A new Birmingham Six

Pub bomb campaigners have been issued with fixed penalty notices.

As a general rule the police have a thankless task. When they’re good, and everything’s going well, you never notice them. When things are going wrong you rely on them and if they don’t come up to what might be considered the required standard, they’re the first ones to get the blame. In particular, their behaviour during the pandemic might not have been perfect at times but they’ve done their job as best they can in difficult circumstances.

And then they run the risk of losing all that goodwill by a catastrophic public relations blunder. On 21st November last year, the 46th anniversary of the pub bombings, the Justice for the 21 Campaign held a motorcade around the city to highlight their cause. It took the the place of their usual annual candlelight vigil, it was well-organised, there was no trouble, no problems apart from perhaps a slight amount of minor inconvenience to other motorists, but nothing worse than you’d expect on any normal Saturday afternoon.

Four weeks later six of the campaign’s organisers, including its head Julie Hambleton, whose sister Maxine was killed in the bombings, received £200 fixed penalty notices for breaking COVID regulations.

Not only is this an over-reaction, it’s also crass in the extreme. Of all the numbers that could have been issued, in these circumstances six is so mind-blowingly inappropriate that you wonder if it was chosen deliberately. Whatever the reasons for issuing these notices, it is very difficult to dispel the feeling that prime amongst them is the belief that the campaign is getting a bit too close to its objective for some peoples’ comfort.

For the benefit of anyone who doesn’t know, the pub bombings were at the time the worst terrorist atrocity ever committed on mainland Britain. 21 people died, almost 200 were injured. They left a scar that damaged community relations in our city for decades and ruined the lives of six wrongly-convicted men and their families. Those who committed and aided this act of wholesale slaughter have never received any punishment, yet those who just want to know the truth about that night are being fined.

There should not be any excuse for breaking the law, but equally to operate effectively the law needs the co-operation of the public. That sometimes means turning the occasional blind eye, and it’s still not too late for justice to be served. It took a month to issue these notices. It would take less than an hour to get them cancelled.