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On the night of November 21, 1974, five Irish immigrants with families in Birmingham, England - four from Belfast, one from Derry - were arrested as they prepared to return to Northern Ireland. The five men were heading back to Belfast for the funeral of an IRA man, James McDaid killed by his own bomb in the West Midlands city of Coventry. As they made their way to Lancashire to catch the ferry back to Belfast, the IRA set off two bombs in two pubs, the Mulberry Bush and the Tavern killing 21 people and injuring more than 160 in Birmingham city centre. Many of the dead and injured were Irish. A sixth man was later arrested and confessions were extracted from some of them by infamous West Midlands Crime Squad following their arrests.
There was widespread revulsion at the attack and the men received heavy sentences despite withdrawing their confessions and claiming police brutality at their trial. However, following a campaign by the men's families, investigative journalists, Catholic church leaders, politicians and human rights activists, people began to believe the six - Richard McIlkenny, Paddy Joe Hill, Johnny Walker, Gerry Hunter, Billy Power and Hughie Callaghan - were innocent.
Questions were raised about the tactics deployed by the West Midlands investigators to extract confessions out of the men, with allegations of police brutality and dubious forensic test results. The case also had reverberations for the British legal system after an unsuccessful appeal and allegations that the judiciary, as in the case of the Guildford Four, did not want to admit to a miscarriage of justice. 'Who Bombed Birmingham?,' was screened a year before the eventual quashing of the convictions of the Six.
The docudrama was made by Granada Television and based around the company's (now sadly departed) current affairs programme 'World In Action''s efforts to uncover the truth of what happened. It takes as its basis the book by British Labour MP, Chris Mullin (played with tremendous commitment by John Hurt) and follows his dogged attempts to trace the real bombers. However, it also uses flashbacks and follows the current affairs team's attempts to prove the men's innocence by querying the reliability of the forensic evidence.
The three leads, Hurt, Roger Allam as 'World In Action' journalist Charles Tremayne and Martin Shaw as his producer Ian McBride give spirited performances at the core of the film. The six - played by Ciaran Hinds, Niall Tobin, Brendan Laird, Niall O'Brien, Vincent Murphy and Brendan Cauldwell - all give heartbreaking performances and there is also some splendid comic interplay between them. Bob Peck, Terence Rigby and John Woodvine provide fascinating portrayals of different faces of the law.
Runtime: 105 min
Video: DivX , 1695 kbps, 576 x 432
Audio: 48000Hz 128 kb/s , Joint Stereo
Aired: March 28, 1990
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