THE West Midlands’ most powerful politician has written to the Birmingham pub bombings coroner urging him to re-think his decision to appeal a court ruling over the exclusion of the identity of the suspects from the new inquests.
Mayor Andy Street has told Sir Peter Thornton that the High Court ruling had given the families of victims “a glimmer of hope” that they might achieve justice.
“Your response to that decision has caused further distress,” Mr Street told him.
He also flags up the growing concern and anger in Birmingham over the lack of funding for the families.
They have had to raise £30,000 so far to pay for legal representation having been snubbed by the Legal Aid Agency (LAA), but all the Coroner’s costs are being met via the public purse.
In his letter Mr Street says: “I know you will understand that the families simply don’t have the resources to fight again - so your thinking and its impact on them is particularly interesting to me.”
Today a spokesperson for the Inquests said: “The Coroner has received a letter from the West Midlands Mayor and is considering it carefully”.
The Mayor has been quietly supporting the families who are part of the Justice4the21 campaign group.
He has met privately with them and been working behind the scenes for their cause.
Last year Mr Thornton’s decided to exclude the perpetrators from the scope of the inquest meaning that it will avoid issues such as who bombed Birmingham, who organised the bombing, who ordered the bombing, who made the devices, who planted them and who their associates were.
But the families believe all of these are vital and must be included if the inquest is to be fair and transparent.
So they sought a Judicial Review before the High Court, which ordered the Coroner to reconsider how he arrived at his decision.
Later a spokesperson for the Inquests said: “The Coroner has considered carefully the High Court judgment handed down on the scope of the inquests.
“The judgment concerns the extent to which these inquests, which are not criminal proceedings, can investigate and seek to identify those individuals who were responsible for the tragic events in Birmingham 43 years ago.
“This is a complex matter about the purpose of an inquest and the approach of a coroner to setting the boundaries of his, or her, investigation.
“The questions raised by the judgment are vital to the inquests into the deaths of the 21 people who died as a result of the bombings and are also of general public importance.
“The Coroner considers that clarity and certainty are required on these matters in order that the work of the inquests can continue to proceed effectively.
“In the circumstances, the Coroner considers that legal issues raised in the High Court judgment require reconsideration and clarification and he now intends to seek permission to appeal the judgment to the Court of Appeal.”
Nine of the families are represented by KRW LAW whose spokesman said: “KRW has met with Mr Street in 2017 together with the families we represent.
“We had a useful discussion on both the funding and the investigation. KRW has also attended meetings with local MPs, the Home Secretary and Shadow Ministers including MEPs in an advisory capacity with our clients.
“Mr Street, who has a public office, is of course able to contact a law officer including a Coroner to seek clarification on an investigation which effects those he represents in his community.
“Whether a law officer responds is a matter for them – the Coroner has a right to seek permission to appeal the judgment of the Divisional Court on points of law, just as the initial appellants in such a process may wish to lodge a cross or counter-appeal.
“The key for our clients and ourselves is that if this appeal is taken then we need to be able to argue our case at its highest with the assistance of both junior and senior counsel before the three appellate judges. Again, this will come down to a quest for public funding.
“Funding remains a cause for concern for our clients and ourselves when, in fact, we should be concentrating on contesting this appeal and establishing an independent and effective investigation in accordance with human rights standards which can set a model for future complex inquests where there have been multiple deaths and state involvement by either omission or commission.”
The law firm is considering making a further application to the LAA which refused a previous application.
So it could result in the families facing another race-against-time to raise thousands of pounds more for legal costs.
A total of 21 people died and almost 200 were injured when bombers devasted two city centre bars, The Mulberry Bush, in the base of The Rotunda, and The Tavern in The Town in nearby New Street.
The slaughter happened on November 21, 1974 at the height of an IRA bombing campaign on the British mainland.
The Birmingham Six were later wrongly convicted after a flawed police investigation. They served almost 17 year behind bars in one of Britain’s most infamous miscarriages of justice before their sentences were quashed and they were released.
That should have resulted in inquests, which were originally opened in 1974, being properly concluded, but they were never resumed.
In 2016 Justice4the21, backed by The Birmingham Mail, successfully campaigned for a new inquest to be opened.
A total of 11 families will be represented at the new inquiry with two others registered as interested parties.
Justice4the21 spokeswoman Julie Hambleton said: “The families are very pleased to see that the West Midlands Mayor, Andy Street has been so proactive in seeking to assist us in our next battle that unfortunately for us has a doubled edge to it.
“The first is that the Coroner is appealing the decision of two High Court judges and the other is that he is able to dip his hand into a limitless pot of public money. Whereas we have no access to such finances and may have to go out on to the streets again to beg, which is actually a criminal offence. How can this possibly be acceptable in today’s society? “
Mr Street’s letter to Sir Peter Thornton:
Dear Sir Peter,
I am writing to ask you to reconsider any decision on your part to appeal the High Court’s decision on the framework of the Birmingham Pub Bombings inquest.
You will be familiar with the lasting impact this tragedy has had on the fabric of the city of Birmingham and the wider West Midlands.
I have met with the families of the victims on several occasions and have been impressed by their determination to see justice done for their loved ones.
I have been particularly impressed by the dignity and resolve with which they have conducted themselves, in the face of significant setbacks.
The High Court’s decision offered these people a glimmer of hope, a belief that they might just be able to achieve the justice they seek. Your response to that decision has caused them further distress.
I do appreciate that I have not heard your rationale. Therefore I would appreciate understanding why you have appealed the decision that took place at Birmingham Justice
Centre on Friday 26 January.
I know you will understand that the families simply don’t have the resources to fight again so your thinking and its impact on them is particularly interesting to me.