|The plumber that wasn't: Magee|
On the weekend of 14 September, 1984, a plumber by the name of Roy Walsh checked into the Grand Hotel in Brighton.
He aroused no suspicions during his three-day stay and none of the hotel staff noticed anything untoward taking place in his room.
Indeed, it would be almost a month before they would discover that Roy Walsh was not a plumber at all, and nor was he who he claimed to be.
|Target: Mrs Thatcher|
He was actually an IRA operative named Patrick Magee and he had checked into Room 629 in order to plant 13kg of gelignite inside a cavity in the bathroom wall.
|Devastation at the Grand Hotel|
The explosive was on a long-delay timer: it was set to explode in the early hours of 12 October, when Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her ministers would all be sleeping in the hotel.
Mrs Thatcher was accustomed to work late into the night and 11 October was no exception. She was due to deliver her conference speech on the following day and she was still at work long after midnight.
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 private secretary, Robin Butler, asked her to look at an official paper. While she was chatting to Butler there was a loud thud and her suite of rooms was violently shaken, shattering the windows and sending shards of glass across the carpet.
Mrs Thatcher had no idea that a massive bomb had gone off inside the hotel. Indeed neither she nor Robin Butler realised that a gaping chasm had been ripped through the heart of the Grand Hotel, causing death and destruction.
|Five were killed in the blast|
The Prime Minister’s room had been sheltered from the blast. ‘Apart from the broken glass and a ringing fire alarm set off by the explosion,’ she later recalled, ‘there was a strange and as it turned out deceptive normality.’ Even the lights remained on: somehow, the electricity in her area of the hotel had not been cut.
Not until 3.10am - more than 20 minutes after the explosion - was Mrs Thatcher and her colleagues told that they must leave the building.
They were hussled down a corridor towards an exit, but it was blocked with rubble and they couldn’t get through.
They were then led towards the main staircase, after being told it was the safest way out. ‘It was now that I first saw from the rubble in the entrance and foyer something of the seriousness of the blast… the air was full of thick cement dust.’
The damage to the hotel was on a devastating scale. The bomb had ripped an enormous hole in the centre of the building, killing five people and gravely wounding several others. The wife of Norman Tebbit, President of the Board of Trade, was left permanently disabled.
|A defiant Iron Lady at the conference|
The IRA claimed responsibility on the following morning: ‘Today we were unlucky,’ read their statement, ‘but remember, we only have to be lucky once; you will have to be lucky always. Give Ireland peace and there will be no war.’
Mrs Thatcher remained defiant and won many plaudits in the process. She was insistent that the conference would continue as planned, stating that the bombing was ‘an attempt to cripple Her Majesty’s democratically elected Government.’
|The new look Mrs T.|
She was nevertheless deeply shaken by the loss of five friends and admitted in her memoirs that she was worried lest she break down while making her conference speech.
Patrick Magee was not arrested until June of the following year. He received eight life sentences for his part in the Brighton bombing. The judge called him a man of ‘exceptional cruelty and inhumanity.’
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 released in 1999 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
It remains unclear to this day if he acted alone in planning the bombing that came within a whisker of wiping out the British government.