Two Conservative MPs have said it is “morally wrong” for police to fine six people for alleged Covid-19 breaches after they organised an anniversary convoy to mark the Birmingham pub bombings.
Campaigner Julie Hambleton said she and five others were fined £200 each just before Christmas for joining the motorcade through Birmingham, on November 21 last year.
Ms Hambleton, whose sister Maxine was among 21 people killed by IRA bombers in 1974, denied any wrongdoing, adding: “I am not paying the fine.”
Nicola Richards, MP for West Bromwich East, and Gary Sambrook, MP for Birmingham Northfield, wrote to West Midlands chief constable Sir Dave Thompson on Friday.
They said: “It is deeply concerning and morally wrong to fine the victim’s families of a terrorist attack who are campaigning for justice.
“While mass protests have been allowed to go unchecked through our city throughout the year.
“This is an inconsistent approach and from the outside incredibly bias.
“We hope you and the force reconsider this policy. And take note to our outrage and dissatisfaction in how the police have handled this.”
West Midlands Police has been approached for comment.
The notice issued to Ms Hambleton said she contravened a rule “to not participate in a gathering of more than two people” outside West Midlands Police’s city headquarters at Lloyd House, where the convoy broke up.
The force has said it had issued notices to a number of people for an alleged breach in Colmore Circus, Birmingham, “following a review” of the circumstances.
While Miss Hambleton did get out of her vehicle outside Lloyd House, she said it was only to briefly thank people and wish them well for their journeys home – and she said she remained socially distanced.
She added that nobody from the force came out to warn those outside.
On the night of November 21 1974, at the height of an IRA bombing campaign in England, two deadly devices detonated in the packed Tavern in the Town and Mulberry Bush.
The blasts also injured more than 200 people.
The Birmingham Six were convicted of involvement but their convictions later quashed by the Court of Appeal after a botched investigation by West Midlands Police led to one of the worst miscarriages in British legal history.
Nobody has ever been held to account for the killings, although the force did arrest and release a man from Belfast in connection with the bombings, last year.
Prominent campaigner miss Hambleton said the decision to fine her and the campaign’s supporters was “crass”.
“It epitomises the sheer contempt for us that we feel senior management at West Midlands Police have for the victims’ families,” she said.
“If I pay the fine, it would be like stamping on Maxine’s memory and the memories of all those who died.”
Miss Hambleton said: “The convoy was not disruptive and we worked with the police to make sure it wasn’t, and complied with Covid rules.
The Belfast-based law firm KRW Law, representing Miss Hambleton, said a written request to the force’s chief constable Mr Thompson to annul the fines had been rejected.
West Midlands Police statement:
West Midlands Police Assistant Chief Constable Chris Todd, said: “We’re aware of a letter which has been sent to our Chief Constable by two local MPs.
“We acknowledge their concerns and would like to use this opportunity to explain our position.
"A number of fixed penalty notices were issued following a gathering outside West Midlands Police headquarters on 21 November.
“Following a review, the people present were found to be in breach of regulation nine of coronavirus legislation. This relates to gatherings of more than two people in a public place.
"We were given advanced notice of a planned convoy of vehicles in Birmingham on 21 November. After liaising with the organisers this was reviewed and not deemed to be in breach of the legislation.
“The organisers were made aware that any gathering would be in breach of lockdown two regulations unless exemptions applied.
“The convoy set off as planned and later paused in Bromsgrove Street, where there was a gathering on foot. We spoke to the people present and reminded them that such gatherings were in breach of regulations. They left a little while later and so no further action was taken.
“However, a short time later members of the same group gathered again outside West Midlands Police headquarters, in breach of lockdown regulations.
“Approximately 20 people gathered for around 15 minutes before leaving.
“On the day, we were responding to the spontaneous nature of these gatherings, their intention to gather was not communicated in advance. If this had been known, a different policing response would have been in place. Officers present on the day tried to engage and explain on the day. Following a review of the evidence and circumstances it has been decided that enforcement action is appropriate.
“We have since conducted a proportionate investigation and as part of this we’ve been seeking to identify those who were breaching the rules at the gathering.
“Having reviewed the nature and scale of the gatherings in Bromsgrove Street and outside Lloyd House and have been able to identify seven people that were present. They have been issued with a £200 fixed penalty notice.
“We have also taken action against people at a protest in Wolverhampton the week before (14 November). 12 people were arrested and issued with fixed penalty notices.
“We’re also currently investigating after a rally in West Bromwich last month, (12 December) where 1000 directions to leave and three fixed penalty notices were issued.
“We accept the right to freedom of expression and peaceful protest is a key part of any democracy.
“However, coronavirus remains a deadly disease and there are still restrictions in place to prevent its spread.
“We assess and carefully balance the regulations and individual freedom against the current lockdown restrictions, working with the organisers of such events.
“We continue to encourage people to comply with the regulations to keep everyone as safe as possible. If there are breaches it’s our responsibility to take action. We issued 671 fixed penalty notices for breaches during lockdown two, of which 596 were for gathering offences.
“With regards to other protests from earlier last year, it’s worth recognising that the legislation has changed slightly since then, as has the national approach to policing through the pandemic. Our policing style has evolved because infection rates have continued to rise since lockdown two and we therefore seek to enforce breaches quicker than we previously have.”