'Birmingham Six' Man Speaks Out in TV Documentary

By Phil Hazlewood, PA
20 November 2004

A member of the Birmingham Six is to give a rare television interview on the 30th anniversary of the pub bombings that killed 21 people and left scores injured.

Billy Power will tell the BBC One programme tomorrow night about how he and five other Irish men became the victims of one of Britain’s most notorious miscarriages of justice after the bombings on November 21, 1974.

He was arrested soon after two explosions ripped through The Tavern in the Town and the Mulberry Bush in Birmingham city centre.

Five of the six were on their way to the funeral of IRA bomber James McDade who blew himself up planting a bomb at a telephone exchange in Coventry a week earlier.

They boarded the train to Heysham at Birmingham New Street at 7.55pm on the night of the bombings, which put them near the scene just before the devices went off.

Forensic evidence – later shown to be flawed – suggested some of the six had been handling explosives. Billy Power was the first of the six to confess to police.

He tells the programme: “When I look back at the trial, we were Irish men in the dock at Lancaster Castle. The police had confessions, they had forensic evidence, they say we were guilty of it.

“There are times I’ve thought if I’d been on the jury, I would have convicted us as well. At the time there was, as it were, ‘overwhelming’ forensic evidence against us.

“We had passed through New Street station, practically the scene of the crime. Forensic experts were saying they’d found explosives on our hands.

“It was an open and shut case because we were going to the funeral of a dead IRA man who had planted a bomb the week before.

“The reality was that we were going to James McDade’s funeral. We knew nothing about the pub bombings. There was no explosives on our hands.”

The programme will also show three police officers who were among the first on the scene being reunited at the former Tavern in the Town pub – now The Yard of Ale – where 11 people lost their lives.

Mike Davey, who was shown in newspaper photographs at the time carrying a body from the pub wrapped in a makeshift blanket, said: “In many ways, it was rather sad because we had to recover the bodies and carry them out in blankets.

“It was quite traumatic because we were trying to be reverent to the people.”

Mr Davey was with his colleague John Plimmer in the Tavern just half-an hour-before it was blown up.

They had a quick half-pint while waiting to question an usherette at a nearby cinema who had witnessed a theft.

Mr Plimmer, now an author and media commentator on crime after rising to the rank of Detective Superintendent, wanted to stay for another pint but Mr Davey dissuaded him.

Maggie Adams, a young Wpc at the time, was one of the first officers at the scene at the nearby Mulberry Bush pub, at the foot of the Rotunda tower, opposite New Street station.

She recalled: “It sounds silly but I was wearing nylon stockings and a straight skirt, which is what police women wore those days, totally inappropriate for the circumstances.

“It was mayhem because it was like a building site. There were people running, screaming, flooding out. I just remember people walking about with seemingly dreadful injuries and not being aware they were injured.

“I guess it’s shock. I remember one guy who I thought was drunk. I said to him, ‘You need to go in the ambulance’. His hand was hanging off and he said, ‘No, I’m fine’.”

Maureen Mitchell – then Maureen Carlin – was badly injured in the Mulberry Bush pub and was given the last rites.

She has since campaigned on behalf of victims and worked to get a permanent memorial plaque set up in the grounds of Birmingham’s St Philip’s Cathedral.

“I don’t think I have let it dominate my life but it has been a big part of my life and I don’t see why it shouldn’t be – it was a big thing that happened. But I can understand that a lot of people want to put it behind them.”

A large nail went through Mrs Mithcell’s hip and she lost her spleen, had bowel and other major internal injuries.

“They actually told my parents that I’d got a 50/50 chance on the night that it happened, and a couple of days later I was given the last rites. Luckily I pulled through.”

Alex Stewart had just gone to the bar in the Tavern pub when the bomb went off. Several of his friends who were sitting in an area of the pub known as Scots Corner, including brothers Eugene and Desmond Reilly, were killed.

Mr Stewart has suffered from post traumatic stress ever since.

“It’s been 30 years yet it’s like yesterday,” he said. “I can frame it. I mean people turn round and say, ‘Oh you’ll get over it – no problem’.

“All I can say to them people is I wish it never happens to them because if it did then maybe they’d understand what a lot of people who suffered in them pubs are going through.”

The programme also features the recollections of former breakfast television presenter Nick Owen, who was then a reporter for BBC Birmingham and was sent to cover the story.

Labour MP Chris Mullin is also included. The former journalist, who claims to have spoken to the real bombers, helped in getting the Birmingham Six’s convictions quashed after making a groundbreaking World in Action documentary questioning the forensic evidence in the case.

30 Years On: The Birmingham Bombings, a BFC production for the BBC, is on BBC One (West Midlands only), Sunday November 21 at 11.05pm.

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