Chris Mullin to contest order under Terrorism Act

  • 21 Feb 2022

Chris Mullin, the journalist, former MP and government minister, is to contest an order served on him by police using the Terrorism Act to seek source material relating to the Birmingham pub bombings.

The West Midlands Police have applied for an order requiring Mr Mullin to disclose material relating to his 1985-6 investigation of the Birmingham pub bombings, which took place in November 1974, killing. 

Chris Mullin’s book, Error of Judgement, and a series of documentaries helped expose one of the worst miscarriages of justice in legal history, leading to the release of six men – known as the Birmingham Six - whose convictions were quashed in 1991.

With the support of the National Union of Journalists, of which he has been a member for more than 50 years, Mr Mullin will be contesting the application on the grounds that to disclose the material requested would be a fundamental breach of the principle that journalists are entitled to protect their sources.   

Chris  Mullin said:

“If West Midlands Police had carried out a proper investigation after the bombings, instead of framing the first half-dozen people unlucky enough to fall into their hands, they might have caught the real perpetrators in the first place. It is beyond irony. They appear to have gone for the guy who blew the whistle.”

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:

“The principle of protecting your source and keeping your word when confidentiality is pledged is a vital one for all journalists and lies at the heart of the NUJ’s Code of Conduct. The case brought by West Midlands Police risks compromising that core principle and undermining press freedom which is why the NUJ stands four-square behind Chris and is backing this case.”

Read the general secretary's piece on why we are supporting Chris Mullin's right to protect his source, in the February edition of NUJ informed.

The quashing of the convictions of the Birmingham Six in March 1991 had significant consequences for the entire police and criminal justice system.  The West Midlands Serious Crimes Squad was wound up and about 30 further convictions based on WMP police evidence were subsequently quashed.   It also resulted in the setting up of the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice which, among other reforms, led to the establishment of the Criminal Cases Review Commission which to date has resulted in the quashing of about 500 further convictions.  

Indirectly, it also led to reform of the judicial appointments process.  As a member, and later chairman, of the Home Affairs Select Committee Mr Mullin played a part in the introduction of these reforms.

The hearing will take place at the Old Bailey on Thursday and Friday 24-25 of February 2022, at a hearing before the Recorder of London, His Honour Judge Mark Lucraft, QC. Mr Mullin is being represented by Louis Charalambous of Simons Muirhead Burton and Gavin Millar QC.

Notes for editors:  

  1. Schedule 5, paragraph 6 of the Terrorism Act 2000 provides that, in cases involving terrorism, a judge may grant an application for disclosure where the material sought is likely to be of ‘substantial’ value and where it is deemed to be in the public interest that such material should be disclosed.  If the conditions are satisfied, it is a matter for judicial discretion as to whether to grant an order.       
  2. Error of Judgement – The Truth about the Birmingham Bombings, by Chris Mullin was published in 1986 by Chatto and Windus.  Further editions were published by Poolbeg in 1987, 1990 and 1997.    The case was also the subject of three World in Action documentaries and a drama documentary in which Mr Mullin was played by the actor John Hurt. 
  3.  Selected reaction to the release of the six convicted men in March 1991:   

‘I have recognised the work of the Honourable Member for Sunderland South.  He wrote his book and he campaigned hard.   He has every right to feel proud that these convictions have been quashed’.   Rt Hon Kenneth Baker, Home Secretary 
‘It is well gracefully to acknowledge that digging out some of the fresh evidence lies to the credit of Mr Chris Mullin and Granada’s World in Action.  If we honestly uphold human rights as something more than a stick to beat the Soviet Union with, we should honour the debt that a free society owes them.’    Daily Telegraph
‘ of the greatest feats ever achieved by an investigative journalist’   Independent on Sunday

‘Chris Mullin…worked ceaselessly to accumulate the evidence which finally dammed the police case against the six.  It was a long struggle against apathy and hostility.  Mr Mullin was not merely fighting for these men, he was fighting against the entire legal and political establishment.’    Birmingham Post 

‘Very occasionally a journalist starts an avalanche with a single gunshot.  William Howard Russell of The Times on the condition of the British army in the Crimea in the 1850s.  W.T. Stead of the Pall Mall Gazette on prostitution in London in the 1890s, a handful of others.   Chris Mullin and his TV colleagues belong in glorious company’.    The Observer

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