Coroner wins appeal over scope of inquests into 1974…

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The coroner in charge of inquests into the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings has won an appeal against a ruling which overturned his decision not to investigate who was responsible for the atrocities as part of the proceedings.

Three Court of Appeal judges in London allowed a challenge by Sir Peter Thornton QC against the ruling made by the High Court earlier this year after a successful judicial review action by bereaved families.

The High Court had quashed Sir Peter’s decision to exclude the “perpetrator” issue, and ordered him to reconsider that decision.

But on Wednesday the Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett, Lady Justice Hallett and Lord Justice McCombe allowed the coroner’s appeal.

Lord Burnett, announcing the Court of Appeal’s decision following a hearing in July, said the coroner had made “no error of law” and his decision “is not open to legal objection”.

He added: “We allow the appeal and restore the original decision.”

The ruling challenged by Sir Peter was made by two High Court judges sitting in Birmingham in January.

Giving that decision, Mrs Justice Carr said: “We are minded to quash the coroner’s decision which excluded the perpetrator issue and remit the case so as to enable him to reconsider the decision.”

The bombings in two city centre pubs, widely believed to be the work of the IRA, killed 21 people and injured 182, making it the deadliest peacetime attack in the UK at the time.

The coroner ruled in July last year that investigations into the identity of those responsible for the atrocities should not form part of his inquiry.

Six men, known as the Birmingham Six, were imprisoned for the murders and served 17 years behind bars in one of Britain’s most infamous miscarriages of justice before their convictions were quashed.

Five West Midlands Police officers were charged with perverting the course of justice in connection with the original criminal investigation, but a judge ruled in 1993 that a fair trial would be impossible.

During the appeal proceedings before the three judges, lawyers for the coroner said the hearings will not resolve the “enduring injustice” for victims and their families.

Peter Skelton QC, representing the coroner, said the victims, their families and the public interest “cannot be served” by a promised resolution that “cannot be delivered”.

The High Court decision followed a judicial review brought on behalf of the bereaved families by Julie Hambleton, whose sister Maxine was 18 when she was killed in the bombings.

Mrs Hambleton, spokeswoman for victims’ campaign group Justice4the21, has said it would be “utterly redundant to have the inquests unless the perpetrators, their associates and those who prepared and planted the bombs are included”.

Hugh Southey QC, representing the families, told the appeal judges: “There is the utmost public interest in the proper investigation of who was responsible for the Birmingham bombings.

“The families of the deceased said to the appellant (Sir Peter) that the investigation of this issue was so important to them that if it did not form part of the scope of the inquest ‘we may as well not have an inquest at all’.”

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