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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.