are charged with perjury and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice but are never prosecuted. During the inquest into the bombings in 2016, Hill states that he knows the identities of three of the bombers who are still “free men” in Ireland.


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Death of Hunger Striker Frank Stagg

frank-staggFrank Stagg, Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) hunger striker from County Mayo, dies in February 12, 1976, in Wakefield Prison, West Yorkshire, England after 62 days on hunger strike.

Stagg is the seventh child in a family of thirteen children. He is born on October 4, 1942, in Hollymount, County Mayo. His brother, Emmet Stagg, is a Labour Party politician, formerly a Teachta Dála (TD) for Kildare North.

Stagg is educated to primary level at Newbrook Primary School and at CBS Ballinrobe to secondary level. After finishing his schooling, he works as an assistant gamekeeper with his uncle prior to emigrating to England in search of work.

Once in England he gains employment as a bus conductor in north London and later becomes a bus driver. Whilst in England he meets and marries fellow Mayo native, Bridie Armstrong from Carnacon. In 1972, he joins the Luton cumann of Sinn Féin and soon after becomes a volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA).

In April 1973, Stagg is arrested with six others alleged to comprise an IRA unit planning bombing attacks in Coventry. He is tried at Birmingham Crown Court. The jury finds three of the seven not guilty. The remaining four are all found guilty of criminal damage and conspiracy to commit arson. Stagg and English-born priest, Father Patrick Fell, are found to be the unit’s commanding officers. Stagg is given a ten-year sentence and Fell twelve years. Thomas Gerald Rush is given seven years and Anthony Roland Lynch, who is also found guilty of possessing articles with intent to destroy property, namely nitric acid, balloons, wax, and sodium chlorate, is given ten years.

Stagg is initially sent to the top security Albany Prison on the Isle of Wight. In March 1974, having been moved to Parkhurst Prison, he and fellow Mayo man Michael Gaughan join a hunger strike begun by the sisters Marion Price and Dolours Price, Hugh Feeney, and Gerry Kelly.

Following the hunger strike that results in the death of Michael Gaughan, the Price sisters, Feeney, and Kelly are granted repatriation to Ireland. Stagg is denied repatriation and is transferred to Long Lartin Prison. During his time there he is subject to solitary confinement for refusing to do prison work and is also subjected, along with his wife and sisters during visits, to humiliating body searches. In protest against this he begins a second hunger strike that lasts for thirty-four days. This ends when the prison governor agrees to an end to the strip-searches on Stagg and his visitors. Stagg is bed-ridden for the rest of his incarceration in Long Lartin, due to a kidney complaint.

In 1975 Stagg is transferred to Wakefield Prison, where it is demanded that he again do prison work. He refuses and is placed in solitary confinement. On December 14, 1975, Stagg embarks on a hunger strike in Wakefield, along with a number of other republican prisoners, after being refused repatriation to Ireland during the IRA/British truce. Stagg’s demands are an end to solitary confinement, no prison work, and repatriation to prison in Ireland. The British government refuses to meet any of these demands. Stagg dies on February 12, 1976 after 62 days on hunger strike.

Frank Stagg’s burial causes considerable controversy in Ireland, with republicans and two of his brothers seeking to have Stagg buried in the republican plot in Ballina in accordance with his wishes, while his widow, his brother, Emmet Stagg, and the Irish government wish to have him buried in the family plot in the same cemetery and to avoid republican involvement in the funeral. As the republicans wait at Dublin Airport for the body, the Irish government orders the flight to be diverted to Shannon Airport.

His body is taken to Ballina and buried near the family plot. In order to prevent the body being disinterred and reburied by republicans, the grave is covered with concrete. In November 1976, a group of republicans tunnel under the concrete to recover the coffin under cover of darkness and rebury it in the republican plot.