I like my Sunday mornings …. I snooze and nap listening to Radio4, the satire and swipe of Broadcasting House before the omnibus catch up wi the folks in Ambridge [oww that Rob’s a nasty one]. These two stalwarts have been followed by a programme called The Reunion, where the presenter gathers people together connected to a specific event, such as The Foot & Mouth Outbreak 2001, Fastnet Race Disaster or more light hearted things such as Wallace and Gromit and The Hit Factory [Stock, Aitkin and Waterman] – todays programme was about the treatment of the “Birmingham Six”.
I can recall the horror and shock of the Coventry Bomb in 1975, where a fault meant it blew up the bomber, this was the city where my father was born and had served a a police courier during the war time blitz. Days later there were two bomb that exploded in Birmingham, killing 21 people who were out revelling on an ordinary Thursday night. The public out cry at this IRA action and almost lynch mob mentality fuelled the urgency to find the culprits and make them pay.
Sadly, through innocent actions and faulty forensic testing six persons, who were travelling to Ireland to attend the funeral of the Coventry bomber, who was also from their small home town, these men were stopped from boarding the ferry. This came at a time in history where the actions, behaviour, reports of the police and justice authorities were blindly believed, after all it was unthinkable that they would do anything sinister or wrong. They were sentenced to twenty-one concurrent life sentences. The country breathed a sigh, but knew that this was far from the end of the IRA’s actions, but we were satisfied that the perpetrators were behind bars, serving their punishment.
Around the table was one of the Birmingham Six, the daughters of two other Birmingham Six, the brother of a young lady killed by the bomb and a former MP and campaigner who questioned the validity of the evidence and the behaviour of the serious crimes squad – essentially were the right people in prison.
They had protested their innocence from the get go, but statements were beaten from them. Appeal after appeal were quashed and overturned. They were even banned from making further appeals as the Home Secretary at the time desired that for an appeal to be upheld would mean the police had committed perjury and that was too unthinkable. An indepth investigation by the tv programme Word In Action proved that the tests used to prove the six had handled ‘explosive matter’ were completely flawed. The on-scene tests showed contact with a glycerine substance, it was assumed this was nitro, but the more stringent mass-spectrometer results showed it was not nitro [this evidence was excluded from the original trial], the tv programme showed that simply shuffling a decl of cards would bring about a positive result at the first initial onsite test. It was compelling and in many ways was fundamental in the West Midlands Police to bring in the Devon Police to hold an enquiry and audit all the documentation around the investigation of the original incident.
These were found to be seriously flawed, and showed the level of brutality that was used, how documents were tampered with and some even removed and destroyed altogether. In 1991, after serving over 16 years the men were released. Hearing the stories of the daughters and the original person, it was astounding what went on during those sixteen years.
The most heart breaking was the brother of the young lady who had died. Yes he expressed sorrow at the wrong conviction of the six, earnestly believing for all those years that the six people were directly responsible and he had sympathy for the toll the campaign to be freed had taken on the individual and their families. But there is bitterness and such bilious anger residing in him because, time now tells us, exactly who were responsible for these bombs, yet they can never be brought before the courts because there is no evidence to show, nothing to prove their involvement, just verbal hear say.
The actions at the time, the hurry to find the villain and lock them up, the blind belief that these were the men and they would pay, deserved the beatings to confess etc, that action also has the consequence that the families of the twenty one lives lost will never get justice, never see the perpetrator brought to face a Judge, and never serve time.
The Reunion page of the Radio 4 web site has the 81 episodes to listen to. They have been a interesting visit to something of the past.