The loss of a bomb suspected of being used in the 1974 Birmingham bombings must be ‘carefully investigated’, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has said.
On a visit to the West Midlands, Theresa Villiers said the revelation that West Midlands Police had lost 35 pieces of evidence, including a bomb, was an ‘operational’ matter and not up to her as a minister.
But she said: “This needs to be carefully investigated to find out how the loss occurred.
“It’s an operational matter for the police rather than me as a minister.”
Asked for her views on West Midlands Police decision not to hold a new inquiry into the bombings 40 years on, Mrs Villiers said: “The pain and distress for the loved ones of people who died is still very real but this is a matter entirely for the police to decide.”
Two bombs exploded at the Mulberry Bush and Tavern in the Town pubs in Birmingham in November 1974. Twenty-one people died and 182 were injured.
The so-called Birmingham Six were jailed in 1975 but their convictions were quashed in 1991.
The discredited West Midlands Serious Crime Squad – later disbanded – was accused of mishandling the case, but no-one from the squad was prosecuted.
West Midlands Police has ruled out a new inquiry because it has no new evidence to help bring anyone to justice.
A third bomb, found at the rear of Barclays Bank in Hagley Road, Edgbaston and disabled with a controlled explosion at 5am on the morning after the pub bombings was accidentally ‘disposed of’.
Neither fingerprints nor further evidence of significance were discovered when the remains of the bomb were examined at the time but it could have been tested with new technology during the present review.
West Midlands chief constable Chris Sims last week said it was ‘very unfortunate’ that the bomb had gone missing but he added that the force would ‘dearly love to unlock this mystery and bring people to justice but we have found no new evidence that would assist.’
The chief constable has met with Brian and Julie Hambleton whose 18-year-old sister Maxine was among those killed by the pub bombings.
Miss Hambleton said she did not think the police had ‘any desire for justice’.
Mrs Villiers made her comments as she was visiting Walsall Adult Community College in Beeches Road along with Tory candidate for Walsall North Douglas Hansen Luke.
They were looking at ways in which the college helps to get long term unemployed people back into work.
Mr Hansen Luke said: “This college is very different. Staff go out into the community. They have centres throughout the borough taking education to people rather than waiting for people to come to them.”
During her afternoon in the West Midlands, Mrs Villiers also visited the African Caribbean Community Initiative in Whitmore Reans with Wolverhampton South West MP Paul Uppal.
She was given a tour of the centre’s facilities and met members of staff to discuss the services provided at the centre.