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Families of pub bomb victims 'appalled' by inquest legal fees; PS1.4 million to solicitors, PS870,000 to barristers and PS200,000 to PR firm.

Byline: Andy Richards News Editor

SOLICITORS and barristers working for the Birmingham pub bombings inquest coroner were paid more than PS2 million.

A further PS1.3 million was paid out in disbursements which included PS200,000 to a public relations company dealing with media at the hearing.

The taxpayer-funded fees have been disclosed following a Freedom of Information (FOI) request.

By comparison, lawyers representing ten of the families of victims have yet to be paid pending a final assessment by the Legal Aid Authority. But shortly before the historic new Birmingham Pub Bombing 1974 (BPB 74) inquest opened on February 25 - almost 45 years after the attacks - the Justice4the21 campaign group said on its website: "We have a huge shortfall in our legal funds and are in desperate need of PS60,000 within the next three weeks."

Throughout the five-week inquest campaigners were on the streets battling to raise the cash.

Julie Hambleton, spokeswoman for Justice4the21, whose sister, Maxine was among the 21 murdered by the IRA bomb attacks in November 1974, said she is "appalled" at the disparity.

The figures showed: | PS1,427,000 was charged by Fieldfisher Solicitors; | PS869,000 was charged by four barristers from 1 Crown Office Row; | PS1,338,000 was used in disbursements. This includes the total fees of Crest Advisory, a PR firm retained by the coroner which were PS202,000. | The salary of the Coroner Sir Peter Thornton QC has not yet been finalised, though is expected to be below PS100,000.

The figures do not cover the costs to the West Midlands Police in being represented through the inquest, though it has previously been reported that the force had set aside PS1 million.

Nor do they cover the cost to the Government Legal Department in undertaking a disclosure search.

Ms Hambleton said: "I was appalled when I saw these figures. We have battled with the Legal Aid Agency to secure funding for our legal representation at the inquest.

"We have also fund raised to secure the level of legal representation we required.

"We know that when the LAA finally reimburse our solicitor's and counsel those fees will be a fraction of what we now know the coroner was able to secure.

"There appears to be no accountability for this expenditure - no tendering process for legal services, no overview of accounting, no justification for the PR firm.

"We know that public funding for inquests is highly emotive - of course it is, is about the death of people who were loved. It is often about the right to life.

"What we wanted - and what many others forced into the coronial process want - is parity and equality of arms. A violation of the right to life when there is a possibility of responsibility by a state agency either by way of act or omission must enable Coroner Sir the family of the victims to effectively engage in the investigation and this must be through legal representation.

"The costs release this week demonstrate how far that lack of parity is." A total of 21 people died and almost 200 were injured when bombers struck at city centre bars The Tavern in The Town and The Mulberry Bush on November 21, 1974.

After a five-week hearing the jury concluded that the victims were unlawfully killed and murdered by the IRA.

Christopher Stanley of KRW Law which represents the families, said: "This information was obtained by a request under FOIA on behalf of J4the21. These costs were provided by the solicitor to the coroner.

"They do not represent the costs of the West Midlands Police or the Government Legal Department (GLD) representing the MOD, the Home Office or the FCO.

"The FOIA request was initially made to the Ministry of Justice and then referred on to Birmingham City Council.

"Solicitors and barristers in private practice can command fees which the market allows. It is unclear whether state agencies, including coroners, are required to tender for legal services beyond those supplied by the GLD.

"Rates for legal representation for relatives of victims at inquests by way of legal aid - including complex multi-death inquests such as BPB74 - are fixed in law and only paid for those with a contract to provide these services and then subject to an assessment by the LAA. Legal Aid remains the outcast child of the welfare state system."

Thornton QC


Coroner Sir Peter Thornton QC

The aftermath of the explosion at the Mulberry Bush pub on Thursday 21st November 1974

Campaigner Julie Hambleton
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jun 6, 2019
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