Men alleged to have planted 1974 devices named publicly for first time
TWO new prime suspects have been named as the men who allegedly planted the IRA bombs that killed 21 people in two Birmingham pubs in 1974.
An ITV documentary this week identified Michael Patrick Reilly and James Francis Gavin as part of the cell allegedly responsible for the atrocity that also injured 182 people.
Reilly, who is still alive, has never been publicly named as a suspect before, while Gavin has been connected but not as one of those suspected of planting the devices.
Reilly, who lives in Belfast, denied any involvement.
Evidence uncovered in the ITV probe implicated both as having key roles in the 1974 atrocity, when two bombs exploded in crowded pubs in the city centre.
The blasts at the Mulberry Bush and the Tavern In the Town on the evening of November 21, 1974, were the deadliest on the mainland during the Troubles.
A man with an Irish accent telephoned the Birmingham Post with a warning at 8.11pm but it was too late. At 8.18pm a bomb in a duffel bag exploded in the Mulberry Bush under the Rotunda, killing ten people. Two minutes later another blast at the Tavern In The Town, in New Street, killed 11 people.
Six men were originally convicted – known as the Birmingham Six – but had their convictions quashed in 1991 after 16 years in prison.
But in this week’s ITV Exposure programme, court documents revealed Reilly – a member of the Birmingham IRA cell – was questioned about the pub attacks in the 1970s.
However, Reilly was instead charged in connection with six unrelated bombings and conspiracy.
He pleaded guilty to four of the seven charges and got ten years.
The ITV team looked at material in the National Archives and interviewed officers from the original has inquiry. Bill Squires, a former detective inspector for West Midlands Police anti-terror squad, originally arrested Reilly in 1975 as a suspected IRA member.
“I thought he’d done something serious,” Squires told the programme.
“And that he was happy to make admissions and accept a sentence because there was more serious matters in the locker.”
Confronted recently in Belfast by ITV’s John Ware, Reilly denied planting the bombs, or knowing the bombings were going to take place.
He did not comment on the allegation that he was the unnamed man who previously admitted involvement to former MP Chris Mullen who campaigned for the release of the Birmingham Six.
“I’ve got nothing to say,” he told Ware. “You can ask what you want, but I’m not going to answer. You’re wasting your time.”
James Gavin, who died in 2002, murdered a suspected IRA informant in 1977 and was sentenced to life.
Gavin, then 34, was a former British soldier living in Bordesley Green and had previously been reported to have taken delivery of the bombs.
Gavin, under the alias James Kelly, actually stood trial alongside the Birmingham Six and was convicted of handling explosives and handed a one-year sentence, fleeing to Ireland upon his release.
The latest revelations come as the Court of Appeal ruled a new inquest into the attacks will not consider the identity of the bombers.
But relatives are still desperate for answers.
Spokeswoman for campaign group Justice4the21 Julie Hambleton, whose sister Maxine was killed, aged 18, in the blast at the Tavern, said: “We could have walked past him [Reilly] when we were in Belfast. When people ask you how’d you feel if you met them or saw them, you can never answer that question.
“What do I want? Me, personally, I want the b*****ds who killed my sister and the other 20 to be brought to justice.”
She added: “If these men are going to be named on television it is absurd they cannot be named in the inquests. It makes a mockery of our justice system.
“We don’t know if these men are responsible but we would like that to be examined and the inquest should be doing that.”
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.”
In July last year self-confessed exIRA bomber Michael Christopher Hayes also claimed he was involved with the group responsible for the Birmingham pub bombings.
During the interview, Hayes, now 70 and living in Dublin, said he took “collective responsibility” and apologised, offered “heartfelt sympathies” to relatives of the victims of the atrocity that claimed 21 lives.
He denied planting the devices himself but refused to identify those who had. He said he was speaking out to give “the point of view of a participant”.
He said the bombs had not been intended to kill. He added that when he became aware of the death toll from the two blasts, he personally defused a third bomb left on Hagley Road in Edgbaston.
Another man, Mick Murray, has been named previously by the Post & Mail as the mastermind behind the bombs plot.
He also shared the dock with the Birmingham Six in the pub bombings trial on separate charges of conspiracy to cause explosions but stayed silent throughout. Murray, who died in 1999, was sentenced to nine years in jail.
He was said to have selected the targets and had later placed the warning call to the Birmingham Post, which was delayed by a half-hour due to the fact that the pre-selected telephone had been vandalised and another needed to be located, leading to the fateful delay in the warning calls.
> Michael Patrick Reilly, left, who was confronted by John Ware of the ITV documentary this week
> Mick Murray who was previously named
> Michael Hayes admitted involvement
> Michael Reilly, denies involvement
> James Gavin, who died in 2002