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Birmingham pub bombing campaigner to run for police commissioner

Julie Hambleton simply wants to see justice, not just for her sister but for all victims of crime.

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Julie Hambleton is running the West Midland Crime Commissioner position

The former university lecturer has spent the last 10 years fighting along side her brother, Brian, for the 21 who died in Birmingham bombings.

And that's because after 47 years the biggest mass murder in 20th century peacetime Britain remains unsolved.

On the night of November 21, 1974, 21 were killed and 220 injured when two bombs went off in two Birmingham pubs.

One of the victims was Maxine Hambleton, 18, a shop assistant at Miss Selfridge in Lewis’s department store, in the city centre.

Maxine's younger sister, Julie, was left devastated – along with the rest of her family – but in the last few years she has dedicated her life to the Justice for the 21 (J421) group after it was officially launched in 2012.

Maxine Hambleton was aged 18 when she was killed in the 1974 attacks

The name was founded by Michael Lutwyche, the campaign's longest and staunchest supporter. Since then it has attracted numerous supporters across the globe, including fellow family members of the 21 victims.

And now, with the backing of her loyal supporters, she has thrown her name into the hat for the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner position.

As an independent candidate, she relies entirely on donations to run her grass root campaign but she is determined to make a difference and says, if elected, she will serve the public with the same passion and determination that has seen the J421 movement attract global attention.

"It was actually put to me by supporters of J421. They suggested I should run for the PCC position, but at first I brushed it off," said Julie.

"Then I mentioned it to my family and then I thought, 'why not?'.

"We live in a democratic society and I've got as much right to stand as anyone else. That's what democracy is all about.

"And who knows how badly the establishment can let down victims of crime more than we do?

"I'll also be standing as an independent. I've never had any political affiliation. I'm neither left nor right leaning, I just know the difference between right and wrong.

"Everything we have been through during this campaign, I've already met three Home Secretaries, MPs, Lords, Dames and senior officers at West Midlands Police.

"I've become an expert in this sort of field purely through my own experiences.

"I also know what it's like to live as a family who have been the victim of a heinous crime, and to have felt let down by the very establishment that is meant to represent and serve us.

"They think they can just pacify us but this crime, the pub bombings, continues to be the biggest unsolved mass murder in the history of peacetime Britain in the 20th century. People tend to forget that."

One of the bombs went off at The Mulberry Bush, in Birmingham

Julie, 58, admits the frustration she has felt during her 10-year campaign has also inspired her to stand up for the public, particularly victims of crime whom she feels have been badly let down in recent years.

"Whilst being the PCC is a well paid job I would be completely transparent with the public.

"And if they think the position is a waste of time, I would be transparent with the public about that as well.

"As a public servant you should be there to serve the public. It's not about the money. In fact, I would do the job for nothing.

"Most importantly, I will be there for all victims of crime and I will hold the senior management at West Midlands Police to account."

Julie also wants to help make the police force more diverse as well as encouraging more women into senior positions.

"Less than 10 per cent of the force comes from the BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) community and the number of male inspectors is more than 50 per cent higher, despite the population of the West Midlands having sightly more women.

"But I don't want to get into a manifesto war because I would put money on the fact the difference between the parties' plans would be the width of a cigarette paper.

"Everyone is aware of the issues and the rise in crime, particularly knife and gun crime, as well as domestic violence, which has been terrible during lockdown."

Most important for Julie is the support of her small team but she is hoping to gain more of the public's support as she goes up against the more experienced and traditional parties.

"As an independent, I don't have a political machine behind me or any huge finances in place to support me.

"Many have what seems like a bottomless pit of money, with people employed to make phone calls, create posters, drop leaflets and things like that, and candidates are also given media training.

"So many of my supporters have offered their services for free because I don't have any funding.

"It costs £5,000 just to enter the race, which you get back if you seal a certain amount of the vote, but if I get any of it back it would go towards the J421 campaign fund.

Julie Hambleton is running the West Midland Crime Commissioner position

"I do not want a war of words because that's not what I'm about.

"If someone else wins, so be it and good luck to them. We don't want this to be a negative campaign.

"My campaign will be transparent and respectful because that's who I am. I'd like more people to know me as a person.

"And, if I was lucky enough to win, I would do exactly what it says on the tin – I will be there for the victims of crime, first and foremost, reporting back to them."

Julie said she was also concerned far too many crimes were left unrecorded last year by West Midlands Police.

According to the latest figures, in 2019, 22,070 burglary cases were closed without pinpointing a suspect.

"These are crimes and the current PCC keeps saying the force doesn't have enough money or officers.

"But why does that mean crimes can't be reported properly? What are they fearful of? I will hold the senior management of West Midlands Police to account.

"A lot of people think I have an axe to grind – of course I do – but I've always done every job to the best of my ability.

"I will give more than 100 per cent, so much so I recently took early retirement from my role as lecturer at a university.

"When I started J421, I reduced my hours because the campaign was becoming so important and I wanted to dedicate my life to it.

"But if I get this job, the victims of crime will get 100 per cent of my attention.

"Of course J421 will also be on my mind but it's all connected, it's all about victims of crime and getting justice."

Julie first began the idea of forming a campaign group, with the aim of getting Justice for the 21 who were murdered, in 2009.

But since then it has grown beyond all recognition, with supporters pledging their help, particularly across the footballing fraternity, bringing rival fans together to fight for a single cause.

The J421 has brought clubs across the Midlands and the globe together

"I was watching the news at home one day and there was a piece about all these public inquires that were going on and how many millions they were costing.

"Nobody had been killed in any of these cases and there were about two or three of them going on at the same time.

"It made me think, 'why hasn't there been a public inquiry into the Birmingham pub bombings?'.

"I wrote to the then Chief Constable of West Midlands Police, Chris Sims, but it took him nearly five years to get any response, in 2014 – and even then they thought they could pacify us, by reviewing the case files between 2012 and 2014.

"I was warned early on about the 'three Ds' tactics, which is: deny, delay and then wait for death, so they don't have to do anything."

It was her brother, Brian, who came up with the idea of starting an online petition, which was set up in November 2011.

"We got some signatures and then were interviewed by a local newspaper in 2012, as well as doing a live radio phone in.

"Both Brian and I were crying during that radio interview. It's impossible to get across the grief we, and other victims, have felt as a family.

Julie Hambleton, centre, and other bereaved families continue their fight for justice

"In this interview, we set out three main points: we did not want an apology, because that's just words; we did not want money, because that was never going to bring them back; but we did want justice for those who could not fight for themselves.

"On the back of all that, over the past few years, we've had so much support from the football fraternity, in the UK, Ireland and across the world.

"Supporters have had special flags made up and some even have all the names of the 21 who were murdered on them. They look fantastic and there's also t-shirts, mugs, stickers, everything.

"All clubs, from Aston Villa and Birmingham City, to Celtic and Rangers, and even Halesowen Town and Stourbridge Town, have come on board.

"Even so, I still get upset now, when I think of what happened to Maxine.

"We didn't know mum had to go and identify her either. She protected us from knowing this, but told us about six years ago.

"I went to bed crying for two months after hearing that. At one point Maxine was a daughter, a sister, with her whole life ahead of her, and then she's gone in the blink of an eye.

"People cannot grasp the harrowing grief that causes a family. You can't explain it.

"Sometimes I wish I was a singer or musician and then maybe I could express it. The pain is immeasurable."

Bill Craig's 34-year-old brother, James, was fatally wounded in the Birmingham pub bombings

The campaign began to progress even further in April 2014 when Julie and her brother were contacted by Bill Craig, the brother of James Craig, 34, who was the last person to die after the explosion in 1974.

"James was a fit young man and somehow managed to survive for 10 days, but when Bill went to see him he did not recognise him because his injuries were so bad. So he wanted to help us.

"We then managed to get legal representation from a firm in Belfast where they have, and continue, to work for us for free.

"They could not believe how we were being treated either.

"They had worked with victims of crime throughout The Troubles, on both sides."

Six people were arrested over the bombings in the Mulberry Bush and Tavern in the Town pubs, in Birmingham.

They were eventually released after serving 16 years behind bars in one of the worst miscarriages of justice ever seen in Britain.

The Birmingham Six, from left, John Walker, Paddy Hill, Hugh Callaghan, Chris Mullen, Richard McIlkenny, Gerry Hunter and William Power, outside the Old Bailey, in London, after their convictions were quashed

One of those was Paddy Hill, who has also become one of J421's strongest supporters.

"He would do anything to try and get justice," said Julie.

"Professor Gavin Schaffer, who teaches modern history, had been following our campaign and also got in contact.

"Brian and I had always wanted to try to rebuild the strong community that had existed in Birmingham, particularly with the Irish, before the pub bombings.

"Professor Schaffer wanted to help us and it was his idea to get in contact with the Birmingham Irish Association and, ultimately, the Irish community in Birmingham."

And the support has been vital with the campaign taking its battle to the courts, which ultimately ended in disappointment.

J421 had challenged a coroner's decision not to name the perpetrators, their associates and those who prepared and planted the bombs during any future inquests after a judicial review was brought on behalf of the bereaved families.

But the coroner appealed the decision, which was up held by the Court of Appeal in 2018.

Families associated with the Birmingham pub bombings gathered ahead of the start of the inquest at Birmingham Civil Justice Centre in 2019

Judges stated the complexity of the case, along with the time elapsed since the attacks, made it arduous to look into who was behind the bombings and why.

"We challenged the coroner's original decision, to not name the suspects, and our supporters helped us raise over £80,000 because we were not even entitled to any legal aid – and we won the case to get a judicial review.

"But when the Court of Appeal ruled against us, after the coroner appealed the decision, we decided we couldn't try and go to the Supreme Court because it was asking too much of supporters. We would have needed another £150,000.

"West Midlands Mayor Andy Street has really supported us and he's raised it with Home Secretary Priti Patel, who has agreed to meet us.

"Unfortunately, two meetings have been postponed because of Covid but hopefully she will agree to launching a public enquiry because, ultimately, that's what we want. She's said she'll consider it anyway and managed to hold a virtual meeting on Wednesday.

"In essence, we are pleased to have finally had the chance to speak with the Home Secretary but we are still no further to getting any indication of us being given a statutory inquiry, which is the only mechanism left that will provide us the opportunity to finally discover the truth as to what 'who bombed Birmingham'.

"I actually begged her to please give us what our loved ones deserve.

"The Home Secretary has said she is determined to meet us face to face, where I implored her to do so 'much sooner than later, because we are all getting older'.

"As such, we urge the Home Secretary to meet us within the next four weeks, when lockdown regulations will be lighter, so she may give us an indication as to what decision she is going to make regarding us having what we want."

However, Julie said the group had received a lot of support from the Irish community, especially Maurice Malone, CEO of the Birmingham Irish Association.

"It was thanks to him and Network Rail we were able to get the memorial at Birmingham New Street railway station to the 21 victims," she said.

"So many young people today do not even know the bombings even happened, the authorities have done such a good job at trying to cover everything up.

"Maurice worked so hard to get our loved ones a more poignant memorial and we are so grateful for that.

"And you have to remember how much the Irish community suffered in Birmingham after the bombings.

"Even now, we still do not know for sure who did it because the IRA has never officially taken responsibility.

"So many people hated the Irish at that time, including my mother, but we've visited Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and everyone has been incredible to us.

"My mother and I will not have a bad word said about them. They understand what we're trying to do and they've been so accepting.

Candles are held by members of the public and the families of victims during a memorial service in 2014 at St Philip's Cathedral, Birmingham, for the 21 people who died in the Birmingham pub bombings

"We also want to thank our legal team, KRW Law, which continues to work pro bono for us, as well as our barristers Judi Kemish, Malachy McGowan, Kevin Morgan, Adam Straw, Tom Stoate and Sam Fowles, along with Ashley Underwood QC and Leslie Thomas QC, most of whom have also represented us pro bono.

"Everything I do is for the 21. It's been my life for the last 10 years and I've now decided to leave my part-time position as a lecturer at University College Birmingham, taking early retirement.

"But without our incredible, magnanimous supporters our campaign would not exist.

"The whole movement is a fantastic example of what the spirit of humanity can do, from all backgrounds, cultures and religions, when they come together.

"All politics are left at the door and everyone has pulled together, to follow our motto – Let Right Be Done."

To donate to Julie's campaign, visit

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