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A rag-tag bunch of amateurs, carpenters and floor layers

(An article written by Mike Watts, campaign member, Justice for 21)

We’ve lost count of the times we’ve been told that our campaign is destined to fail.

People offer a plethora of reasons for failure: the time which has passed since the attack. The fact that West Midlands Police and others conspired to ensure the guilty got away and 6 innocent men jailed. The fact that the attack on Birmingham was a convenient event for our government of the time, and the possibility it was allowed to happen or our authorities even colluded with the IRA to ‘even up the score’ regarding Bloody Sunday.

All this apparently means the authorities, purportedly the people on our side(God only knows how they’d treat us if they weren’t on our side), will never disclose the truth. Another reason frequently tabled is that the government simply does not wish to  ’upset the Peace Process’. There are many more reasons people are more than willing to hurl our way, but let us assure you, their negativity falls on deaf ears.

Our campaign started because a good, honest, law-abiding, working class family, who had lost a beloved family member in the most horrific circumstances, were being ignored by the authorities.

Imagine, for a moment, the predicament of the Hambleton family and the other families of victims of that dark day in November. Someone who they loved and treasured went out for the night and didn’t come home. They were brutally murdered in a callous and cowardly attack. People are arrested quickly, the families take the word of the police, because in those days people largely trusted the word of our ‘citizens in uniform’. The families continue to grieve for the loss of their loved one’s, even though a widespread media and left-wing campaign starts and throws doubt on the convictions of the people the police had said were guilty. 17 years later, the men they thought responsible are freed, obviously not guilty, contrary to what the police had assured the families repeatedly.

In fact, following the release of the 6 innocent men, West Midlands Police released their infamous ‘not looking for anyone else in connection with the matter’ statement. In our opinion, this was designed to imply that ‘nudge-nudge-wink-wink’ the innocent 6 men had escaped on a technicality and were responsible really or had at least been complicit to some degree. There were also a large group of ex and serving West Midlands Police officers who toured the city offering to tell anyone who would listen, ‘off the record’,  that they had ‘got the right people all along’.

The families of the victims continue to grieve in silence and with the utmost dignity, even though they have become the forgotten people in the whole charade. There was no queue of left-wing barristers knocking at their door, the mainstream media weren’t contacting them planning to make a programme about their predicament. Even so, the Hambleton family, who lost their daughter and sister Maxine aged 18 in the attack on Birmingham, could not leave the matter and wrote repeatedly to the Chief Constable of West Midlands Police. These were people who were still grieving, who had asked for nothing only justice, yet they were ignored.

That is when we intervened. The fantastically supportive Birmingham Mail and Radio WM publicised the plight of the family and a rag-tag bunch of amateurs answered the call from the Hambleton family. We are carpenters, floor-layers, brickies, factory and office workers, disabled and pensioners, we even have a stand-up comic who travels miles in support of us. Campaigning wasn’t our field of expertise but we were working class people who still remembered what right and wrong was, what community and looking after our own means. We were most importantly tradespeople, who, given time, can turn our hands to anything.

Our campaign didn’t have the patronage of influence, we didn’t have any particular expertise which was required or endless resources, but what we did have was determination, good old fashioned working class guile and most importantly of all, we had right on our side.

If we had listened to the naysayers, we wouldn’t now have countless successful actions under our belts. We wouldn’t have established a regular and well-received presence in Birmingham city centre – when Justice for the 21 are in town we are enveloped by the people, Brummies of all creeds welcome us and gladly engage with us. We wouldn’t have been able to push our cause to the forefront of the recent Police and Crime Commissioner elections, we also wouldn’t have turned the issue into a national talking point in the press. We wouldn’t have held a successful candlelit vigil, the naysayers were strangely quiet when, after 12 months, BBC News was broadcasting live at one of our events.

All in 12 months.

After an enforced break due to Christmas and the weather, we now embark on our second year of campaigning, now armed with 12months experience and renewed vigour.

This year we aim to carry on gathering signatures on our paper petition, which for whatever reason is outsripping the online version. We will campaign fully on the streets at every opportunity, as that is where our support is, with ordinary people.

We also intend to call local MPs to account, their silence on this matter is defeaning, they must answer to the people. We will be demonstrating and leafletting in constituencies where Birmingham MPs continue to ignore our campaign, in order to alert the electorate of their elected representative’s indifference to the suffering of the families of the victims of the Birmingham Pub Bombings. This will be part of a defined strategy leading up the the 2015 elections. If Birmingham MPs act now it won’t look like they’ve been pushed when they’re eventually forced to act by our campaign. It’s their choice.

To the naysayers, keep telling us no, keep telling us we can’t do it, and we will keep proving you wrong.

We are not going away. We demand justice for our people.

We are Justice for the 21, expect us….

PLEASE SIGN THE ONLINE PETITION http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/42684

Link to Justice for 21

A grave injustice: The Birmingham Pub Bombings 21 November 1974

(An article written by Pauline Geoghegan, Politics in Brum, on the 38th anniversary of the Birmingham pub bombings)

photo

On a dark November night, thirty eight years ago, 21 citizens of Birmingham lost their lives when this city was rocked to the core by bombs and 20 families lost family members; one woman lost not one but two sons. Much has been written (quite rightly) about the wrongful imprisonment of the men known as the Birmingham Six; but far less noise has been made about the plight of the families enduring thirty eight years of living bereavement, those left behind to literally pick up the pieces.

Last Thursday evening at 5:45 pm, family members of those murdered thirty eight years ago gathered at St Phillip’s Church for a service of remembrance.The cameras rolled and the interviews flowed as the media captured the poignant images and comments of dignified brave but desolate bereaved relatives. The choral evensong wafted around the eaves of the beautiful church, pulling on the heart strings of family, media, campaigners, senior police officers and surely, even the few politicians who had turned up.

People travelled far and wide from Liverpool, Wales even Wigan, to be in Birmingham. The Reverend Catherine Ogle’s gentle words bestowed dignity and respect on this city’s forgotten victims, the ones the bombs left behind. In the midst of the soft music Catherine’s reference to “the Birmingham Pub Bombings” rang raw.

Campaigners were guided to the microphone to read out the names of the twenty one dead, and a poem; simple acts of unity designed to show support to families burning with not just pain, but anger at the failure and cruelty of the authorities to seek out and punish the perpetrators of this atrocity.

Poignant words, beautiful music, a circle of pink and white flowers, handshakes, words of condolences were in abundance; the crowd slowly dispersed but the family and campaigners lingered in the churchyard, until 8:27pm, the time the last bomb ripped through our city centre.

One man stood shattered by the reality of meeting other victims for the first time. His father had been killed on that night, along with his unknown uncle. His nineteen year old mother was left pregnant and alone. His grandmother has died and his mother also more recently prematurely at fifty seven. He has no siblings. He is alone. He was comforted by Julie Hambleton sister of Maxine who died aged eighteen.

It is unforgivable that these families should be left to struggle for justice, asked to dig deep into their emotional resources to fight for what is only right, for almost four decades. Julie Hambleton’s tremulous voice filled with gratitude and generosity should shape West Midlands newly elected PCC Bob Jones’ policy priorities.

Maxine Hambleton smiling in a straw hat, pretty in a long floral dress, a harrowing symbol of the seventies in Birmingham: Dead at eighteen, identified by only her fingertips: Here we have a dark stain on our city’s soul.

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