Service held for pub bombs’ victims

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Published: Saturday 22nd November 2014 by The News Editor

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Relatives of the victims of one of the worst peacetime bomb attacks on the British mainland gathered in solemn remembrance of the deadly atrocity’s 40th anniversary.

Families of the 21 who died in the Birmingham pub bombings in 1974 were joined by the survivors of that fateful night at a special evensong at the city’s St Philip’s Cathedral.

Among those mourning were Julie and Brian Hambleton, who lost their 18-year-old sister Maxine.

They have been at the heart of the Justice 4 The 21 campaign calling for a full inquiry into who was responsible for the atrocity.

The IRA is widely believed to have carried out the attacks, among whose victims that night were brothers Desmond and Eugene Reilly, whose family were originally from County Donegal.

Speaking immediately after the service, attended by about 350 people, Mrs Hambleton said there was an overwhelming feeling of sadness.

“My sister would have been 58, she could have been married, had children, she could have been anything she wanted to be,” she said.

“She had her whole life ahead of her.

“Maxine was killed with some of her best friends, one of whom was the youngest killed, Jane Davis.

“We really miss her.”

That night, confused bomb warnings were telephoned in only minutes before the initial blast tore through the Mulberry Bush pub in the city centre’s Rotunda, killing 10 people, near what is now the Bullring Shopping Centre.

A second explosion ripped through The Tavern In The Town in nearby New Street, claiming 11 lives.

In all 182 people were also injured, leaving many with dreadful blast wounds.

A year later, The Birmingham Six – Paddy Joe Hill, Hugh Callaghan, Richard McIlkenny, Gerry Hunter, Billy Power and Johnny Walker – were convicted for carrying out the bombings but their convictions were quashed on appeal in 1991.

In stark contrast to the chaos and confusion of that night, the city’s old cathedral provided the venue for a solemn evensong service of reflection with many freely shedding tears in lament for the lost.

Mrs Hambleton added: “We can’t thank these people enough who’ve come tonight.

“Some of them have lost loved ones themselves, one lost her best friend.

“And they’ve all thanked us for what we’ve done.”

Outside the cathedral, 21 candles – one for each of the victims – were placed alongside posies of flowers by the permanent memorial in St Philip’s Square.

At the moment of the first explosion at 8.26pm, a minute’s silence was held.

The Birmingham bomb blasts represented the deadliest attack on mainland Britain until the July 7/7 London bombings in 2005.

No-one else has ever been charged over the attacks.

The Dean of Birmingham the Very Reverend Catherine Ogle said the bombings had scarred people from a generation of the city’s residents, finding the hurt of the trauma and suddenness of the deaths went “very deep”.

She said: “It became apparent the feelings were very deep, and still fresh and vivid for a lot of people.

“I’ve learned that some people are only just now able to come back to the city centre, because of the strength of feeling.”

Among those who have struggled with the sheer weight of emotion is 76-year-old Valerie Green.

She had arranged to meet four friends in the Tavern that night.

“My friend said, ‘do you mind if we don’t go in the pub’ because she was religious you see, and we were getting near to Christmas,” she said.

“So we went upstairs to the cafe – that saved us.”

Mrs Green, originally from Rednal, but now of Evesham, Worcestershire, said there was “an almighty bang – it blew us right out into the street”.

She added: “There was this horrendous smell, and I remember coming out and just seeing limbs, no people, just limbs.”

Mrs Green, a mother-of-three, said she often thought of “those poor innocent people” and her brush with death.

But asked if she thought the killers would ever face justice, the former school dinner lady replied: “I don’t think they will.”

Published: Saturday 22nd November 2014 by The News Editor

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