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Dublin: 13°C Tuesday 19 October 2021

On this day 24 years ago, the Birmingham Six were released

The men spent 16 years in prison – for a crime they didn’t commit.

ON 14 MARCH 1991, the Birmingham Six were released from prison, after their convictions for the murder of 21 people were quashed by the UK Court of Appeal.

Paddy Joe Hill, Hugh Callaghan, Richard McIlkenny, Gerry Hunter, Billy Power and Johnny Walker were arrested in 1974 and charged in 1975.

Crime - Birmingham Six From left/top: Patrick Hill, Hugh Callaghan, John Walker, Richard McIlkenny, Gerard Hunter and William Power. Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

They had left Birmingham shortly before IRA-planted bombs exploded in two city centre pubs - the Mulberry Bush and Tavern in the Town – on 21 November 1974, at about 8.17pm and 8.27pm respectively. 

Bomb blitz in Birmingham The aftermath of one of the bombs. Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

Telephone warnings were sent to local newspapers a few minutes beforehand, but the venues were not evacuated in time.

Birmingham Bomb Attacks Friends comfort a woman outside Victoria Law Courts in Birmingham, on 28 November 1974. She shouted 'You killed my son, you bastard' as the accused were driven away. Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

A third bomb was found later that night but it failed to detonate.

As well as the 21 fatalities, 182 people were injured.  Each of the six men were given a life sentence. Three other men were charged with conspiracy.

The six men claimed that police forced them to sign confessions after physical and psychological torture.

In January 1987, their first appeal was rejected. Journalist and Labour MP Chris Mullin helped the men prove their innocence.

Birmingham Six celebrate victory Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

The Birmingham Six Source: SEAN DEMPSEY/PA Images

Speaking shortly after their release, Paddy Hill told reporters:

For 16-and-a-half years we have been used as political scapegoats … The police told us from the start they knew we hadn’t done it. They didn’t care who had done it.

The Birmingham Six Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

Between them, the men – five of whom were Catholics from Belfast – spent 96 years behind bars.

Each of them received compensation ranging from £840,000 to £1.2 million several years after their release.

The trial is considered one of the worst miscarriages of justice in British history.

Three of men appeared on the Late Late Show in 1991 to discuss what happened to them:

Source: Long Kesh/YouTube

Last year, Hill again challenged the IRA members behind the bombings to come forward.

As families of the victims marked the 40th anniversary of the atrocity in 2014, they called for a new inquiry to be held.

Read: Gerry Conlon and the Guildford Four were released 25 years ago today

Read: People eulogising Gerry Conlon had ‘no time for him’ when he was in prison

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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