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Hyde Park's IRA Car Bomb

London Newspaper Group — CN/WPN 23-07-1982

The aftermath...

By Christopher Long

See Chelsea Barracks IRA Bomb (1982)

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inutes before, in bright sunshine, a troop of the Household Cavalry had moved off towards Buckingham Palace, dressed in the gleaming uniforms that hundreds of tourists were waiting to see at the Changing of the Guard.

Suddenly, horrified tourists, shoppers and people exercising their dogs in Hyde Park heard a deafening explosion, saw a sheet of flame and then, as the smoke cleared, the tangled pile of writhing horses, riders and car wreckage in the middle of the road, halfway between Knightsbridge Barracks and Apsley House.

There was chaos and confusion everywhere as roads around Knightsbridge were cordoned off; police were drafted in from all over London within half an hour. Scares and alerts that further bombs and suspicious vehicles were still around led to still greater confusion as police and soldiers shouted at spectators to stand clear.

At the gates of Knightsbridge Barracks horrified NCOs and men looked shocked and paranoid as they chased away anyone who came near.

"What can I say – what can anyone say!" said one officer as he looked down the tree-lined road to where eight struggling horses were being put out of their misery in the middle of the road.

In Knightsbridge itself there was broken glass from windows four storeys high all over the road. The deputy manager of the Hyde Park Hotel was busy reassuring over-excited American visitors that everything was under control.

"I don't know how this will affect us," he said. "We've got functions on tonight..."

Meanwhile, behind the hotel, firemen were hosing down the blood-stained roads as the last of the casualties (two of them already dead) were rushed to nearby hospitals.

Military police and army experts were already examining the surrounding area as ordinary police kept back the crowd from a huge cordoned-off area.

New alerts of suspect vehicles and the news of another explosion in Regent's Park heightened the tension as camera crews and hundreds of journalists watched police, dressed in overalls, sifting the wreckage of the IRA's car and prepared to remove the dead horses from the road.

"Bastards... bastards," was the universal army comment.

[Original caption: Photograph taken by David Ingham, staff photographer for the London Newspaper Group.]

See Chelsea Barracks IRA Bomb (1982)

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By chance I happened to be walking my dog in the area and was on the scene within a few minutes of the explosion as the giant column of sooty smoke was still drifting in the wind. The bomb had been placed in a car parked on the south side of the park's southern carriage drive. It had been triggered deliberately to slaughter or maim the mounted ceremonial guard of the 'Blues & Royals' as it left Knightsbridge Barracks on its way to Buckingham Palace.

As in other almost identical IRA bombings in London during this period, the building opposite the explosion – the headquarters of the National Farmers' Union – was covered in scaffolding. After reporting so many of these IRA bomb attacks in London, it became clear to me that they occurred at places where nearby buildings had scaffolding on them. This was the case in incidents such as Chelsea Barracks (10 October 1981), Hyde Park (20 July 1982), Regent's Park (20 July 1982) and Harrods (17 December 1983).

However, when I contacted Scotland Yard's 'bomb squad' and the security services to suggest that there might be a link between bomb attacks and the presence of scaffolding (from which bombers posing as builders could lay cables, have a good view of their target and an easy means of escape), my information was rejected out of hand and disregarded. The IRA's London bomb attacks continued remorselessly throughout the 1980s – killing and maiming hundreds. This need not have been the case.

About 30 years later the author was contacted by a Metropolitan Police detective seeking witnesses to the Hyde Park bombing for the forthcoming prosecution of John Downey who, it was alleged, had been involved in the 1982 atrocity: "... if you have any witness details in notes or articles from the time then this would be useful to us... A man has been charged in relation to this incident and is currently scheduled for trial early in 2014".
However, on the 25th February 2014, The Daily Telegraph reported as follows:

"Four soldiers murdered in one of Britain’s most notorious IRA bombings have been denied justice after a key suspect walked free from court because of a “monumental” police blunder that has granted him effective immunity.
John Downey, 62, had been wanted for more than 30 years for his alleged role in the 1982 Hyde Park bombings, which saw a nail bomb tear through the ranks of the Household Cavalry on a Changing of the Guard procession.
He was finally caught last year but today learnt he will never be prosecuted after it emerged he was wrongly given a “get out of jail free” card in a deal brokered as part of the Northern Ireland peace settlement.
The collapse of the case — and the passing of more than three decades — means it is unlikely that anyone will ever be prosecuted over the atrocity.

It seems incredible that British police resources were being devoted to bringing a prosecution in this case when the Home Office, the Cabinet Office and the Northern Ireland authorities must surely have been aware that the alleged perpetrator of this appalling crime had long ago been told by the government of prime minister Tony Blair that he would never be charged. The incompetence of the UK and Northern Ireland authorities beggars belief.

© (1982-2014) Christopher A. Long. Copyright, Syndication & All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
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Christopher Long

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