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Last Updated: Saturday, 20 November, 2004, 12:54 GMT
Thirty years as a bomb survivor
by Zoe Gough
BBC News

Maureen Mitchell in 1974
Maureen was just 21 when she was injured in the explosion

It is 30 years since two bombs exploded in Birmingham pubs, killing 21 people and injuring almost 200 others. Maureen Mitchell survived one of the blasts and now helps others cope with similar traumas.

For Maureen Mitchell, her fiancé's coat had become a bit of an issue.

The couple were planning to get married and were saving hard for the big day - but that had not stopped boyfriend Ian Lord treating himself.

At £60, the trendy new sheepskin jacket seemed a little extravagant to Maureen - and she planned to discuss it with him when they met for a date at Birmingham's Mulberry Bush pub.

Nestling under the towering Rotunda near the Bull Ring shops, the pub was a popular attraction for a night out.

And with Christmas not too far away, the couple also needed to discuss how they were going to celebrate.

Maureen, then 21, remembers tension had grown on the evening of the bombings because of plans to fly an IRA terrorist out of Birmingham Airport .

'Shouting and screaming'

"There had been a couple of little explosions in the town," she said.

"It was often an excuse to get home late, it was a bit of a concern but nothing made us think we'd better not go into town that night."

But as the couple settled down in the pub with a couple of drinks, the peaceful chatter was shattered by a huge blast.

She said: "The lights went off, there was a flash and I had the feeling of being carried through the air.

"I remember landing and there was so much noise, so many people shouting and screaming."

Maureen had to undergo five operations. A piece of metal had speared through her hip and lodged in her bowel. She also suffered leg and arm injuries.

The destruction inside the Mulberry Bush
I felt a sense of luck and I still feel that now. Other people say I was unlucky to be there, but I say I was lucky surviving it
Maureen Mitchell, survivor

She was in such a critical condition she was given the last rites a few days later.

Fortunately Ian also survived the devastating blast - thanks to his new sheepskin coat .

About 90 pieces of shrapnel were later discovered in the garment.

Maureen said: "It cost £60 and we were saving all of our money for our wedding, but if we hadn't bought that coat he could well be dead."

Ian and Maureen both returned to work three months later and were married the following year. They have a 22-year-old son.

The pair divorced 18 years later but Maureen maintains the bombing was not the reason and is still friends with Ian, who was best man at her second marriage to Andy Mitchell.

'Dealt with differently'

Speaking from her semi-detached home in Acocks Green, Birmingham, Maureen appears philosophical about her ordeal, the only visible scars are covered by her clothes.

Her father, grandparents and cousins all came from Northern Ireland and she still has mementos from the country scattered around her front room.

Both Ian and herself made return visits to the Mulberry Bush soon after it reopened in 1975.

"We have always dealt with it in different ways. Ian was a lot more bitter than I was, sort of like 'these people won't stop me living my life'," she said.

Maureen and Andy Mitchell on their wedding day
She was introduced to Andy Mitchell by her ex-husband

But she says it is only in the last five years, since joining Let's Involve the Victims' Experience (LIVE), which brings together victims and survivors of the conflict in Northern Ireland, that she has fully confronted her past.

"You think you've got over it, it wasn't part of my everyday life, but when I met the group they had all lost someone and I felt survivor's guilt," she said.

"But now it is like having a great big extended family. I wouldn't say I'd go through it again just to meet these people but I have gained a positive thing."

Through the project she has visited Northern Ireland again and met several ex-IRA terrorists face-to-face.

"After leaving hospital and seeing the pubs boarded up I felt a sense of luck and I still feel that now. Other people say I was unlucky to be there, but I say I was lucky surviving it."

Her only hope now is to be joined by her son at the commemoration service on Sunday. She says the 22-year-old, who lives with his father, has only recently discussed the events with her.

"He is a young man now and has more thoughts on it, but he hasn't asked to get involved before," she said.

"I'd be really delighted if he came."

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21 Nov 99 |  UK News

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