The BBC sank to a new low yesterday (Weds) morning. Its Today Programme coverage of the Birmingham pub bombings inquest resumption left me as angry as I can remember feeling.
We were told that, after more than 40 years, the survivors and families of the victims of the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings were to find out if their request for the resumption of the inquest into the deaths of 21 people would be successful – without which the perpetrators of this shocking terror attack could never be brought to book.
So was the usually victim-charged BBC celebrating this ‘win’ for justice?
No. The mood in the studio was unenthusiastic. In fact they set out to put a damper on it. They invited Chris Mullins, a former MP and the ‘investigative journalist’ instrumental in freeing the six men wrongly convicted of the Birmingham pub bombings, to comment. And none too sympathetic was he.
Humphrys had already set the scene. The ‘real’ shocking miscarriage of justice had been to the freed Birmingham Six.
Insensitive did not even begin to describe it.
One can understand, I heard Mr Humphrys saying, why the relatives want the inquest resumed but, in practical terms, what can it achieve since we know who the real killers are and they are walking around Dublin?
A pointless exercise, he effectively invited his guest to concur with.
Chris Mullins did, saying there wasn’t any evidence that could lead to a conviction.
I am no legal expert, nor a historian of this particularly brutal event, but how can he possibly both know who the perpetrators are, named in his own book, two of whom are still freely walking the streets of Dublin, and say there is no evidence to arrest them?
If there is new evidence, Mullins graciously acceded, “by all means reopen the case but in my view it is highly unlikely after 42 years there will be”.
Anyway IRA Command in Dublin at the time had nothing to do with this particular bombing, he told us. It was the local initiative of the Birmingham IRA who had no contact with IRA High Command (don’t blame them he effectively said) as if that let them off the hook. We were to learn later in the programme, however, that the IRA Court ‘debriefed’ the Birmingham cell. The plot went wrong – even from the bombers’ point of view, Chris was keen reassure us, pretty much absolving them too by now.
You mean, Mr Mullins, Humphrys did not retort, that they did not know they were planting lethal explosives in crowded venues? Or are you saying there is no need to have justice meted out on the perpetrators because unintentionally they bungled their warning to the police? What legal precedent is there for that?
And, if you are so in the know about all this why aren’t you sharing this information with the police? Why aren’t you dobbing in the perps or telling them to get their backsides into a police station? I am sure our listeners want to know.
And if what you know does not constitute evidence please explain. So you’re saying it’s just a bit tough on all those people who died – you are saying to their relatives, ‘get over it’?
Our listeners will be wondering why your sense of justice is so selective?
As to your ‘waste of time and too long ago argument’, should any attempt to bring Nazi War criminals to trial have been given up in 1985?
Sadly all John Humphrys asked him, in his most ameliorative of tones, was whether the families would want closure.
Chris Mullins still showed little sympathy. Some had moved on, he said.
Can you imagine anyone being allowed to be so casual about the Stephen Lawrence case? To say that 22 years ago was too far in the past for a new investigation?
Mullins signed off by repeating how pointless the inquest would be because of the four who did the bombings, two are dead. If that was bad more was to follow at 8.10. Julie Hambleton, the sister of Maxine Hambleton who died in the bombings, was, the only way I can describe it, subjected to ordeal by media.
Would she have come on had she known that Kieran Conway, the former head of IRA intelligence and former self confessed bomb planter, would be accorded such kid gloved and respectful treatment? – and a legitimacy normally accorded to a head of MI5 or 6?
How the Today programme could field a man who condoned the Birmingham pub bombings as, in effect, a legitimate act of war that went wrong and then ask a relative of a victim who was incinerated as part of the carnage to react, beggars belief.
But I should not have been surprised. It was a logical consequence of the moral relativism that has infected every aspect of the BBC.
In the BBC’s view, of course, Kieran Conway is a ‘militant’ with legitimate grievances, rather than a cold-blooded terrorist who coolly admits to having been trained to plant bombs and planting them.
Humphrys not so much as coughed at this casual admission.
Following their debriefing at IRA HQ (which, according to Mullins, had nothing to do with it ) they had been cleared of any wrong doing. It was an accident that the phone boxes from which they planned to warn the police had been vandalised. Their only mistake was not to check that before. John Humphrys made no retort.
If it felt like a Kafka-esque nightmare to the listener, what Julie must have felt, trapped in this emotionally abusive Alice in Wonderland world, is hard to imagine. The desperation in her voice said it all. How galling to hear Kieran Conway given the final word:
“I don’t view IRA volunteers as murderers but as people who participated in a just war”
Never mind the rights of Maxine Hambleton and her fellow bomb blast victims.
It is not just John Humphrys but the BBC as a whole that is culpable in the matter of this IRA fellow travelling. It goes all the way back to the 1970s/80s when Roger Bolton (then editor of Panorama) and his colleagues tried every way possible of bending the anti-terrorist rules so that they could report the IRA side.
This account in the Ulster Herald shows how devoid of morals the BBC was and is. Thirty five years on from Carrickmore, David Darlow, the producer of the relevant Panorama film, is still claiming they were the victims of a ‘silly’ IRA stunt and thinks that the reaction of Margaret Thatcher and the RUC was totally unwarranted – they, the BBC heroes, were simply doing their jobs.
The BBC said it was in the interest of ‘balance’, but the ‘rights’ of the IRA trumped almost everything in the BBC universe. As they did again today
I imagine John Humphrys is congratulating himself on a job well done.
(Image: Elliott Brown)