Police chief stands by decision to issue £200 Covid lockdown fines

Police chief stands by decision to issue seven £200 Covid lockdown fines to people paying their respects to 1974 IRA Birmingham pub bombing victims

  • Campaigner Julie Hambleton was sent fixed penalty notice after paying respects
  • Two West Midlands MPs described it as ‘morally wrong’ to issue the £200 fines
  • Assistant Chief Constable Chris Todd said the fines stemmed from an inquiry

A West Midlands Police chief has stood by the decision to issue seven £200 lockdown fines to people paying respects to 1974 IRA Birmingham bombing victims.

The force came under fire after two West Midlands MPs said it had been ‘morally wrong’ to issue the fines following an anniversary convoy on November 21 last year.

Campaigner Julie Hambleton, whose 18-year-old sister Maxine was among the 21 victims killed in the 1974 IRA bombings on two city centre pubs, was issued with a fixed penalty notice.   

Campaigner Julie Hambleton (pictured in November 2020), whose 18-year-old sister Maxine was among the 21 victims killed in the 1974 IRA bombings on two city centre pubs, was issued with a fixed penalty notice

Twenty-one people were killed and another 220 injured when devices exploded within minutes of each other in two city centre pubs on November 21, 1974.

The Birmingham Six were found guilty of the murders a year later but the convictions were eventually overturned after one of Britain’s worst miscarriages of justice.

In November last year, families and campaigners organised an event to mark the 46th anniversary of the attacks and highlight the Justice for the 21 campaign. England was in the second national lockdown at the time. 

On the day of the memorial event, hundreds of supporters turned up and took part in a large cavalcade through the city and several people gathered. Miss Hambleton says she asked people to disperse but police issued fines which they say were ‘proportionate and necessary’

Beforehand, Miss Hambleton, who has led the families’ long fight for justice, worked with a team from WMP to ensure traffic disruption was at a minimum and that the event complied with Covid regulations.

On the day, hundreds of supporters in cars and vans and on motorbikes took part in a cavalcade which threaded its way through Birmingham, ending up outside the West Midlands Police HQ at Lloyd House. 

There, several people from the convoy started to gather. Miss Hambleton said she went over to the group – who were all wearing masks – to thank them for their support and ask them to disperse.

Twenty-one people were killed and another 220 injured when devices exploded within minutes of each other in two city centre pubs. Pictured: Firemen at work following the bomb attacks

In a statement describing gatherings to mark the anniversary of the attacks as ‘spontaneous’, Assistant Chief Constable Chris Todd said the fines stemmed from an inquiry into a 15-minute gathering outside West Midlands Police’s Birmingham headquarters, which followed the convoy.

The statement read: ‘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.

Assistant Chief Constable Chris Todd said the fines stemmed from an inquiry into a 15-minute gathering outside West Midlands Police’s Birmingham headquarters, which followed the convoy

‘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.’

Mr Todd acknowledged that his force had been given notice of a planned convoy of vehicles, which was reviewed in advance and deemed not to be in breach of the legislation.

The senior officer stated: ‘The organisers were made aware that any gathering would be in breach of lockdown two regulations unless exemptions applied.

Twenty-one people were killed and another 220 injured when devices exploded within minutes of each other in two city centre pubs on November 21, 1974. Pictured: Maxine Hambleton

‘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.’

Miss Hambleton (centre, pictured in 2019) said she went over to the group – who were all wearing masks – to thank them for their support and ask them to disperse

Officers present on the day had tried to engage and explain, Mr Todd said, adding that a review had decided that enforcement action had been appropriate.

The officer said a ‘proportionate investigation’ had identified seven people present, who had each been issued with a £200 fixed penalty notice.

He also pointed out that action had been taken against people at a protest in Wolverhampton in mid-November, where 12 arrests were made, while a rally in West Bromwich in December was under investigation.

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)

Mr Todd concluded: ‘Coronavirus remains a deadly disease and there are still restrictions in place to prevent its spread. 

‘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.’

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.

Accusing police of singling people out for no apparent reason, the Conservative MPs said: ‘It is deeply concerning and morally wrong to fine the victim’s families of a terrorist attack who are campaigning for justice.

‘We hope you and the force reconsider this policy. And take note to our outrage and dissatisfaction in how the police have handled this.’

Julie Hambleton (pictured in October 2020), who lost her sister Maxine Hambleton in the 1974 attack

Ms Hambleton has said she did get out of her vehicle outside the police headquarters to briefly thank people and wish them well for their journeys home, while maintaining social distancing.

She said of the decision to issue fines, which were issued days before Christmas: ‘It epitomises the sheer contempt for us that we feel senior management at West Midlands Police have for the victims’ families.

‘If I pay the fine, it would be like stamping on Maxine’s memory and the memories of all those who died.’  

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