The Government has ignored pleas to ensure Birmingham pub bombing families have funding for a vital court case to help uncover the truth about the 1974 terrorist attack.
MPs from all parties took part in a House of Commons debate and urged the Government to ensure families of the 21 victims received funding so they could be properly represented at a Court of Appeal hearing.
But Justice Minister Lucy Frazer, responding on behalf of the Government, simply insisted: “This is a decision of the Legal Aid Agency independent of ministers”.
She was asked by Birmingham MP Richard Burden (Lab Northfield) to find some other way of supporting the families if legal aid was not available.
He pointed out that the relatives of those killed in the 1989 Hillsborough disaster received Home Office funding to ensure they had representation at hearings.
But in her response, Ms Frazer simply didn’t address this point at all.
The Minister was challenged outside the hearing by relatives of the pub bombing victims.
Julie Hambleton, a spokesperson for the Justice4the21 campaign group, whose elder sister Maxine was one of the bombing victims, told her: “We are not second class citizens.
“Birmingham lives matter, just like Hillsborough lives matter, just like Grenfell lives matter.
“We are meant to live in an equal society.”
The families have been denied legal aid for their bid to ensure that the people suspected of carrying out the 1974 bombings can be identified.
Coroner Sir Peter Thornton, who is overseeing the inquest, has ruled that suspects cannot be named.
The families contested that ruling at the High Court and won. The Coroner responded by taking the case to the Court of Appeal , where the families will have to fight their corner again – but they have been told they cannot receive funding for legal representation.
In practice, it places them at a huge disadvantage.
A total of 21 people died and almost 200 were injured when IRA bombers attacked city centre bars The Mulberry Bush and The Tavern in The Town on November 21, 1974.
And Mr Thornton’s controversial decision to exclude the perpetrators from the scope of the inquest means that it will avoid issues such as who bombed Birmingham, who organised the bombing, who ordered it, who made the bombs, who planted them and who their associates were.
Mr Burden had asked for a House of Commons debate so that MPs could make the case for providing the families with financial support.
Speaking in the debate, he said: “This is not a party matter. It’s a matter of justice and it’s a matter of parity.”
He added: “It is astonishing that legal aid has been denied.”
Mr Burden asked the Government to look at whether legal aid could be provided but, he said, if this really was impossible than the families should have funding for their legal bills some other way.
He pointed out that the Government had already done this in other cases.
Conservative Caroline Spelman (Con Meriden) told the debate: “The Coroner, who we must respect in this matter, has called for legal aid to be granted.”
Jess Phillips, Labour MP for Yardley, said: “It is not okay for the public bodies involved, whether that be police forces, whether that be government departments, or the coroner in this instance, to have a resource that is simply not available to the parties that represent the victims.”
Other Birmingham MPs attended their debate to show their support. Representatives of Scottish party the SNP and Northern Ireland party the DUP also spoke to support the families.
Ms Frazer insisted the Legal Aid Agency was independent and made its own decisions.
“It is not a decision for me,” she said.
The Birmingham Six were later wrongly convicted of the 1974 bombings after a flawed police investigation. They served almost 17 year behind bars in one of Britain’s most infamous miscarriages of justice before their sentences were quashed and they were released.
That should have resulted in inquests, which were originally opened in 1974, being properly concluded, but they were never resumed.
In 2016 Justice4the21, backed by The Birmingham Mail, successfully campaigned for a new inquest to be opened.