Victory for free press as judge rejects police bid to force Birmingham Six journalist to give up notes from probe into 1974 IRA pub bombing because ‘protecting sources is fundamental to democracy’
- Chris Mullin, 74, challenged application by West Midlands Police
- Wanted him to reveal sources from 1985 and 1986 investigations into bombing
- Mr Mullins discovered that police framed six innocent men for the bombings
- Twenty-one people were killed in the IRA bomb attack in November 1974
A journalist who investigated the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings will not have to hand over his notes to police after they launched a legal bid to force him to reveal his sources.
Chris Mullin, 74, challenged an application by West Midlands Police to require him to disclose source material dating back to his investigation in 1985 and 1986.
Speaking after an Old Bailey judge ruled he would not have to hand over the material, Mr Mullin said he was ‘grateful’ for the judge’s decision, adding that the right of a journalist to protect sources is ‘fundamental to a free press in a democracy’.
In his book, Error Of Judgement – and a series of documentaries – Mr Mullin helped expose one of the worst miscarriages of justice, leading to the release of the Birmingham Six after their convictions were quashed in 1991.
Twenty-one people were killed in the IRA bomb attack on two pubs in Birmingham on November 21 1974.
West Midlands Police used the Terrorism Act to bring the production order application.
Mr Mullin is also a former Labour MP and served as a junior minister under Prime Minister Tony Blair. He left Parliament in 2010 after 23 years as an MP.
Journalist Chris Mullin, who investigated the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings, will not have to hand over his notes to police after they launched a legal bid to force him to reveal his sources
The Birmingham Six (left to right: William Power, Richard McIlkenny, John Walker, Gerry Hunter, Paddy Hill and Hugh Callaghan) outside the Old Bailey in London after their convictions were quashed in 1991
Handing down his ruling on Tuesday morning, the Recorder of London Judge Mark Lucraft said: ‘I decline to grant the production order sought.’
Mr Mullin said: ‘I am grateful to Judge Lucraft for his decision.
‘The right of a journalist to protect his or her sources is fundamental to a free press in a democracy. My actions in this case were overwhelmingly in the public interest.
‘They led to the release of six innocent men after 17 years in prison, the winding up of the notorious West Midlands Serious Crimes Squad and the quashing of a further 30 or so wrongful convictions.
‘This case also resulted in the setting up a Royal Commission which, among other reforms, led to the setting up of the Criminal Cases Review Commission and the quashing of another 500 or more wrongful convictions.
‘My investigation is also the main reason why the identity of three of the four bombers is known.
Despite being one of the deadliest acts of the Troubles, no-one has been convicted of the murders of the 21 victims. Above: Fireman look for survivors in the wreckage of the Mulberry Bush pub
The Birmingham pub bombing victims: (top row, left to right) Michael Beasley, 30, Stan Bodman, 47, James Craig, 34, Paul Davies, 17, Trevor Thrupp, 33, Desmond Reilly, 20 and James Caddick, 40, (second row, left to right) Maxine Hambleton, 18, Jane Davis, 17, Maureen Roberts, 20, Lynn Bennett, 18, Anne Hayes, 18, Marilyn Nash, 22 and Pamela Palmer, 19, (bottom row, left to right) Thomas Chaytor, 28, Eugene Reilly, 23, Stephen Whalley, 21, John Rowlands, 46, John ‘Cliff’ Jones, 51, Charles Gray, 44, and Neil Marsh, 16 (no picture available
‘Finally, I am grateful to the National Union of Journalists for their unswerving support and also to my legal representatives, Louis Charalambous and Gavin Millar QC.’
Mr Mullin’s solicitor said the judgment was a ‘landmark’ for freedom of expression.
Louis Charalambous, of Simons Muirhead Burton, said: ‘This is a landmark freedom of expression decision which properly recognises the public interest in Chris Mullin’s journalism which led to the release of the Birmingham Six.
‘If a confidential source cannot rely on a journalist’s promise of lifelong protection then these investigations will never see the light of day.’
The National Union of Journalists’ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet, who was pictured with Mr Mullin outside court today, said: ‘This judgment is a hopeful beacon at a time when we rely more than ever on dependable news, despite journalists facing mounting legal challenges.
‘Few reporters have been more courageous and dogged than Chris Mullin, nor have they been so spectacularly vindicated.
‘This case threatened press freedom and amounted to another attempt to criminalise the legitimate actions of journalists. In refusing this production order, the judge has recognised the principle that the NUJ will always defend – that protecting sources underpins every journalist’s ability to report.
‘I hope that West Midlands Police now chooses to devote its many powers to amassing sufficient credible evidence to secure a conviction for those terrible bombings.’
It emerged at the Old Bailey that a man involved in the bombings made a ‘full confession’ to the murders in an interview with Mr Mullin.
The court heard that Mr Mullin refused to identify the bomb planter, who was referred to only as AB.
James Lewis QC, representing West Midlands Police, told the Old Bailey last month: ‘Mr Mullin refuses to identify him because he says he promised AB he would not reveal his identity.’
The barrister said redactions and omissions in material handed to police were to protect the identity of AB.
‘It’s quite clear that the whole purpose of the redactions was to prevent the identity of AB,’ he said.
Mr Lewis told the court that Mr Mullin conducted a four-hour interview with AB and made contemporaneous notes.
Despite being one of the deadliest acts of the Troubles, currently, no-one has been convicted of the murders of the 21 victims
The barrister described the confession from AB as voluntary, accurate and reliable, adding: ‘In short it is a full confession to the murders.’
He pointed out that this was not a third party disclosing information in the public interest.
‘This is the murderer himself confessing,’ he said.
Talking about redactions, Mr Lewis said: ‘It’s not simply redactions, but pages have been omitted to protect AB’s identity.’
Mr Lewis said the confession is a ‘paradigm example of something that is likely to be of substantial value to the investigation’.
He said the benefit of the confession is ‘enormous’ and said it would outweigh that AB had extracted ‘a promise of anonymity’.
An IRA atrocity and 46 years of heartbreak for victims’ families
Thursday, November 21, 1974: Bombings in two Birmingham pubs leave 21 dead and 220 injured.
They are said to be revenge for the death of IRA member James McDade, who blew himself up trying to plant explosives in Coventry.
Hours later, five men are arrested in Heysham, Lancashire, and a sixth is arrested in Birmingham.
November 24: Patrick Hill, Hugh Callaghan, John Walker, Richard McIlkenny, Gerard Hunter and Billy Power are charged with murder.
June/August 1975: Trial at Lancaster Crown Court. ‘The Six’ are sentenced to life imprisonment.
October 1985: TV’s World In Action questions forensic tests. A book is then published claiming three unnamed men were behind the bombings.
January 1987: The home secretary refers case to the Court of Appeal. The appeal is later dismissed. A 1990 TV drama then names four ‘real’ bombers.
March 14, 1991: The Six are freed by the Court of Appeal after 16 years in prison.
October 1993: Perjury case against three former West Midlands police involved in the charging of the Birmingham Six is dismissed.
June 1, 2016: Senior coroner for Birmingham rules to resume the inquests. The original hearings were not continued after jailing of The Six.
September 29, 2018: Families lose their legal battle to name those responsible for the bombings in the inquests
February 25, 2019: The inquest into the 21 deaths opens in Birmingham.
November 2020: A man is arrested under terrorism offences. His house is searched and he is released on bail.
March 2021: A sister of one of the victims of the bombings launches campaign to become the new West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner, in the hope of pressuring the force to bring the atrocity’s perpetrators to justice.
February 2022: Chris Mullins defends legal bid launched by West Midlands Police to try to force him reveal his sources.
March 2022: Recorder of London Judge Mark Lucraft refuses to grant the production order, handing victory to Mr Mullins.
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