“Truth is what they don’t want us to know…”
It was a hazy winter morning when I met Julie Hambleton in a sixth floor restaurant in City Centre. It has been 38 years since Julie lost her sister Maxine in the Birmingham Pub bombings. But for Julie, the memories of that night are still vivid and clear as though it happened yesterday.
Eighteen year old Maxine Hambleton had walked in to the ‘Tavern in Town’ pub on the night of November 21, 1974, to hand out tickets to her friends for a party, oblivious of the fact that she was not going to walk out of those steps ever. “She wasn’t even drinking in the pub that night…She was just next to the bomb, when it exploded. Maxine’s body was so unrecognizable that my mother had to identify her, by her fingernails,” shares Julie.
“Maxine did not deserve the death she died. She had her whole life ahead of her.”
Six Irish men, widely known as the Birmingham Six, were arrested just a few hours after the bombings, and later convicted. However, in what was called one of the gravest miscarriages of justice in British history, the six men were released from prison in 1991, after the Court of Appeals quashed their convictions based on unreliable confessions and forensic evidence. Moreover, the three-year long inquiry into the bombings by West Midlands Police failed to gather anything substantial. “The file, so far as we are concerned, is closed unless further evidence comes forward,” said chief constable, Sir Ron Hadfield, who oversaw the Hadfield Report into the Birmingham pub bombings.
“It is appalling when 21 innocent people are slaughtered in your own home and nobody bothers to find out who did it,” states Julie who started the “Justice for 21” campaign. The e-petition launched by the campaign calls for a fresh inquiry into the bombings and has 832 signatures until now. Julie describes her campaign as being supported by “ordinary people from ordinary families”.
“When we started the campaign, we had no specific objectives or strategies. We had a strong aim but our objectives were made along the journey”. Julie Hambleton is clear on what she does not want- compensation, apology and sympathy. “Our campaign is not political, we don’t even have a strategy, but we are striving to fight against the authorities to discover the truth…and truth is what they do not want us to know”, says Julie, this time her eyes gleaming with a strange passion.
For Julie, bringing the perpetrators to justice does not necessarily mean closure. “Justice would just bring some solace but not closure, because mass murders do not have a closure. The ones who are dead are gone and will never come back”, concludes Julie and turns around, only to look at the heavy snow coming along on the city, through the large window next to her.
Recounting Birmingham’s night of horror…
It was 8:11 pm on 21st November 1974, when Birmingham Mail telephone operator Ian Cropper received a fateful telephone call. It was a call that warned him that there were bombs at the Rotunda and tax office at New street. Ian Cropper in his interview with Gary Young, for the Birmingham mail, recollected the voice of the man with an Irish accent as “calm, collected and full of hatred’’.
Mr. Cropper made an entry in the logbook and informed the Police, or just followed what had to be routinely done in case of a warning call. Little did he know that the frightful call would forever change the fate of over two hundred people.
The 1974 Birmingham Pub Bombings remain the biggest and worst terrorist atrocity on mainland Britain in the 20th century. These explosions killed 21 and injured 182, but until today, there has been no closure to this case.Corruption in Police, political collusion and sheer indifference from British authorities are thought of as some reasons behind the perpetrators’ invincibility from justice.
The fact that the Birmingham Pub bombings case has not seen a closure yet, makes it a very complex and multi-layered issue.However, the overarching question that looms large is- Why is nobody held responsible for killing 21 innocent people?