Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The plumber that wasn't: Magee

On the weekend of 14 September, 1984, aplumber by the name of Roy Walsh checked into the Grand Hotel in Brighton.
He aroused no suspicions during histhree-day stay and none of the hotel staff noticed anything untoward takingplace in his room.
Indeed, it would be almost a month beforethey would discover that Roy Walsh was not a plumber at all, and nor was he whohe claimed to be.
Target: Mrs Thatcher
He was actually an IRA operative namedPatrick Magee and he had checked into Room 629 in order to plant 13kg ofgelignite inside a cavity in the bathroom wall.
Devastation at the Grand Hotel
The explosive was on a long-delay timer: itwas set to explode in the early hours of 12 October, when Prime MinisterMargaret Thatcher and her ministers would all be sleeping in the hotel.
Mrs Thatcher was accustomed to work lateinto the night and 11 October was no exception. She was due to deliver herconference speech on the following day and she was still at work long aftermidnight.
It was 2.40am when her speech was finished:her aides went to bed, leaving only her secretarial staff to type up the text.
Mrs T's bathroom at the Grand
Some 10 minutes later, her privatesecretary, Robin Butler, asked her to look at an official paper. While she waschatting to Butler there was a loud thud and her suite of rooms was violentlyshaken, shattering the windows and sending shards of glass across the carpet.
Mrs Thatcher had no idea that a massivebomb had gone off inside the hotel. Indeed neither she nor Robin Butlerrealised that a gaping chasm had been ripped through the heart of the GrandHotel, causing death and destruction.
Five were killed in the blast
The Prime Minister’s room had beensheltered from the blast. ‘Apart from the broken glass and a ringing fire alarmset off by the explosion,’ she later recalled, ‘there was a strange and as itturned out deceptive normality.’ Even the lights remained on: somehow, theelectricity in her area of the hotel had not been cut.
Not until 3.10am - more than 20 minutesafter the explosion - was Mrs Thatcher and her colleagues told that they mustleave the building.
They were hussled down a corridor towardsan exit, but it was blocked with rubble and they couldn’t get through.
They were then led towards the mainstaircase, after being told it was the safest way out. ‘It was now that I firstsaw from the rubble in the entrance and foyer something of the seriousness ofthe blast… the air was full of thick cement dust.’
The damage to the hotel was on adevastating scale. The bomb had ripped an enormous hole in the centre of thebuilding, killing five people and gravely wounding several others. The wife ofNorman Tebbit, President of the Board of Trade, was left permanently disabled.
A defiant Iron Lady at the conference
The IRA claimed responsibility on thefollowing morning: ‘Today we were unlucky,’ read their statement, ‘butremember, we only have to be lucky once; you will have to be lucky always. GiveIreland peace and there will be no war.’
Mrs Thatcher remained defiant and won manyplaudits in the process. She was insistent that the conference would continueas planned, stating that the bombing was ‘an attempt to cripple Her Majesty’sdemocratically elected Government.’
The new look Mrs T.
She was nevertheless deeply shaken by theloss of five friends and admitted in her memoirs that she was worried lest shebreak down while making her conference speech.
Patrick Magee was not arrested until Juneof the following year. He received eight life sentences for his part in theBrighton bombing. The judge called him a man of ‘exceptional cruelty andinhumanity.’
Magee later said he regretted the deaths,although he didn’t regret the bombing itself. ‘All avenues were closed to us…our only recourse was to engage in a violent conflict.’
After 14 years in prison Magee was releasedin 1999 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
It remains unclear to this day if he actedalone in planning the bombing that came within a whisker of wiping out theBritish government. 

UK paperback
Wolfram: The Boy Who Went to War available here for just £5.30

And for my American readers, it is now published under the title: The Boy Who Went to War: The Story of a Reluctant German Soldier in WWII available here
Newly published US edition
'Idiosyncratic and utterly fascinating... an extraordinary tale of hardship, horror and amazing good fortune' James Delingpole, The Daily Mail