Brighton hotel bombing

Last updated

Brighton hotel bombing
Part of the Troubles
The Grand Hotel on the morning after the bombing
Location Grand Hotel, Brighton, England
Coordinates 50°49′17″N0°08′50″W / 50.82139°N 0.14722°W / 50.82139; -0.14722 Coordinates: 50°49′17″N0°08′50″W / 50.82139°N 0.14722°W / 50.82139; -0.14722
Date12 October 1984;37 years ago (1984-10-12)
2:54 am (BST)
Target Margaret Thatcher [2]
Cabinet Ministers
Attack type
Weapons Time bomb
Perpetrator Provisional IRA
The Grand Hotel, Brighton, 1986 (restoration almost completed after bomb damage) Grand Hotel Brighton - Reconstruction.jpg
The Grand Hotel, Brighton, 1986 (restoration almost completed after bomb damage)
The Grand Hotel at night, 2006 HotelGrand.jpg
The Grand Hotel at night, 2006

The Brighton hotel bombing was a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) assassination attempt against the top tier of the British government that occurred on 12 October 1984 at the Grand Brighton Hotel in Brighton, England. A long-delay time bomb was planted in the hotel by IRA member Patrick Magee, with the purpose of killing Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her cabinet, who were staying at the hotel for the Conservative Party conference. [3] Although Thatcher narrowly escaped the blast, five people connected with the Conservative Party were killed, including a sitting Conservative MP, and 31 were injured. [4] [5]



Patrick Magee stayed in the hotel under the pseudonym Roy Walsh during the weekend of 14–17 September 1984. During his stay, he planted the bomb under the bath in his room, number 629, five floors above Thatcher's suite for the conference. [3] The device was fitted with a long-delay timer made from videocassette recorder components and a Memo Park Timer safety device. [6] IRA mole Sean O'Callaghan claimed that 20 lb (9 kg) of Frangex (gelignite) was used. [7] The device was described as a "small bomb by IRA standards" by a contemporary news report and may have avoided detection by sniffer dogs by being wrapped in cling film to mask the smell. [8]


The bomb detonated at approximately 2:54 am (BST) on 12 October. The blast brought down a five-ton chimney stack, which crashed down through the floors into the basement, leaving a gaping hole in the hotel's facade. Firemen said that many lives were probably saved because the well-built Victorian hotel remained standing. [1] Thatcher was still awake at the time, working in her suite on her conference speech for the next day. The blast badly damaged her suite's bathroom, but left its sitting room and bedroom untouched. She and her husband Denis escaped injury. She changed her clothes and was led out through the wreckage along with her husband and her friend and aide Cynthia Crawford, and driven to a Brighton police station. [3] [9]

At about 4:00 am, as Thatcher left the police station, she gave an impromptu interview to the BBC's John Cole saying that the conference would go on as usual. Alistair McAlpine persuaded Marks & Spencer to open early at 8:00 am so those who had lost their clothes in the bombing could purchase replacements. Thatcher went from the conference to visit the injured at the Royal Sussex County Hospital. [9]


The bombing killed five, none of whom were Cabinet ministers. A Conservative MP, Sir Anthony Berry (Deputy Chief Whip), [10] was killed, along with Eric Taylor (North-West Area Chairman of the Conservative Party), Lady Shattock (Jeanne, wife of Sir Gordon Shattock, Western Area Chairman of the Conservative Party), Lady Maclean (Muriel, wife of Sir Donald Maclean, President of the Scottish Conservatives), and Roberta Wakeham (wife of Chief Whip John Wakeham). Donald and Muriel Maclean were in the room in which the bomb exploded, but Donald survived. [9]

Several more were permanently disabled, including Walter Clegg, whose bedroom was directly above the blast, [11] and Margaret Tebbit (the wife of Norman Tebbit, who was then President of the Board of Trade). Thirty-four people were taken to hospital and recovered from their injuries. When hospital staff asked Norman Tebbit, who was less seriously injured than his wife, whether he was allergic to anything, he is said to have answered "bombs". [9]


IRA statement

The IRA claimed responsibility the next day, and said that it would try again. Its statement read:

Mrs. Thatcher will now realise that Britain cannot occupy our country and torture our prisoners and shoot our people in their own streets and get away with it. Today we were unlucky, but remember we only have to be lucky once. You will have to be lucky always. Give Ireland peace and there will be no more war. [12]

Thatcher's response

Thatcher began the next session of the conference at 9:30 am the following morning, as scheduled. She dropped from her speech most of her planned attacks on the Labour Party and said the bombing was "an attempt to cripple Her Majesty's democratically elected Government":

That is the scale of the outrage in which we have all shared, and the fact that we are gathered here now—shocked, but composed and determined—is a sign not only that this attack has failed, but that all attempts to destroy democracy by terrorism will fail. [13]

One of her biographers wrote that Thatcher's "coolness, in the immediate aftermath of the attack and in the hours after it, won universal admiration. Her defiance was another Churchillian moment in her premiership which seemed to encapsulate both her own steely character and the British public's stoical refusal to submit to terrorism." [14] Immediately afterwards, her popularity soared almost to the level it had been during the Falklands War. [15] The Saturday after the bombing, Thatcher said to her constituents: "We suffered a tragedy not one of us could have thought would happen in our country. And we picked ourselves up and sorted ourselves out as all good British people do, and I thought, let us stand together for we are British! They were trying to destroy the fundamental freedom that is the birth-right of every British citizen, freedom, justice and democracy." [16]

Approval in Britain

At the time of the bombing, the miners' strike was underway. Morrissey, frontman of the English alternative rock band The Smiths, joked shortly after: "The only sorrow of the Brighton bombing is that Thatcher escaped unscathed." [17] David Bret wrote in the book Morrissey: Scandal & Passion that "The tabloids were full of such remarks; jokes about the tragedy were cracked on radio and television programmes. A working-men's club in South Yorkshire seriously considered a whip-round [18] "to pay for the bomber to have another go". [19] In 1986, English punk band the Angelic Upstarts celebrated [20] the IRA's assassination attempt with their single "Brighton Bomb". They released an album of the same name in 1987. [21]

Patrick Magee

Once investigators had narrowed the seat of the blast to the bathroom of Room 629, police began to track down everyone who had stayed in the room. This eventually led them to "Roy Walsh", a pseudonym used by IRA member Patrick Magee. [3] Magee was tailed for months by MI5 and special branch, and finally arrested in an IRA flat in Glasgow. Despite days of interrogation he refused to answer questions – but a fingerprint on a registration card recovered from the hotel ruins was enough to convict him. He was arrested on 24 June 1985 with other members of an IRA active service unit while planning further bombings in England.[ citation needed ] Many years later, in August 2000, Magee admitted to The Guardian that he carried out the bombing, but told them he did not accept he left a fingerprint on the registration card, saying "If that was my fingerprint I did not put it there". [22]

In September 1985, Magee (then aged 35) was found guilty of planting the bomb, detonating it, and of five counts of murder. Magee received eight life sentences: seven for offences relating to the Brighton bombing, and the eighth for another bomb plot. Justice Sir Leslie Boreham recommended that he serve at least 35 years, describing Magee as "a man of exceptional cruelty and inhumanity." [23] Later Home Secretary Michael Howard lengthened this to "whole life". However, Magee was released from prison in 1999 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, having served 14 years (including the time before his sentencing). [8] A British Government spokesman said that his release "was hard to stomach" and an appeal by then Home Secretary Jack Straw to forestall it was turned down by the Northern Ireland High Court.

In 2000, Magee spoke about the bombing in an interview with The Sunday Business Post. He told interviewer Tom McGurk that the British government's strategy at the time was to depict the IRA as mere criminals while containing the Troubles within Northern Ireland:

As long as the war was kept in that context, they could sustain the years of attrition. But in the early 1980s we succeeded in destroying both strategies. The hunger strike destroyed the notion of criminalisation and the Brighton bombing destroyed the notion of containment [...] After Brighton, anything was possible and the British for the first time began to look very differently at us; even the IRA itself, I believe, began to fully accept the priority of the campaign in England. [24]

Of those killed in the bombing, Magee said: "I deeply regret that anybody had to lose their lives, but at the time did the Tory ruling class expect to remain immune from what their frontline troops were doing to us?" [24]

Attitudes towards security

Daily Telegraph journalist David Hughes called the bombing "the most audacious attack on a British government since the Gunpowder Plot" and wrote that it "marked the end of an age of comparative innocence. From that day forward, all party conferences in this country have become heavily defended citadels". [9]

The bombing is depicted in the 2011 biographical film The Iron Lady . [25]

Jonathan Lee's 2015 novel High Dive is a fictionalised account of the bombing, written largely from the alternating perspectives of the hotel manager, his teenage daughter, and an IRA bombmaker who helps Magee. Rights to the book were purchased and it is in development as a potential feature film. [26]

The third novel in Adrian McKinty's "Troubles Trilogy", In the Morning I'll Be Gone , features his RUC detective protagonist Seán Duffy trying to prevent the Brighton bombing and saving Thatcher. [27]

See also

Related Research Articles

Margaret Thatcher Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990

Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher, was a British stateswoman who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990 and Leader of the Conservative Party from 1975 to 1990. She was the longest-serving British prime minister of the 20th century and the first woman to hold that office. A Soviet journalist dubbed her the "Iron Lady", a nickname that became associated with her uncompromising politics and leadership style. As prime minister, she implemented policies that became known as Thatcherism.

Norman Tebbit English politician

Norman Beresford Tebbit, Baron Tebbit is a British life peer. A member of the Conservative Party, he served in the Cabinet from 1981 to 1987 as Secretary of State for Employment (1981–1983), Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (1983–1985), and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Chairman of the Conservative Party (1985–1987). He was a Member of Parliament (MP) from 1970 to 1992, representing the constituencies of Epping (1970–1974) and Chingford (1974–1992).

Anthony Berry British politician

Sir Anthony George Berry was a British Conservative politician. He served as Member of Parliament (MP) for Enfield Southgate and a whip in Margaret Thatcher's government.

1987 United Kingdom general election

The 1987 United Kingdom general election was held on Thursday, 11 June 1987, to elect 650 members to the House of Commons of the United Kingdom. The election was the third consecutive general election victory for the Conservative Party, and second landslide under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher, who became the first Prime Minister since the Earl of Liverpool in 1820 to lead a party into three successive electoral victories.

Anglo-Irish Agreement Treaty between Ireland and the United Kingdom seeking to end The Troubles in Northern Ireland

The Anglo-Irish Agreement was a 1985 treaty between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland which aimed to help bring an end to the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The treaty gave the Irish government an advisory role in Northern Ireland's government while confirming that there would be no change in the constitutional position of Northern Ireland unless a majority of its people agreed to join the Republic. It also set out conditions for the establishment of a devolved consensus government in the region.

Ian Gow 20th-century British politician

Ian Reginald Edward Gow was a British Conservative politician and solicitor. He served as Member of Parliament (MP) for Eastbourne from 1974 until he was assassinated by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) in 1990, who exploded a bomb under his car outside his home in East Sussex.

Paul Channon

Henry Paul Guinness Channon, Baron Kelvedon, PC was Conservative MP for Southend West for 38 years, from 1959 until 1997. He served in various ministerial offices, and was a Cabinet minister for 3½ years, as President of the Board of Trade and Secretary of State for Trade and Industry from January 1986 to June 1987, and then as Secretary of State for Transport to July 1989.

The Deal barracks bombing was an attack by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) on the Royal Marine Depot, Deal, England. It took place at 8:22 am on 22 September 1989, when the IRA exploded a time bomb at the Royal Marines School of Music building. The building collapsed, killing 11 marines from the Royal Marines Band Service and wounding another 21.

Patrick Joseph Magee is a former Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteer, best known for planting a bomb in the Brighton Grand Hotel targeting Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her Cabinet, which killed five people. He is often referred to as the "Brighton bomber".

Grand Brighton Hotel Hotel in Brighton, England

The Grand Brighton Hotel is a historic Victorian sea front hotel in Brighton on the south coast of England. Designed by John Whichcord Jr. and built in 1864, it was intended for members of the upper classes visiting the city, and remains one of Brighton's most expensive hotels.

Peter Morrison

Sir Peter Hugh Morrison was a British Conservative politician, MP for Chester from 1974 to 1992, and Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Harrods bombing

The Harrods bombing refers to the car bomb that exploded outside Harrods department store in central London on Saturday 17 December 1983. Members of the Provisional IRA planted the time bomb and sent a warning 37 minutes before it exploded, but the area was not evacuated. The blast killed three police officers and three civilians, injured 90 people, and caused much damage. The IRA Army Council claimed it had not authorised the attack and expressed regret for the civilian casualties. After the bombing, the IRA shifted its emphasis towards attacks on military targets on the mainland.

Father Patrick Ryan is an Irish Catholic priest who left the Pallottine order in 1973 after refusing a transfer to a parish church in England.

Joanna Cynthia Berry is a British peace activist and public speaker. She is the daughter of the Hon. Sir Anthony Berry, who was killed by the IRA in the Brighton hotel bombing on 12 October 1984. The bomb was planted by Patrick Magee, whom Berry publicly met in November 2000 in an effort at achieving reconciliation as envisioned in the wake of the Good Friday Agreement.

Margaret Tebbit English nurse and wife of Norman Tebbit

Margaret Elizabeth Tebbit, Baroness Tebbit was an English nurse who was paralysed from the chest down by the Provisional IRA's 12 October 1984 bombing of the Grand Brighton Hotel, where she was staying with her husband, Norman Tebbit, during the Conservative Party Conference.

Kesh ambush

On 2 December 1984, a four-man Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) active service unit was ambushed by a British Army Special Air Service team while attempting to bomb a Royal Ulster Constabulary patrol who they had lured to Drumrush Lodge Restaurant. Two IRA volunteers and one SAS soldier were killed during the action.

Assassination of Airey Neave

On 30 March 1979, Airey Neave, British Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, was assassinated by the Irish National Liberation Army with a bomb fixed under his car. The bomb detonated in the car park of the Palace of Westminster in London and mortally wounded Neave, who died shortly after being admitted to hospital.

Chelsea Barracks bombing 1981 IRA bomb in London

The Chelsea Barracks bombing was an attack carried out by a London-based Active Service Unit (ASU) of the Provisional IRA on 10 October 1981, using remote-controlled nail bomb. The bomb targeted a bus carrying British Army soldiers just outside Chelsea Barracks. The blast killed two civilians and injured 40 people, among them 23 soldiers.

This is a timeline of the events and actions during the Troubles that were carried out in mainland Britain, the vast majority of which were carried out by Irish Republican paramilitaries mainly the Provisional IRA were by far the most active but both the Official IRA and the Irish National Liberation Army, also carried out a number of attacks, which included bombings and shootings. Ulster Loyalist paramilitary groups also carried out a small number of violent actions.

On 26 June 1990, the Provisional IRA detonated a bomb at the Carlton Club, a club in London popular among MPs and supporters of the ruling Conservative Party. The bombing injured 20 people, one of whom, Lord Kaberry of Adel, died a year later. The ground floor collapsed to the basement and windows were shattered. The blast was felt up to half a mile away.


  1. 1 2 "1984: Tory Cabinet in Brighton bomb blast". BBC 'On This Day'.
  2. The assassination attempt targeted the entire Thatcher Cabinet at the Grand Hotel (including the Prime Minister). [1]
  3. 1 2 3 4 Gareth Parry (10 June 1986). "Patrick Magee convicted of IRA terrorist attack". The Guardian . London. Retrieved 30 April 2007.
  4. Charles Moore, Margaret Thatcher: At Her Zenith (2016) 2: 309–16
  5. Kieran Hughes, Terror Attack Brighton – Blowing up the Iron Lady (2014).
  6. Parry, Gareth; Pallister, David. Timer clue to Brighton bombing, The Guardian; 10 May 1986
  7. Clarke, Liam. IRA mole warned police about Brighton bomb, Sunday Times 15 December 1996
  8. 1 2 Lucy Williamson. "'Witness' Episode: The Brighton Hotel Bombing". BBC. Retrieved 16 October 2013.
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 David Hughes (11 October 2009). "Brighton bombing: Daily Telegraph journalist recalls". The Telegraph . London. Retrieved 13 May 2011.
  10. Crown, Hannah (12 October 2009). "Brighton bombing: 25th anniversary of Sir Anthony Berry's death remembered". Thisislocallondon. Archived from the original on 4 June 2011. Retrieved 14 October 2009.
  11. “Nice to have you back where you belong..”Blackpool Gazette, 15 April 2013
  12. Taylor, Peter (2001). Brits: The War Against the IRA . Bloomsbury Publishing. p.  265. ISBN   0-7475-5806-X.
  13. Margaret Thatcher, Speech to Conservative Party Conference, 12 October 1984
  14. John Campbell, Margaret Thatcher. The Iron Lady (Jonathan Cape, 2003), p. 432.
  15. Campbell, p. 432.
  16. Margaret Thatcher, Speech to Finchley Conservatives, 20 October 1984
  17. Julian Gavaghan (11 October 2013). "On This Day: Thatcher almost killed by IRA in Brighton bombing". Retrieved 11 October 2018.
  18. "'A whip round' – the meaning and origin of this phrase".
  19. Bret, David. Morrissey: Scandal & Passion. Franz Steiner Verlag, 2004. p. 111
  20. Angelic Upstarts. "Angelic Upstarts". AllMusic. Retrieved 11 October 2018.
  21. Bucklet, Peter. The Rough Guide to Rock. Rough Guides, 2003. p. 31
  22. Wilson, Jamie (28 August 2000). "Brighton bomber thinks again". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 26 April 2010.
  23. "Sir Leslie Boreham". The Daily Telegraph. 6 May 2004. Retrieved 29 March 2019.
  24. 1 2 "Brighton Bomb was a turning point – Magee". An Phoblacht , 31 August 2000.
  25. Moore, Charles (2 December 2011). "Margaret Thatcher: a figure of history and legend". The Telegraph . ISSN   0307-1235 . Retrieved 10 October 2018.
  26. Senior, Jennifer (14 March 2016). "Review: Jonathan Lee's 'High Dive' Revisits a Plot to Kill Margaret Thatcher". The New York Times . Retrieved 10 October 2018.
  27. Burke, Declan (18 January 2014). "Gripping RUC thriller has Troubles in mind". Irish Examiner . Retrieved 10 October 2018.


Further reading