Pub bombings - former MP Chris Mullin names those he believes were involved

Pub bombings – former MP Chris Mullin names those he believes were involved

Former MP Chris Mullin, who championed the release of the Birmingham Six, has for the first time confirmed the names of several people he believes took part in the Birmingham pub bombings.

He identifies men who he claims to know for certain took part in the making and planting of the devastating bombs.

Most significantly, he confirms that James Francis Gavin was one of two men who planted the bombs.

He also confirms Mick Murray was one of the bomb makers and who also made the notoriously delayed warning phone call to the Birmingham Post and Mail.

Gavin was previously known to be a suspect, but his role has never been confirmed.

Journalist Mr Mullin makes his claims writing in the London Review of Books (LRB), less than two weeks before new inquests into the 21 victims begin.

But the identity of those responsible for attacking city centre bars The Mulberry Bush and The Tavern in The Town, will not be considered by the inquests because the issue of the perpetrators has been ruled out by Coroner Sir Peter Thornton.

Apart from those who died, 182 were injured in the attacks on November 21, 1974, which came at the height of an IRA bombing campaign on the British mainland.

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Mr Mullin has previously always refused to name those he believes responsible, insisting: “Journalists do not disclose their sources.”

But in the LRB he said: “I no longer have any compunction about identifying two of the men involved, who are now dead.”

However, he will still not name the man who he refers to in his book, Error of Judgment, as the ‘young planter’ who is still alive.

He said: “I know the names of the bombers. Four men were involved: two bomb-makers and two planters. More than 30 years ago two of them described to me what they’d done in some detail.”

Mr Mullin revealed that, as part of his inquiries, he visited Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams in July 1985.

He said: “I didn’t expect him to deliver up the real bombers; I wanted him to indicate that he had no objection to my interview ing particular individuals, whose names I would put to him.

“I wanted especially to talk to Michael Murray, who, having served most of his 12-year sentence for conspiracy to cause explosions, had recently been released and was living in Dublin.

Mick Murray pictured in The Times on Thursday November 18 2004
Mick Murray pictured in The Times on Thursday November 18 2004

“Murray was not at all keen to meet me, but agreed after the intervention of intermediaries.

“I met him three times, in July and November 1985 and April 1986. The first interview lasted three hours. Despite his initial reluctance he provided an account of what happened on the night of the bombings.

The Tavern in the Town had been crowded, mainly with young people when the bombers struck

“Two men had made the bombs and two others had planted them in the pubs. The targets had not been the pubs, but the buildings they were part of: one was in the Rotunda, a local landmark, and the other was underneath the New Street office of the Inland Revenue.

“At that meeting Murray declined to discuss his own role, but at our second meeting he was frank. He was one of the men who had made the bombs and he had given the warning phone call.

Mr Mullin said he learned from other sources that one of the planters was James Francis Gavin. It was from his house in Bordesley Green that the bombers had set out.

He said: “By the time I was told about him, Gavin was in Portlaoise Prison, near Dublin, serving life for a murder committed in 1977. A pipe layer by profession, he was married to an English woman, served in the British army for three years and lived in Britain for many more.

The Mulberry Bush pub after it was wrecked in the Birmingham pub bombings
The Mulberry Bush pub after it was wrecked in the Birmingham pub bombings

“During the course of my three-hour interview with him he readily admitted to his involvement in the IRA’s West Midlands campaign and even to having advised IRA units all over the country about the layout of British military bases.

“When it came to the pub bombings, however, he flatly denied involvement. Instead he doggedly suggested that the bombings were the work of British agents bent on discrediting the IRA – something the IRA had never alleged.”

Michael Murray died in 1999 and James Francis Gavin died in 2002.

* The Birmingham Six were finally freed in 1991 after almost 18 years behind bars in one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in Britain. No-one has since been brought to justice.

Face of agony – a badly burned pub bombings victim

Mr Mullin said he interviewed another man “whose name crops up from time to time” – Michael Christopher Hayes.

He said: “I interviewed him in October 1987. Like Gavin, he admitted to a leading role in the IRA’s West Midlands campaign, but denied involvement in the pub bombings.

“Lately, however, he has become more talkative. In Dublin in 2017 he gave an interview to a BBC journalist in which he accepted ‘collective responsibility’ for the bombings, but again denied direct involvement.

“He also made the unlikely claim that he had defused a third bomb in Birmingham that night: it had been left in the doorway of a branch of Barclays Bank in Hagley Road but failed to go off. This may or may not be true, but it does confirm he was active that night.”

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Mr Mullin said that by the time he met the ‘young planter’ who he refuses to name, the suspect was in his 30s and living on a bleak housing estate.

He says this is what the young planter told him:

“On the evening of the bombings a person came to see me and said, ‘You’re needed for an operation.’ I went with him to a house.

“We went by car. The bombs were in the parlour, behind the sofa. One was in a duffle bag and the other was in a small brown luggage case. I was given the duffle bag and a pistol.

“I put the gun in my coat pocket. The other man carried the case. We walked into town. It was a good mile. The other fellow told me the targets ten minutes before we arrived.

“He said: ‘The one in the Tavern is for the tax office and the one in the Mulberry Bush is for the Rotunda.’ He added: ‘There’ll be plenty of warning.’

“Believe it or not I accepted it. I didn’t want the stigma of cowardice attached to me. He kept saying, ‘Don’t worry, those people will be well out of there.’

“Just before we arrived we stopped in the entrance to a row of shops. The other guy opened the case and was fiddling with something.

“Then he reached inside my duffle bag. That was when the bombs were primed. We crossed the road without using the under pass because the police were sometimes down there.

“We did the Tavern first. Up New Street. Past the Mulberry Bush. The other fellow went to the bar and ordered two drinks. I took both bags and found a seat. I was s******* myself. The other person came

back with the drinks. We took a sip and then got up leaving the duffle bag under a seat.

“At the Mulberry Bush the procedure was the same. This time I ordered the drinks. The other person found a table at the back. The bomb was left by a telephone.’

James Francis Gavin (left) and Michael Patrick Reilly (right) were named by the ITV Exposure programme as the prime suspects in the Birmingham pub bombings.

Last year a TV documentary named James Francis Gavin and another man, Michael Patrick Reilly, as prime suspects in the bombings.

In the ITV Exposure programme journalist John Ware confronted Reilly, who had never before been publicly named as a suspect.

Reilly denied any involvement.

The programme claimed he had been a member of the Birmingham IRA cell and was questioned about the pub attacks in the 1970s.

It said he was charged in connection with unrelated bombings and conspiracy and had pleaded guilty to four charges for which got ten years.

Confronted in Belfast by Mr Ware, Reilly denied planting the bombs, or knowing the bombings were going to take place.

He did not comment on the allegtion that he had been a member of the IRA.

“I’ve got nothing to say,” he said. “You can ask what you want, but I’m not going to answer. You’re wasting your time.”

Michael Reilly’s solicitor told the programme: “Our client denies all the allegations and does not intend to respond any further to the unfounded ­allegations you have made.”

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