A pre-inquest hearing into the 1974 IRA pub bombings in Birmingham has heard calls from the coroner to make funding available to all families wishing to take part in the inquest. 

Peter Thornton QC, one of the UK's most senior coroners, said that the events of November 1974 in which 21 people died were calamitous and called the case for legal representation "compelling".

"I commend the application for legal funding for those who are considering them.

"Not all families will want to be legally represented but for those who do, there is a compelling case for proper legal representation."

In June, a coroner ruled that the inquest should re-open into the deaths.

This morning’s first pre-inquest hearing took place amid a row over funding of legal representation for the families of some of those killed in the attacks.

The group had applied to both the UK Home Office and the Legal Aid Agency to fund their costly legal representation for the inquest, but neither application was granted.

Similar schemes supported funding for families of both the Hillsborough victims and families of those killed in the July 2005 London bombings.

Relatives of some of those killed had stepped back from a threat to boycott today’s proceedings, turning up with banners and placards calling for justice for their dead loved ones.

Mr Thornton this morning said the events of 1974 require full and fair investigation, and he cited the complexity of the investigations and a need for family participation.

He also said that he did not have the authority to order funding to be put in place.

He also suggested that a number of other pre-inquest hearings will take place before the resumption of the full inquest.

The full inquest was expected to begin in January but Mr Thornton suggested that might not now happen until September 2017.

Hearing first step in lengthy process

On the night of 12 November 1974, the IRA planted two bombs which ripped through the Tavern in the Town and nearby Mulberry Bush pubs, injuring 182 others.

The botched police investigation into the terrorist atrocity led to the wrongful convictions of the Birmingham Six - one of the most infamous miscarriages of justice.

Today’s hearing is the first step in what is expected to be a lengthy inquest process, since the families won a ruling from Birmingham senior coroner Louise Hunt for new hearings earlier this year.

The original inquests, convened in the 1970s, were overtaken by the criminal inquiry by West Midlands Police and never resumed.

The force had opposed the holding of new inquests, despite fresh evidence coming to light that police allegedly may have ignored two tip-offs of an imminent IRA attack in the city.

But Ms Hunt, giving her decision earlier this year, said: "I have serious concerns that advanced notice of the bombs may have been available to the police and that they failed to take the necessary steps to protect life."

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