Cardinal Hume backs review for Six
by Peter Stanford CARDINAL Basil Hume this week gave his support to the campaign for a review of the convictions of six Irishmen jailed for life in 1975 for the Birmingham pub bombings. After studying the case, the cardinal said that he did not consider the convictions of the Birmingham Six as "safe and satisfactory".
The cardinal is urging the Home Secretary, David Waddington, MP, to order an urgent review of the case against the six by the Court of Appeal.
Cardinal Hume emphasised that he had not examined the details of the convictions against
the Birmingham Six as carefully as he had those against the Guildford Four, convicted of bombing offences in the same year, but released last year after a long campaign, led by the cardinal, to prove their innocence.
Those who have long campaigned for the release of the Birmingham Six — Billy Power, Patrick Hill, Hugh Callaghan, Noel MclIkenny, Gerald Hunter and John Walker — welcomed the cardinal's decision to come out publicly on the case. The success of Cardinal Hume in convincing then Home Secretary Douglas Hurd to look again at the convictions of the Guildford
Four, a move which lead to their release, will give new hope to the six Irishmen who have spent over 15 years in prison, one of their supporters said this week.
The cardinal's plea for a review of the Birmingham Six case came in the same week that the Human Rights Caucus of the United States Congress addressed a similar appeal to Mr Waddington. The Caucus, which includes Congressman Joe Kennedy, made public at a meeting in Washington this week a letter received from Mr Waddington regarding their concern at the quality of the evidence against the Birmingham Six. In his letter,
the Home Secretary said that he was ready to consider any representations about the "safety" of the convictions. But he added that the release of the Guildford Four "does not offer any grounds on which I would be justified in referring the Birmingham case to the Court of Appeal".
However, this assertion was challenged by the Caucus's chairperson, Congressman Tom Lantos. The Guildford case had put the British justice system on trial, he pointed out, and added that "it is difficult for us to accept the notion that this was a unique instance when British justice failed."
Congressman Kennedy was more forthright. He welcomed Mr Waddington's openmindedness, but noted that the Home Secretary in his letter made no mention of "how aggressively he will seek the truth of the evidence".
The conviction of the Birmingham Six was based on their confessions and on forensic evidence against them. They have always contended that their confessions were beaten out of them, a claim given added weight both by the contradictory nature of those admissions as highlighted by MP Chris Mullin in his book on the subject, and by the recent decision to disband the West Midlands Serious Crime Squad, the division that questioned the six men. The Serious Crime Squad has been accused of falsifying evidence, and two of the men in the disbanded squad had served on the Birmingham Six case.
The forensic evidence, an area of the case that is believed to have interested Cardinal Hume in particular, rests on the work of a scientist later retired from Home Office service on the grounds of his limited efficiency.
New evidence in the case was presented to Home Secretary, David Waddington, in December by solicitors representing the Birmingham Six. Fr Patrick Smith of the Irish Commission for Prisoners Overseas said that he felt there was "a general belief in the establishment that the men were innocent. The establishment is looking for a way to get itself off the hook — that's what's holding things up".
Amongst other prominent churchmen to have expressed their belief in the innocence of the Birmingham Six have been two Northern Ireland bishops, Edward Daly of Derry and Cahal Daly of Down and Connor. Cardinal Tomas 0 Fiaich, the primate of All Ireland, has also come out in favour of a review of the case.