LONDON -- Police mounted a multi-million-dollar security operation this weekend as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher set out to return to the city where the IRA came close to killing her four years ago.
Thatcher and hundreds of her Conservative followers are due in the resort city of Brighton for the opening Tuesday of their annual four-day party convention.
On Oct. 12, 1984, in the midst of the Conservatives' last gathering in Brighton, a time bomb planted by an IRA explosives expert ripped open the beachfront Grand Hotel where Thatcher and other party and government leaders were staying.
The 2:58 a.m. blast was in Room 629. The prime minister still was awake in her second-floor suite putting the finishing touches on a convention speech.
About seven floors of rooms adjacent to her sitting room collapsed in a pile of rubble and bodies, killing five people and wounding 30. Thatcher was unhurt.
Now the gleaming white Grand Hotel has been rebuilt and Thatcher is expected to stay there once again. But for security reasons, officials refuse to say where she will be housed.
'I don't know how difficult going back will be,' said Robert Wakeham, whose wife died near him in the Brighton bomb. Now Lord President of the Privy Council, he said, 'I'm glad I haven't had to return any earlier.'
Police sources said that during the convention 1,500 police, nearly half the force of Sussex County surrounding Brighton, will be on duty in the vicinity. They have have been shown a special film that says the threat assessment for the convention is high, but that terrorists could hit other soft targets, the sources said.
Fears of new IRA attacks were heightened by the Sept. 30 verdict of a controversial coroner's inquest in Gibraltar. Its jury found that British commandos acted legally when they gunned down three unarmed IRA guerrillas who were planning a bomb attack in the crown colony.
Security checks of buildings, sewers and even the water supply began as early as March. Officers put the price tag for the operation at $2.4 million.
Norman Tebbit, one of Thatcher's closest political associates, was wounded in the 1984 bombing -- his wife Margaret remains paralyzed from her injuries -- and described it graphically in a recent book.
'There was just time for Margaret to call out in alarm and for me to reply 'It's a bomb' before the ceiling came crashing down on us and then, in a hail of debris, the floor collapsed, catapulting us down under an avalanche of bricks, timber and plaster.'
The outlawed Irish Republican Army, which is trying to end British rule of Northern Ireland, took responsibility for the Brighton bomb within hours after it went off.
'Today we were unlucky,' the IRA said in a communique. 'But remember we only have to be lucky once. You have to be lucky always.'
IRA member Patrick Magee, 37, was not lucky.
He was arrested in 1985 in Glasgow, Scotland, along with 11 other people in a police raid on an apartment. Investigators said his fingerprints matched those on a registraton card of a man calling himself 'Roy Walsh' who stayed in Room 629 of the Grand Hotel a month before the 1984 convention.
Police said Magee had planted a time bomb behind a panel in the 629 bathroom.
In June 1986, a London jury found Magee guilty of the murder of five people in the Brighton bombing.
'You are a man of exceptional cruelty and inhumanity,' said Judge Leslie Boreham in sentencing Magee to eight life prison sentences. 'You enjoy your terrorist activities .... You intended to wipe out a large part of the government and you very nearly did.'
Born in Belfast and brought up in England, Magee, a Roman Catholic, first became politically active when he returned to Belfast as a 19-year-old, when Ulster's troubles were beginning to erupt.
He became possibly the most successful IRA bomber of his time, active for 15 years without being convicted of a single offense, security sources said.