Birmingham: 10,000 documents to throw light on the bombing of 1974

As recently announced by the West Midlands Police Department, an archive of about 10,000 documents has been developed in the last 18 months in order to assure justice. A comprehensive digital filing system adopted in order to take a broader view of what happened on 21st November 1974.


On 21st November 1974, BBC News spread the news of two bombings. The explosions destroyed two pubs in the city of Birmingham, crowded with teenagers, killing 19 of them. The attack occurred while the body of an IRA member, James McDade, was arriving in Ireland. He had been killed by the explosion of the device that he was planting. Consequently, by following the terrorism investigation line of action, six Irish men were arrested; they were called the “Birmingham six”. IRA sympathizers, they even attended McDade’s funeral. One of them, Paddy Joe Hill, was interviewed by BBC: while still considering himself a Republican, he declared his innocence. Moreover, he denounced the police for using violence to force him to confess. Even IRA denied responsibilities, on 22nd November 1974.

The day after, an international marxist group, the Red Flag 74, claimed responsibility, but the cycle of hate had already started. As reported by Reading Eagle: “a wave of firebombings, bomb threats and assaults against Irishmen and Irish-owned businesses swept part of Britain”. Violence became the direct reaction to Birmingham pub bombingsHarold Wilson, Prime Minister since March 1974, overturned Heath‘s policy of compromise, passing the Prevention of Terrorism Act. To British government’s delight, that meant the suspension of Habeas Corpus Act (1679) and an absolute power over an afraid and angry people. During the second half of the ’70s, many British troops were deployed in Northern Ireland, turning a blind eye to Loyalists’ violence.

That is the reason why Gareth Peirce wrote on The Guardian that “it is vital to appreciate the horrifying detail of what happened to them, and how the truth was not acknowledged for 16 years. The annihilation of justice for others remains an ever-present spectre”; while on the contrary police said: “Within hours of the explosions, six men were arrested and subsequently charged, convicted and given life sentences for murder. Sixteen years later, their convictions were declared unsafe and quashed at the Court of Appeal”. Finally, hate is only part of the story.

Terrorism is one of the common elements in European History during the second half of XX century. As in Italy, where the years since 1968 to 1992 were a crescendo of violence, the real problem was and will be the one of Truth. There is no point in organizing a sophisticated archive if you cannot bear what you could find inside. Especially because, when the cancer of internal terrorism afflicts a nation, alarming interconnections between terrorists and police, Secret Services and other sections of the State are unavoidable. Truth can make you free, but first of all it is a weight that you have to learn to bear. If a monster were behind the curtain, would you like to know?

Photo: M.J. Niels McGuinness/Birmingham Mail

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