The Brighton Bombing, the attempted assassination of Margaret Thatcher
FIRST WOMAN PRIME MINISTER
Margaret Thatcher was elected to government and her role as Prime Minister on 3rd May 1979 defeating the labour party headed by Jim Callaghan.
In the United Kingdom each political party has an annual conference, mostly for some reason at a seaside location. This year, the Conservative party chose Brighton which is located on the south coast of England. It is a well known holiday resort with a long pier and entertainments and excellent shopping facilities. The conference was scheduled to be held in mid September as once the children were back at school there was plenty of accommodation in the hotels for the members of the party and accompanying news reporters. Brighton can be lovely in the summer, although the beach is covered in pebbles the location is a sun trap and many Londoners retire in the area to take advantage of the lovely weather.
THE GRAND HOTEL
The Grand Hotel in Brighton is one of the nicest and largest hotels in the town. Om the 19th September an Irish terrorist called Patrick Magee booked into room 629 of the hotel using a false name. He said that he was a carpenter . Somehow without staff noticing he managed to tear down a wall in the bathroom and plant 13kg of gelignite in the space of the wall before rebuilding it and leaving as new.
On Thursday 11th October the annual ball was held in the ballroom, but after visiting it , Mrs Thatcher returned to her room about 11pm determined to finish her speech that she would deliver the next day. Conference speeches are important as it is a time when a large part of the party is together and they all receive the same message. These speeches are also broadcast on national television and receive an immense amount of coverage. Mrs Thatcher was renown for requiring little sleep and at 2.54am she was still working on her speech. At that point the bomb exploded. The bathroom was wrecked but as Mrs Thatcher was in her room she survived without injury.
Mrs Thatcher survived the assassination attempt but five other people were killed.
The dead were Sir Anthony Berry, Conservative MP for Enfield Southgate and a whip in the Government. He was the sixth and youngest son of the 1st Viscount Kemsley. His first wife Mary Burke Roche was the aunt of Diana, Princess of Wales. Sir Anthony's death triggered a by election which was won by rising star Micheal Portillo.
John Wakeham, the Parliamentary Treasury Secretary was staying with his wife Roberta at the hotel. Roberta was killed in the blast and John Wakeham was trapped in the rubble for seven hours suffering serious injuries to his legs owing to the weight of the debris on top of them.
Sir Donald and Lady Maclean were in the room where the bomb exploded. They were both seriously injured and Lady Maclean later died from her injuries. Sir Donald was president of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Association at the time and he bore the violent death of his wife with dignity whilst in office
Eric Taylor and Jeanne Shattock were the other victims. Several other people were left permanently disabled. A total of 34 people were taken to hospital but recovered from their injuries.
Most of the hotel guests were evacuated and spent the night where they could. Mrs Thatcher and her husband Denis were amongst those who spent the rest of the night at Lewes Police College. In the morning the Brighton branch of Marks and Spencer opened early for the guests had been evacuated in night wear and they needed clothes for the day.
In her indomitable spirit Mrs Thatcher started the conference again with "business as usual", although the start was delayed by ten minutes, no doubt to accommodate those who had been relocated during the night.
Mrs Thatcher walked onto the stage at the conference and said
"The bomb attack was an attempt not only to disrupt and terminate our conference. It was an attempt tp cripple Her Majesty's democratically elected government".
The IRA admitted responsibility for the bomb . In an official statement it said. "Today we were unlucky but remember we only have to be lucky once; you will have to be lucky all ways".
After the conference Mrs Thatcher and her husband Dennis visited the injured at the nearby Royal Sussex County Hospital
The police interviewed over 800 current and previous guests and checked all the backgrounds of all except Patrick Magee, whose fingerprints were found in the remains of the bathroom.
Magee was arrested and on 10th June 1986 he was sentenced to eight life terms of imprisonment with a recommendation that he serve 35 years before seeking parole. in 1999 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement Magee was released. An appeal by the labour party Home Secretary Jack Straw, to prevent it was turned down by the Northern Ireland High Court.