LONDON -- The crown prosecutor's office announced yesterday that it would not resist the appeals of six Irishmen imprisoned in 1975 for life in connection with the worst terrorist incident in England.
The so-called Birmingham Six were convicted of murdering 21 people who died when the Irish Republican Army bombed two popular taverns in Birmingham.
Their protestations of innocence during their trial were outweighed by scientific evidence that detected traces of explosive on their hands and by their alleged confessions to police.
Sentencing them to life, the judge told them: "You stand convicted on each of 21 counts, on the clearest and most overwhelming evidence I have ever heard, of the crime of murder." Since then, the case has become a civil rights cause celebre, with a television documentary and a book bolstering a prolonged family-led campaign to prove their innocence. The forensic evidence cited in the case has now been discredited, and the director of public prosecutions announced in court yesterday that he had decided he could no longer rely on the police evidence of confessions, which the six have always said were beaten out of them.
The Appeals Court was told that the prosecutor would no longer argue that the convictions were "safe and satisfactory" because of doubts about the police evidence.
The Appeals Court will decide on whether to free the six at a full hearing next Monday.
It is the second major IRA case to be dropped recently by the prosecutor. In October 1989, the Guildford Four were freed by the Appeals Court after an investigation revealed that police fabricated evidence.
The four had served 14 years after being convicted of killing seven people and injuring dozens more in bomb attacks on bars frequented by British troops in the London commuter town of Guildford.
Their release increased the anticipation that the Birmingham Six would also be freed because of flaws in the prosecution evidence.
The two cases have been at the center of the Irish government's contention that English justice can be suspect when exercised against Irish terrorist suspects.
In explaining why the Birmingham Six were not being immediately released, an official said the court wanted to hear technical testimony on the explosive forensic test and the results of the new police investigation into the confessions.
If freed, they will be eligible for compensation at a level to be set by an independent assessor.
Meanwhile, the IRA was suspected of bombing a high-speed rail track.