Bomb targeting Prime Minister Thatcher rips through Brighton's Grand Hotel

By MARK SCHACTER  |  Oct. 12, 1984
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BRIGHTON, England -- A powerful bomb aimed at Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her Cabinet tore through an elegant seaside hotel early today, killing four people and injuring 30, including key government officials.

The outlawed Irish Republican Army claimed responsibility.

Thatcher narrowly escaped injury in the 3 a.m. explosion that blew out the windows of her suite and wrecked her bathroom. Twelve hours later, firemen were still digging in the rubble for victims.

British Broadcasting Corp. television news said four bodies were pulled from the wreckage. Police officially confirmed one of the deaths. Fire brigade officer Eric Whitaker said two bodies, a man and a woman, were pulled out and it was believed two more were still buried.

Among the injured was Employment Secretary Norman Tebbit, a popular Conservative politician many think will succeed Thatcher as party chief.

The IRA, seeking to end British rule of Northern Ireland, claimed responsibility for 'the detonation of 100 pounds of gelignite in Brighton against the British Cabinet and the Tory (Conservative Party) warmongers.'

The explosion ripped through the posh Grand Hotel as Thatcher was putting the finishing touches on her keynote speech to the ruling Conservative Party convention scheduled to end today.

The blast in the hotel lobby area caved in the upper floors in the center of the eight-story building, burying people under masonry, furniture and other debris.

About seven hours later the Conservative Party floor leader in the House of Commons, John Wakeham, was pulled from the debris and was said to be in 'very bad' condition. Reports said another Conservative member of parliament, Sir Anthony Berry, was among the missing.

The hospital in Brighton said it treated 30 people, releasing 10.

'We were very lucky,' Thatcher told reporters later at Brighton police station. 'I was up working. I had just turned to do one final paper and then it went off .... You hear about these atrocities, these bombs, but you don't expect them to happen to you.'

'I was sound asleep when I heard a giant crashing,' said Harvey Thomas, a convention organizer on the seventh floor. 'I thought it was an earthquake.'

Thomas said he fell two floors and 'was trapped in rubble up to my nose and I thought I was going to run out of air. But the firemen got me out after an hour.'

The IRA issued a statement in Dublin at the office that acts as its press link.

'Thatcher will now realize that Britain cannot occupy our country, torture our prisoners and arrest our people on their own streets and get away with it,' the statement said. 'Today we were unlucky, but remember we have only to be lucky once -- you will have to be lucky always.'

Before the hotel attack, 89 people had died in IRA terrorist acts on the British mainland in the last 12 years. The last major action was a 1983 Christmas season bombing at swank Harrod's department store that killed six people.

Thatcher delivered her keynote speech at the convention today, calling the bombing 'an inhuman, indiscriminate attempt to massacre innocent, unsuspecting men and women' and 'an attempt to cripple her majesty's democratically elected government.

But the prime minister, who turns 59 Saturday, declared: 'All attempts to destroy democracy by terrorism will fail.'

Her party faithful gave her a standing ovation, lasting 7 minutes 40 seconds.

Official spokesmen gave conflicting information on the number of people missing, but firemen said that by sundown they would have sifted through the remaining debris.

Witnesses claimed they saw 'bombers' running from the scene, but Sussex Police Constable Roger Birch said no arrests had been made and no descriptions were released.

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