civil writ | 

Belfast man facing legal action from families of 1974 IRA Birmingham pub bomb victims

Now in his sixties, Martin Reilly has always denied any knowledge of – or involvement in – the bombings, which killed 21 people almost five decades ago

Michael Patrick Reilly

Niamh Campbell

This is the Belfast man facing a civil case for damages in connection with Birmingham pub bombings carried out by the IRA in 1974.

Margaret Smith, the mother of bombing victim Maxine Hambleton, has issued a civil writ against Martin Patrick Reilly.

Now in his sixties, he has always denied any knowledge of – or involvement in – the bombings, which killed 21 people and injured more than 200 almost five decades ago. A third bomb failed to go off and was recovered, but later lost, by West Midlands Police.

His lawyer Padraig O’Muirigh told PA: “I can confirm that legal proceedings have been issued against our client.

“Our client repudiates the claims made by the plaintiff in their entirety and the legal proceedings issued will be strenuously defended.

“My client has never been convicted of any offence in relation to the 1974 pub bombings.”

Mr Reilly was previously arrested in November 2020 under the Terrorism Act and questioned by West Midlands Police officers in connection with the pub attacks, which happened at the height of an IRA bombing campaign on mainland Britain.

He was unconditionally released following a search of his home address in Belfast.

The 21 people killed in the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings (Birmingham Inquests/PA)

The Birmingham Six were convicted of involvement in 1975 and jailed for life but freed after 16 years, when the Court of Appeal in 1991 ruled their convictions were unsafe.

During evidence given at an inquest three years ago, an anonymous IRA volunteer named the men he said had been involved in the attacks.

When lawyers for the victims’ families put Mr Reilly’s name to the ex-IRA volunteer, he denied any knowledge of his involvement.

This new legal move from the victims’ families follows a successful 2009 civil action by the families of victims of the 1998 Omagh bombing in Northern Ireland.

However, it took nearly six years for the Omagh campaigners to raise the £2 million needed to fund their case – including an £800,000 grant of government money.

Julie Hambleton, who lost her sister Maxine Hambleton in the 1974 attack (Jacob King/PA)

The Hambleton family are applying for legal aid in Northern Ireland to help fund the action, but if unsuccessful will have to turn to donations.

Margaret Smith is also suing the chief constable of West Midlands Police Sir David Thompson, claiming the force’s investigation was conducted negligently and in breach of its statutory duty.

A writ of summons was served at both the West Midlands force’s Birmingham headquarters and on Mr Reilly’s lawyers, in the past month.

The writ has been issued now as the proposed new Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill, currently making its way through Parliament, would ban new civil claims relating to the Troubles.

Julie Hambleton, who was 18-year-old Maxine’s younger sister, runs the Justice4the21 group, which has in recent years urged authorities to hold a public inquiry into the bombings that have remained unsolved.

She said: “The writ is to sue for damages in the High Court in Belfast for Mr Reilly’s alleged involvement in the murder of Maxine Hambleton who was my sister.

“This is the only step that is left for families like ours because successive British governments have refused to help aid families like ours in gaining justice any other way,” she said.

“The threshold for a civil case is not as high as a criminal case, as was discovered with the case brought by the Omagh bombing families, who successfully brought a case for the murder of their loved ones.”

A West Midlands Police spokeswoman said: “We can confirm we have received a civil writ.”

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