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BRUM'S IRA BOMBERS.

Byline: DON MALHI

IRA bombers brought terror to the streets of the West Midlands in the 1970s.

Last week republican terrorist Mick Murray was named as a ringleader of the gang behind the bombings of two pubs in Birmingham city centre on November 21, 1974.

The blasts in the Tavern in the Town and the the Mulberry Bush killed 21 innocent people and injured more than 200.

Today, on the 30th anniversary of the pub bombings, we look at the other IRA men whobrought terror to the region during that fateful year.

Together they were known as the Birmingham Nine and were convicted of carrying out 20 explosions in the run-up to the pub bombings.

The nine men were jailed for a total of 260 years.

The Birmingham Six - Hugh Callaghan, Patrick Hill, Gerard Hunter, Richard McIlkenny, William Power and John Walker - were jailed for the pub bombings, but later had their convictions quashed.

One theory for the blasts is that they were intended to 'commemorate' the death of IRA bomber James McDade.

The 28 year-old, described by republicans as a 'Lieutenant of the Birmingham Battalion', accidentally blew himself up while attempting to destroy a Coventry telephone exchange a week before the pub bombings. On the afternoon of November 21, with emotions running high, all police leave was cancelled and an extra 1,300 officers were drafted in to guard his coffin as it was driven to Coventry airport and flown to Ireland.

But hours after the funeral procession, two bombs exploded in two packed Birmingham city centre pubs.

It has been claimed that a 'link man' ordered the revenge attacks in an impulsive grief-stricken reaction to McDade's death - without the blessing of IRA chiefs in Belfast. The secret figure, whose identity has never been revealed, is believed to have then left for Ireland to attend the funeral and has remained there ever since.

Another theory is that the bombings were revenge attacks for the Loyalist Dublin and Monaghan bombings six months earlier.

Thirty four people died in the Ulster Volunteer Force attacks, labelled the worst atrocity of the Northern Ireland Troubles. It has been claimed the British security forces colluded with the loyalist terrorists in the bombings.

Mick Murray was one of three men arrested along with the Birmingham Six by West Midlands Police in the immediate aftermath of the pub blasts.

It has been claimed that Murray, who died in 1999, helped choose the Mulberry Bush and the Tavern in the Town as targets.

And he was named as being one of the bomb-makers who transported the explosives to the city centre before handing them to the men who planted them.

But, it is claimed Murray then botched a telephone warning made to our sister newspaper The Birmingham Post. It was supposed to give half an hour for the pubs to be cleared. But his warning, using the codeword Double X, came just six minutes before the first explosion - and did not name either pub.

Murray admitted being a member of the IRA after his arrest. But West Midlands Police never charged him with murder and he served 12 years in jail for conspiracy to cause explosions.

In 1990 his name was mentioned in a report handed to the Government by the Who Bombed Birmingham? Granada TV programme.

The show was based on a book by campaigning MP, Chris Mullin, who said he met the real bombers, but could not reveal their identity.

In another Parliamentary report, the MP stated the programme-makers had also passed a Special Branch document containing details of interviews with an IRAman to the Home Office. The unnamed terrorist had been arrested in November 1975 - six months after the trial and conviction of the Birmingham Six.

Mr Mullin claimed the terrorist gave police accurate information including the names of some of those whom he said were responsible for the bombs.

Crucially, the papers contained the remark: 'So-and-so told me he put one of the bombs in the pub.'

AlongwithMurrayand the Birmingham Six two other men - including James Kelly - were arrested in the immediate aftermath of the carnage.

Kelly was found guilty of possessing explosives and bizarrely claimed he was a spy who infiltrated the IRA so he could later give help to the police.

The Birmingham Six were sentenced to life imprisonment in 1975 for the pub bombings. They were all Belfast born but had lived in Brum since the 1960s.

Five of them had left the city on the early evening of November 21 from New Street Station - hours before the explosions - to travel to Belfast to attend McDade's funeral. They were seen off by Callaghan.

The five were arrested at Heysham that evening and Callaghan was taken into custody the next day.

All the men were interrogated by Birmingham CID and claimed at trial they were beaten, threatened and forced to sign statements written by the police over three days of questioning.

Their convictions were overturned by the Court of Appeal in March1991and their case is seen as one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in British legal history.

Terrorist activity was rife in the Midlands during the 1970sand police arrested scores of IRA members in the months following the bombings.

But the IRA unit which gained particular notoriety was the Birmingham Nine. They were responsible for 20 of the 31 bomb blasts in Birmingham and parts of the West Midlands between August 1973 and August 1974.

Patrick Guilfoyle, Martin Coughlan, Gerard Young, Joseph Duffy, Michael Murray, Anthony Madigan, Joseph Ashe, Gerald Small and Stephen Blake conducted the biggest wave of bombings in the region since the Second World War.

Coughlan and Young were said to be the leading figures in the campaign.

Coughlan was born in Dublin and came to Birmingham in 1956. He rented a house in Chelmsley Wood with his wife and had three children.

It is believed he was the brains behind the campaign of terror which began in Birmingham and spread to Manchester.

Guilfoyle never quite made the grade of bomber. He caused an explosion that badly injured one of his IRA colleagues because he was smoking a cigarette while making a bomb.

Northern Ireland historian David McVea said: 'Many different theories have been put forward as to who actually carried out the bombings, but it is unlikely that the true culprits will ever be identified.

'The IRA was very protective of its members at the time, people moved in and out of the different cells constantly. 'As well as the killing of so many innocent people the real tragedy is the wrongful jailing of the Birmingham Six.

'The IRA was able to use the injustice against these men to their advantage for years.'

CAPTION(S):

SLAUGHTERED: victims are taken away from the pub bombings; DEVASTATED: wreckage outside the Tavern in the Town; DEAD: James McDade; TRIBUTE: memorial to the victims
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Nov 21, 2004
Words:1144
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