Saturday, November 27, 2004

A Toff Writes ...

"On Saturday I went out foxhunting — seven hours in the saddle. That sort of thing always keeps me in a state of devilish exhilaration for several days; it's the greatest physical pleasure I know . . . one fox killed (I was in AT THE DEATH) . . . And now a happy New Year to all your family and the year of strife 1858".

Friedrich Engels to Karl Marx, as quoted in Francis Wheen's Marx biography.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Two Tales Of the Troubles

For the last six years Lord Saville has been investigating the shooting dead of 14 people by the Army in Londonderry in 1972.

The enquiry has cost over £130 million, mostly in lawyers fees.

Among the over 900 witnesses called were a former Prime Minister and Army chiefs.

30 years ago an IRA team destroyed two crowded Birmingham pubs, killing 21 drinkers and injuring 200, many seriously.

£400,000 was raised by public subscription for the victims. In 2001 Birmingham City council refused an £18,000 grant to host a meeting for the victims of bomb outrages.

Despite the fact that no one has been convicted of the killings (six men convicted and imprisoned had their convictions overturned fifteen years later), no enquiries are being held and the police investigating team was disbanded years ago.

One man claims to know the identity of the bombers.

In the early 1980s Chris Mullin was a Guardian journalist. In his articles at the time, and later in his 1986 book 'Error of Judgement', he claimed to know the identity of the killers - indeed, to have spoken with them.

He also stated that he would not be telling the police what he knew, and gave two reasons for this decision.

Firstly, journalistic confidentiality - he had been given the information on condition he did not divulge it to the authorities.

In any event, as he wrote in the Guardian and in his book, handing over the information would not affect the miscarriage of justice which had already been perpetrated. Mr Mullin's main concern was for the 'Birmingham Six', six republican sympathisers who had been arrested on their way to the funeral of an IRA man blown up by his own bomb. Though not responsible for the Birmingham atrocity they were convicted for it, and served long sentences before the convictions were quashed in 1991. Mr Mullin pointed out that even if the real killers were convicted, it was highly unlikely that the Birmingham Six would be released - so what was the point ? Better that the guilty men go free and six innocent men remain in jail, than that six innocent men AND the guilty men be imprisoned, was the clear implication.

By the time the Birmingham Six were released, Chris Mullin was a Labour MP and had sworn his oath to the Queen. But although the innocent men were released (one to deliver a speech at a Belfast republican meeting urging the IRA to send British troops home in body bags), Mr Mullin's 'journalistic confidentiality' still applied. His lips were sealed. The 'crusading journalist' who has 'long championed civil liberties', in the BBCs words, had helped get belated justice for the Birmingham Six - but nothing for the Birmingham 21 or the 200 injured (one alleged name has emerged - after death).

Chris Mullin is now a Foreign Office Minister.

I must admit to finding it strange that a Minister of the Crown should withhold from the police the names of the killers of 21 innocents and the maiming of hundreds more, that he should be happy for the killers to escape justice - and that seemingly everyone else is happy with this. It appalls me.

Mr Mullin's decision to withold the information is no secret. Yet I've never heard a single question from the Tory benches or from anywhere else on this subject.

Six months before the Birmingham outrage the Dublin and Monaghan bombings killed 34 people. As in Birmingham, the bombers have not been found.

Imagine a young Telegraph reporter concealing the names of the bombers for reasons of 'journalistic confidentiality', then becoming a Tory MP and a Minister ?

I can't either.

UPDATE - My apologies to the then (1990) Tory Minister of State at the home Office, John Patten. Note also the intervention of Clare Short, still sighing for the fine strong sons of Erin. This was one of her Desert Island Disks. My impression of this debate is that Mullin (and Clare Short) are not talking about the names of the bombers, but about the names of IRA men who would testify to the innocence of the Birmingham Six, still imprisoned in 1990. These could in fact be the bombers, but the names are presented in order to release imprisoned men rather then to imprison murderers.

Mr. Patten : The hon. Gentleman has had many opportunities in recent years to tell the House and the outside world that he knows who bombed Birmingham. This obviously makes him uncomfortable, but he has consistently refused to name them.

Ms. Short : The names have been given on television and you have done nothing.

Mr. Patten : The hon. Lady must forgive me ; I am not giving way. Tonight, the hon. Gentleman has had the opportunity to name those--

Ms. Short : He gave the names on television.

Mr. Patten : The hon. Gentleman spoke of two additional people tonight, so we are no longer talking about four people, but six. If the hon. Gentleman has had those names in this possession, why were they not given many years before? One day, the hon. Gentleman must answer that question. If he does not answer it, the House must draw its own conclusions.

A reader also points out that while Chris Mullin doesn't like to name IRA bombers, he's got no trouble with outing other sinister and secret organisations.