A man has been arrested in connection with the deaths of 21 people in the 1974 pub bombings in Birmingham.
Officers from Counter Terrorism Policing West Midlands, working with the Police Service of Northern Ireland, arrested the 65-year-old at his home in Belfast. He was detained under Section 41 of the Terrorism Act 2000.
Police said the man’s home was being searched and he will be interviewed under caution at a police station in Northern Ireland.
Saturday will mark the 46th anniversary of the bombings. Fresh inquests last year ruled the victims were unlawfully killed, but did not establish who was responsible. Those hearings came after years of campaigning by families for a full account into what happened that night.
Last month, Home Secretary Priti Patel announced she would be considering the case for a public inquiry into the bombings. Six men – Hugh Callaghan, Paddy Hill, Gerard Hunter, Richard McIlkenny, William Power and John Walker – were wrongly jailed for life in 1975 for the bombings. The group, who became known as the Birmingham Six, had their convictions quashed in the appeal court and they were released in 1991.
Julie Hambleton, whose 18-year-old sister Maxine died in the bombings, called the arrest “the most monumental event” in the criminal investigation since the quashing of those convictions. She said she broke down in tears when she was told by a senior West Midlands Police officer of the arrest. “I couldn’t speak, I was just inconsolable and was just looking at the picture of Maxine,” she said. “It’s welcome news. It’s overwhelming news. It’s tangible progress.”
However, Ms Hambleton, who is part of campaign group Justice for the 21, said: “Having this development – whatever happens – does not in any way lessen our desire for a full public inquiry. “There are wider issues which need to be examined and so much that went wrong, like why six men were arrested for a crime they didn’t commit.”
Paul Rowlands, whose father John Rowlands was killed in the Mulberry Bush, said: “It’s a positive step. “It is, however, just a step and it does not detract from the fact that we need a public inquiry.”
73-year-old Bill Craig, an ex-West Midlands Police officer whose brother James Craig was fatally injured in the bombing, said he welcomed the arrest, adding there were still “more questions than answers” surrounding the attacks.
George Jones, 72, whose postman father John “Cliff” Jones died in the Mulberry Bush blast, said: “Obviously it’s something positive, and it’s happened just with the anniversary (of the bombings) coming up. “I hope this time West Midlands Police is more efficient than the original investigation team were.”