Footnote to the Brighton Bomb
Thirty years on from that night, when looking back at what happened, I realise there are many unanswered questions. This was particularly accentuated when taking part in a BBC look back at the incident in July 2014, to take part in a programme called 'Real Lives Reunited', when I met up again with old colleague and friend Harvey Thomas.
Spending a whole day in Brighton, visiting the different locations, talking with others who were there on that night, and going over what happened, and what the recollections of others were, made me re-think the whole affair.
We know Patrick Magee was convicted of the bomb outrage and sent to prison. We know someone called Roy Walsh, stayed in room 629 of the Grand Hotel from 15th to 18th September 1984, with an unknown woman, on false passports; and we know Walsh was later identified as Patrick Magee from a palm print.
Magee it seems, planted the bomb behind the bath panel. It was a simple device with a timer taken from a video recorder. All Magee had to do was place the small box in position, connect the two wires and pull out a small wooden knob. 20-30lbs of gelignite were attached to the timer, set to go off in 24 days, 6 hours and 36 minutes later on October 11th at 2.53 am during the conference.
The Police admitted the investigation of all who stayed in the Grand Hotel in a period before the explosion, successfully identified everyone, apart from Roy Walsh (aka Patrick Magee). That tells us Walsh had not made a prior reservation; he had walked in off the sea front and booked in for three nights, and was given the room he needed to plant the bomb. In order to achieve the level of destruction of the hotel which had been planned; it was necessary for Walsh to be allocated either, room 529 or room 629. So, how did Walsh get room 629?
Thirty years on it was not possible to walk in and get three nights in a sea front room in mid-September, the hotel was fully booked! So how did Walsh succeed in 1984? He must have had help from the inside. Did an IRA member work in the Grand Hotel for the two years before, probably in a front of house receptionist position? It would need to have been someone who could ensure that room 629 would be available to accommodate Walsh in mid-September.
Then the plan of destruction of the hotel - there had to have been some careful research into the structure and layout of the Grand Hotel. How was that achieved?
But what of Patrick Magee? He was born in Belfast in 1951, but spent his early life in Norwich. He went back to Belfast in 1971, and joined the IRA. In June 1973 he was interned, and released in November 1975. It is thought that his internment developed his determination to fight on. In today’s parlance he was radicalised.
Later he returned to the UK to head up an IRA active service unit, and it is from that position he was ordered to plant the Brighton bomb. He refuses to talk about specific incidents, but it is thought he played a part in many bombings through the 70s and 80s. He was the technician - the man who made and planted the bombs. Who gave him those orders?
That is a question which leads us to examine the Provisional IRA. The Provos split from the IRA at a Special Army Convention held in Dublin on 28 December 1969. The PIRA was governed by a seven man Army Council.
Full details of its membership have never been officially revealed, and there are wildly differing accounts of who held the position of Chiefs of Staff. For example there are several sources, including: Wikipedia; individuals who have penned accounts of the IRA; former IRA members; and others with disputes with the IRA, like the Hegarty family. All believe that Gerry Adams succeeded Seamus Twomey as Chief of Staff from December 1977 until February 1978, when Adams was imprisoned. It is said he handed over to Martin McGuinness, who in turn was succeeded by Ivor Bell in 1982.
Martin McGuinness has always denied being a member of the Army Council of the PIRA, let alone its Chief of Staff. He insists he left the IRA in 1974. When Bell was arrested, Kevin McKenna took over from September 1983 until October 1997, and there are numerous stories/reports in circulation of disputes and conflicts between him and Martin McGuinness, some of those associated with parallel stories which claimed McGuinness was a British Agent. It is said by IRA sources who knew the two men well and observed them in action, a deep loathing characterised their relationship.
It is believed the Army Council of the Provisional IRA took the decision to murder Margaret Thatcher after the death of Bobby Sands in 1981. Mrs Thatcher became the PIRA’s most hated enemy. It became personal. She became a hate figure for the Republican movement not seen since Cromwell. As more strikers died she was held directly responsible, and the PIRA sought revenge.
That suggests the plan to target the Grand Hotel was begun around that period, which would fit with the time needed to gather the levels of intelligence that would ensure success - observation of the Conference of 1982, also in Brighton, could probably have provided important information.
Furthermore, the PIRA needed to ‘guarantee’ that Mrs Thatcher would be in a location away from Downing Street and Parliament for a period long enough for a bomb attached with a timer to succeed.
Conservative Party Conferences were well documented for taking place in alternate years in Brighton or Blackpool, in the first week of October each year. It was also well known that the Party used the Grand Hotel in Brighton and the Imperial Hotel in Blackpool as their headquarters hotels. A further element was the tradition of a Leader’s speech to the faithful on the final Friday of the Conference week, which would guarantee the Leader would stay overnight on the Thursday. But the final piece of the jigsaw had to have come from intelligence gathering from within the Grand Hotel – for example, the location of the suite to be used by Mrs Thatcher, which, as it happens, was always the same.
So, I return to the question: who on the PIRA’s Army Council ordered Patrick Magee to stay in the Grand Hotel and plant the bomb in September 1984, with the timer set to go off at 2.53 a.m. on 11th October?
This was not a ‘rogue’ attack. It was a carefully constructed premeditated plan to behead the British Government by killing at least half the Cabinet.
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