Northern Ireland police arrest 65-year-old man in connection with 1974 IRA bombings

Police arrested a man Wednesday in Northern Ireland in connection with the 1974 bombings of two pubs that killed 21 people and injured more than 200 in Birmingham, England.

West Midlands Police said officers from the West Midlands counterterrorism unit, working with colleagues from the Police Service of Northern Ireland, arrested a 65-year-old man at his home in Belfast.

“The man was arrested under the Terrorism Act and a search of his home is being carried out,” police said in a statement. “He will be interviewed under caution at a police station in Northern Ireland.”

The arrest came days before the 46th anniversary of the two Nov. 21, 1974, blasts that ripped apart the Mulberry Bush and Tavern in the Town pubs in the city of Birmingham.

The bombings, in which over 180 people were also wounded, caused the biggest loss of life on the British mainland during the 30 years of conflict between mostly Catholic nationalists, who favoured Northern Ireland’s unification with the Republic of Ireland, and Protestants wanting to stay in the United Kingdom.

The violence, known as The Troubles in which some 3,600 people died, was largely brought to an end with the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Government pondering public inquiry

British Home Secretary Priti Patel said a month ago that she would consider holding a public inquiry into the bombings.

This photo from Nov. 22, 1974, shows the damage caused by a bomb at the Mulberry Bush pub in Birmingham, England, one of two public houses bombed late on Nov. 21. Twenty one people died and more than 200 were injured. (Peter Kemp/File/The Associated Press)

Julie Hambleton, whose 18-year-old sister Maxine died in the bombings, said the arrest was “the most monumental event” in the criminal investigation into the bombings since the 1975 murder convictions of six men were thrown out in 1991 after serious doubts were raised about the police evidence against the defendants, widely referred to as the Birmingham Six.

Hambleton said she broke down in tears when a senior West Midlands Police officer telephoned her with news of the arrest.

“I couldn’t speak. I was just inconsolable and was just looking at the picture of Maxine,” she said. “It’s welcome news. It’s overwhelming news.”

Hambleton, who is part of an advocacy group called Justice for the 21, said that whatever happens with regard to the arrest “does not in any way lessen our desire for a full public inquiry to be held.”

She said there are “wider issues” that need to be examined, including “why six men were arrested for a crime they didn’t commit.”

“How was it that for so long, after 21 people were blown up and more than 200 other innocent souls were injured, nobody was looking for the perpetrators?”

‘Birmingham Six’ wrongly convicted

Within a day of the bombings, six Birmingham residents originally from Northern Ireland had been arrested. They were convicted of murder the following summer and sentenced to life imprisonment.

A Court of Appeal ruling freed them in March 1991 after police evidence was called into question. Their convictions represent one of the gravest miscarriages of justice in British legal history.

Acquitted members of the Birmingham Six, sent to prison in 1975 for the IRA’s bombing of two pubs, are shown gathering with their MP after they walked out of court as free men in 1991. They spent 16 years in prison. (Chris Helgren/File Photo/Reuters)

One of the victims was postman and war veteran John “Cliff” Jones, who died in the Mulberry Bush blast.

His son, George Jones, acknowledged the arrest as a “positive” development.

“I hope this time West Midlands Police is more efficient than the original investigation team were,” said Jones, now 72.

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