Still No Justice For The 21 – 49 Years On

Today marks the 49th anniversary of the Birmingham Pub Bombings, H&D Editor Mark Cotterill writes. I can still remember – as a 14-year-old – being at school assembly the Friday morning after the bombing, and our Head Master (Mr Tyson) trying to explain to us what had happened.

Some of our overseas readers – and maybe even some of our younger UK-based readers – may well ask “What happened on the evening of Thursday November 21st, 1974 in Birmingham city centre?” and “what is Justice for the 21 campaign?” – or J4T21, as it’s more commonly known.

Let me try to explain very briefly. J4T21 is all about the Birmingham Pub Bombings, which happened on November 21st, 1974. The Mulberry Bush and Tavern in the Town pubs, were blown up by an active service unit of the Provisional IRA, which left 21 Brummies dead, and 182 injured (one of whom I later got to know while living in Torquay in the 1980s).

Neither the PIRA nor their political wing Sinn Fein (which now sits in Government in Northern Ireland) ever officially admitted responsibility for the pub bombings, although a former senior officer of the PIRA confessed to their involvement in 2014.  In 2017, one of the alleged perpetrators, Michael Hayes, also claimed that the intention of the bombings had not been to harm civilians, and that their deaths had been caused by an unintentional delay in delivering an advance telephone warning to security services. 

The Birmingham pub bombings were one of the deadliest acts of “The Troubles” (as the civil war in Northern Ireland was often referred to during the 1970s and ’80s by mainstream media journalists) and the deadliest act of terrorism to occur in England between the Second World War and the July 2005 London bombings, known as “7/7”, carried out by UK-born Islamic terrorists.

Families of those killed in the bombings have been fighting for forty-nine years for justice with no assistance from the establishment or any form of legal aid. They are dedicated to getting justice for their loved ones and will continue to campaign until the perpetrators are brought to justice.

The Birmingham Six were part of Birmingham’s IRA unit, though they were not responsible for the crimes for which they served 16 years in prison: the true perpetrators (probably from the IRA’s Coventry unit) were never caught.

Paddy Joe Hill, Hugh Callaghan, Richard McIlkenny, Gerry Hunter, Billy Power, and Johnny Walker, known as the “Birmingham Six” were all convicted of the bombings and sentenced to life imprisonment in August 1975. However, their convictions were quashed, and they were released in August 1991, having served over sixteen years each for a crime they did not commit.

The “Birmingham Six” were on their way back to Belfast when they were arrested at the port of Heysham (in Lancashire), just hours after the bombing. They always denied being members of the IRA, although it was widely believed by many in or close to Birmingham’s Irish community that they were part of the IRA’s Birmingham unit.

One such person who was very close to that community was the late Jock Spooner, who drove a taxi in Birmingham and drank in the local Irish clubs. Jock (who was an H&D Patron) told me that he was told “by people in the know” that the pub bombings were carried out by the IRA’s Coventry unit – not the Birmingham unit, who were more interested in boozing than bombing. However as far as he was aware nobody from the Coventry IRA was ever arrested – let alone charged.

Jock had no reason to lie, as although he was the local NF branch chairman at the time, he also supported a “United Ireland”. However, Jock would always clarify that he had no time for IRA/Sinn Fein and would have been happy to see them all wiped out at the hands of the SAS!

49 years on, still no justice for the 21.

Check out the J4T21 website at –

Nineteen of the twenty-one who were killed in the Birmingham pub bombings

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