Birmingham Pub bombings, 21 November 1974

On November 21st 1974 the terrorist group the PIRA exploded two bombs in the centre of the city of Birmingham, UK. This was the worst terrorist attack in UK history until the London bombings of July 2005 and killed 19 people, injured 182 and two further victims died later.

The bombs were triggered by timers and were placed in two busy inner city pubs, the ‘Mulberry Bush’ which was underneath Birmingham’s famous Rotunda building, and in a low level pub ‘The Tavern in the Town’ in New Street near Birmingham’s central shopping area and main railway station, (this pub is now renamed the Yard of Ale).

 At 20.11 the Birmingham Post newspaper received a phone call saying that there was a bomb in the Rotunda building. The Police were informed and started to search the Rotunda buildings upper floors but the Mulberry Bush pub at ground level was still packed out, 6-12 minutes after the phone call, the first bomb exploded, quickly followed by the second bomb exploding 50 yards (47 meters) away, luckily a third IED placed outside a bank on Birmingham’s busy Hagley Road failed to detonate. Both pubs were packed with young people and the bombs had gone off at one of the busiest times of night leaving a scene of carnage behind. Many of the injured were taken to hospital in private cars and nearby taxis as the ambulances arrived. Maurice Buck then assistant Chief Constable for the West Midlands Police described the devastation caused by the bombs as “disastrous and appalling”.  The impact on the people of Birmingham was enormous and the attacks severely damaged relations with the Irish community and are still remembered today. A plague to remember those who died can be found in the grounds of central Birmingham’s St. Philip’s Cathedral.

It is thought the attack was planned to coincide with the return to Ireland of the body of James McDade, a PIRA member who had died in Coventry the week before when a bomb he was planting exploded prematurely. Some PIRA members later said that the short length of time between the warnings and the bombs going off was an error and this would certainly fit the profile of Irish terrorist attacks during this period as the intention was not a large body count but to gain media attention.  A PIRA member who was later arrested for another attack claimed that the public phone boxes that they had planned to use to make the warning calls from had been vandalised so it took time to find a working phone box. In 2004 on the 30th anniversary of the attack Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams expressed regret for the loss of life in the attacks but the PIRA has never officially taken responsibility for the attacks.

Under immense pressure to get a result the British police quickly arrested six men, Hugh Callaghan, Paddy Hill, Gerry Hunter, Richard McIlkenny, William Power and Johnny Walker. These men became known as the Birmingham 6 and were convicted in 1975, but the conviction was unsafe to say the least and was over turned 16 years later and the six were released. Three detectives were charged with perjury but their trial was abandoned in 1993 due to media coverage influencing the jury. The real bombers have never been brought to trial and it remains one of the most controversial cases in British counter terrorism history and one of the most painful for the people of Birmingham

Error of Judgement: Truth About the Birmingham Bombings, Chris Mullin. A very good book which not only illustrates the errors in the British justice system at the time but also tracks one man's search to find the real terrorists behind the attack. cover cover cover
How to cite this article: Dugdale-Pointin, T. (28 November 2007), Birmingham Pub bombings, 21 November 1974, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/birmingham_pub_bombings.html

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