Pub bombings victim's family bring civil case against former suspect

Birmingham pub bombings victim’s family bring civil case against man arrested but never charged over 1974 terrorist attack that killed 21

  • The family of victim Maxine Hambleton have brought the civil case to court 
  • They are suing a former suspect and the chief of West Midlands Police force
  • The bomb attack in two Birmingham pubs killed 21 and injured 200
  • No one has currently been convicted of the deadly attack in November 1974 

The family of a victim of the Birmingham pub bombings are suing one of the alleged conspirators.

Margaret Smith, whose 18 year-old daughter Maxine was killed in the bombings, has issued a civil writ against Michael Patrick Riley.

Ms Smith is also suing the chief constable of West Midlands Police Sir David Thompson, arguing the force’s investigation was negligent.

It is the latest twist in the victims’ relatives’ long-running campaign for justice.

Margaret Smith, (centre) whose daughter Maxine Hambleton, 18, was killed in the bombings, has brought the civil case against one former suspect and the chief constable of the West Midlands Police 

Maxine Hambleton, 18, (pictured) was one of 21 people killed when the IRA set off bombs in two Birmingham pubs in 1974

Despite being one of the deadliest acts of the Troubles, currently, no-one has been convicted of the murders of the 21 victims

Michael Patrick Riley was arrested in 2020 in connection with the bombings but was released unconditionally. He has always denied any involvement of or connection with the attacks 

Two explosions destroyed the Tavern in the Town and Mulberry Bush pubs in Birmingham city centre on November 21, 1974.

The bombs killed 21 people and injured more than 200 – the deadliest attack in mainland Britain during the Troubles.

A third bomb failed to go off and was recovered, but later lost, by West Midlands Police.

Mr Reilly, now in his 60s, was previously arrested in November 2020 under the Terrorism Act and questioned by West Midlands Police officers in connection with the pub bombings.  

He was unconditionally released following a search of his home address in Belfast and has always denied any knowledge of – or involvement in – the bombings.

The Birmingham pub bombing victims: (top row, left to right) Michael Beasley, 30, Stan Bodman, 47, James Craig, 34, Paul Davies, 17, Trevor Thrupp, 33, Desmond Reilly, 20 and James Caddick, 40, (second row, left to right) Maxine Hambleton, 18, Jane Davis, 17, Maureen Roberts, 20, Lynn Bennett, 18, Anne Hayes, 18, Marilyn Nash, 22 and Pamela Palmer, 19, (bottom row, left to right) Thomas Chaytor, 28, Eugene Reilly, 23, Stephen Whalley, 21, John Rowlands, 46, John ‘Cliff’ Jones, 51, Charles Gray, 44, and Neil Marsh, 16 (no picture available)

Julie Hambleton, sister of victim Maxine Hambleton, said: ‘This is the only step that is left for families like ours because successive British governments have refused to help aid families like ours in gaining justice any other way’

His lawyer Padraig O’Muirigh said: ‘I can confirm that legal proceedings have been issued against our client.

‘Our client repudiates the claims made by the plaintiff in their entirety and the legal proceedings issued will be strenuously defended.

‘My client has never been convicted of any offence in relation to the 1974 pub bombings.’

An IRA atrocity and 46 years of heartbreak for victims’ families

Thursday, November 21, 1974: Bombings in two Birmingham pubs leave 21 dead and 220 injured. They are said to be revenge for the death of IRA member James McDade, who blew himself up trying to plant explosives in Coventry. Hours later, five men are arrested in Heysham, Lancashire, and a sixth is arrested in Birmingham.

November 24: Patrick Hill, Hugh Callaghan, John Walker, Richard McIlkenny, Gerard Hunter and Billy Power are charged with murder.

June/August 1975: Trial at Lancaster Crown Court. ‘The Six’ are sentenced to life imprisonment.

October 1985: TV’s World In Action questions forensic tests. A book is then published claiming three unnamed men were behind the bombings.

January 1987: The home secretary refers case to the Court of Appeal. The appeal is later dismissed. A 1990 TV drama then names four ‘real’ bombers.

March 14, 1991: The Six are freed by the Court of Appeal after 16 years in prison.

October 1993: Perjury case against three former West Midlands police involved in the charging of the Birmingham Six is dismissed.

June 1, 2016: Senior coroner for Birmingham rules to resume the inquests. The original hearings were not continued after jailing of The Six.

September 29, 2018:  Families lose their legal battle to name those responsible for the bombings in the inquests  

February 25, 2019:The inquest into the 21 deaths opens in Birmingham.

November 2020: A man is arrested under terrorism offences. His house is searched and he is released on bail.

Nobody has ever been brought to justice for the attacks, which happened at the height of an IRA bombing campaign in the UK.  

The Birmingham Six were convicted of involvement in 1975 and jailed for life but freed after 16 years, when the Court of Appeal in 1991 ruled their convictions were unsafe.

The legal move follows a successful 2009 civil action by the families of victims of the 1998 Omagh bombing in Northern Ireland. 

It took nearly six years for the Omagh campaigners to raise the £2 million needed to fund their case – including an £800,000 grant of government money.

The Hambleton family are applying for legal aid in Northern Ireland to help fund the action, but if unsuccessful will have to turn to donations.

A writ of summons was served at both the West Midlands force’s Birmingham headquarters and on Mr Reilly’s lawyers, in the past month.

The writ has been issued now as the proposed new Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill, currently making its way through Parliament, would ban new civil claims relating to the Troubles.

Julie Hambleton, who was 18-year-old Maxine’s younger sister, said: ‘Our legal team based in Belfast have sent a writ to Michael Patrick Reilly for us to bring a civil case against him.

‘Also, to the chief constable of West Midlands Police David Thompson.’

Ms Hambleton runs the Justice4the21 group, which has in recent years urged authorities to hold a public inquiry into the bombings, which remain unsolved.

She added: ‘The writ is to sue for damages in the High Court in Belfast for Mr Reilly’s alleged involvement in the murder of Maxine Hambleton who was my sister.’

‘This is the only step that is left for families like ours because successive British governments have refused to help aid families like ours in gaining justice any other way,’ she said.

‘The threshold for a civil case is not as high as a criminal case, as was discovered with the case brought by the Omagh bombing families, who successfully brought a case for the murder of their loved ones.’

West Midlands Police has been approached for comment.

Who were the victims of the Birmingham pub bombings?  

The victims in the Mulberry Bush pub, in the base of the Rotunda, were:

Trevor Thrupp, 47, and a rail guard was a married father of three, who loved taking his son and daughters on holidays to Sandy Bay in Devon and Great Yarmouth.

He had an ‘infectious’ laugh, loved Laurel and Hardy, The Goons and especially Spike Milligan.

‘His love for his family is still with us today and always will be,’ his son Paul Thrupp said.

John Rowlands, 46, was a qualified electrician and worked as a foreman at Land Rover in Tyseley, Birmingham.

A married father of two sons, he served with the Fleet Air Arm in the Second World War, and the Mulberry Bush was his favourite pub.

His youngest son Paul Rowlands remembered him as ‘a bit of a card, a joker’ and a ‘good dad’, while his oldest child Stephen said they lost ‘a great friend’ when he died.

Trevor Thrupp (left) and John Rowlands (right)

William Michael ‘Mick’ Beasley, 30, was a stock controller at a motor company, whose father had died four months before the bombings.

He led a quiet but full and active life, collected coins, and had a keen interest in film and cinema.

Mick owned an 8mm camera, and was a regular in the projector room of the Odeon in New Street.

The night of the bombing, the wife of the Mulberry Bush landlord, Mary Jones, recalled he had found a lucky Cornish pixie charm on the night bus into town, and gave it to her.

She survived the bombing, and told how she had kept it ever since.

John Clifford ‘Cliff’ Jones, 51, was a railway station postal worker, and a father-of-four.

As a soldier with the Durham Light Infantry in the Second World War, he survived being machine-gunned in combat in 1945, and spent weeks convalescing in a Carlisle hospital.

He was a keen gardener and the Cliff Jones Memorial Trophy is still awarded to Birmingham’s best kept allotment, his son George Jones said.

Mr Jones said his father was ‘ cruelly robbed’ of the chance to live and see his family grow.

Michael Beasley (left) and John Clifford Jones (right)

James Caddick, 56, was a porter at nearby Birmingham markets, a divorcee, and father-of-two.

A Mulberry Bush regular, Mr Caddick was stood with his friends, Mr Bodman, Mr Thrupp, Mr Rowlands, Mr Beasley, and Mr Jones in their usual spot at the end of the bar – just feet from where the bomb was planted.

– Father-of-three Stan Bodman, 47, an electrician, was ‘larger than life’ and ‘very popular’, his son Paul Bodman said.

An ex-RAF wartime serviceman, Stan told his son there was nothing to fear from IRA bombs, as they were not ‘military or political’ targets.

‘We certainly got that wrong,’ he said.

‘The carnage of that night will never be forgotten and as a family we hope the inquest will finally bring some answers to what really happened on that devastating night,’ added Mr Bodman.

James Caddick (left) and Stan Bodman (right)

Charles Gray, 44, was a mechanic at British Leyland in Longbridge, and had never been in the Mulberry Bush before the night the bomb went off.

He never missed a day’s work, and those who knew him said he had ‘an easy charm and a slight air of mystery’.

His family said he was a ‘lovely, quiet man’ and a ‘gentleman, mild-mannered and agreeable’, always known for being well-dressed.

Pamela Palmer, 19, was an office worker, who used to take her three-year-old niece shopping.

Her older sister Pauline Curzon said: ‘She was a lovely sister. She helped me in numerous ways.

‘Her companionship and kindness is a memory I treasure.’

She was there with her boyfriend, Derek Blake, who was in intensive care for days afterwards and lost a leg in the blast.

 Charles Gray (left) and Pamela Palmer (right)

Walking past and caught in the blast, outside, were Paul Davies, 17, and Bruce Lee fan, Neil ‘Tommy’ Marsh who, at 16 years old, was the youngest victim.

Mr Marsh’s cousin, Danielle Fairweather-Tipping, said Tommy and Paul had a ‘very strong’ bond, and enjoyed the ‘carefree life’ of teenagers.

She said: ‘His death has been a devastation to our family and words really can never explain this.’

Victim Paul Davies

Mr Davies supported Aston Villa, was ‘a massive Bruce Lee fan’ and had already earned his karate black belt before his 17th birthday, son Paul Bridgewater said.

It was the son he never got to meet, as he died three months before Paul was born, but ‘I feel his spirit still lives on it me’. 

Thomas ‘Tom’ Chaytor, 28, born in Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire, was a retail assistant at Willoughby Tailoring and part-time barman.

Adopted as a child, he was a divorcee and father-of-two, who three weeks before the bombs had started a job on the bar at the Tavern to earn extra money, his then fiance Susan Hands said.

He died of his injuries on November 27, a week after the blast.

Maxine Hambleton, 18, was a shop assistant at Miss Selfridge in Lewis’s department store, in the city centre.

She was a ‘beautiful soul’, her sister Julie Hambleton said, and died not knowing she had been the first in her family to earn a place reading law at university.

Maxine Hambleton was one of 11 people killed in the Tavern in the Town pub

Jane Davis, 17, who had her eyes set on being a nuclear physicist, was with her co-worker and close friend Miss Hambleton in the Tavern in the Town when she was killed.

She and Miss Hambleton had gone on a coming-of-age grape-picking holiday to the vineyards of France earlier that year, and she sent a postcard home describing how ‘my back is bloody killing me’.

Her family remembered their ‘loyal’ and ‘much-loved’ daughter, sister and friend, who had the chance of being a mother and a wife ‘taken from her’.

Anne Hayes, 19, was another retail assistant working at Miss Selfridge, who was in the Tavern that night.

She lived with her parents, and had been an apprentice hairdresser, before taking up retail.

Marilyn Nash, 22, was a supervisor at Miss Selfridge, and was out with her friend, Miss Hayes when she died.

Jane Davies (left) and Marilyn Paula Nash (right)

Eugene Reilly, 23, was a Deep Purple and Black Sabbath fan and his younger sister Mary recalled seeing him play air guitar to his LPs in the lounge of the family home at weekends.

Shy, but ‘very sociable’, he a was a keen roller skater, and went to the rink several times a week.

He was out with his married younger brother, that night, in the Tavern.

Desmond Reilly, 21, had invited his brother into the city, to celebrate news his wife Elaine was pregnant – though he would not live to see his son’s birth.

Their family said: ‘Eugene never had the opportunity to get married and have children, and Desmond never got to meet his son – part of us died with them on the day they died.’

Eugene Thomas Reilly (left) and Desmond Reilly (right)

Stephen Whalley, 21, was a quantity surveyor in town on a date arranged through the New Musical Express (NME’s) lonely hearts club page.

In a statement read to the inquest, his elderly mother said: ‘While I would love the world to know about my son Stephen, and the lovely young man he was, it is just too difficult and painful for me to recall any memories I have because it is too traumatic to remember.

‘Stephen was our only child, who had his whole life ahead of him.’

Mr Whalley’s date was Lynn Bennett, 18, a punch-card operator, and the two died together in the Tavern in the Town.

She was ‘very petite and looked great in miniskirts and platforms’, her sister Claire Luckman said.

A passionate Birmingham City Football Club, her grieving father never set foot in the ground again after her death.

Stephen Whalley (pictured, left, in childhood) was 21 when he died. Right: Lynn Bennett

Maureen Roberts, 20, was a wages clerk at Dowding and Mills, and was due to be engaged to her boyfriend, Fred Bromley.

An only child, with a ‘happy-go-lucky’ side, she also had a caring nature, buying Christmas presents for neighbours.

Mr Bromley said she had striking auburn hair, ‘the colour of gold, when the sun shone on it’.

‘Everyone would remark on it wherever she went,’ he added.

James ‘Jimmy’ Craig, 34, was an automotive plant worker and keen amateur footballer who once had a trial with Birmingham City Football Club.

He was the last victim of the bombings, dying on December 9, 1974, of injuries he sustained in the Tavern.

Jimmy Craig, who could neither read nor write, was only in the pub that night to meet a girl who had written to him, making the arrangement.

His brother, Bill Craig, said he would never have been at the Tavern, had the letter remained unread but his brother had asked their mother to read it for him. 

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