The Provisional IRA in Stoke Newington

The Angry Brigade are not the only bombers to have lived in N16…

balcombe-st-siege-10th-december-19751

1970s: Balcombe Street siege

An Active Service Unit of the IRA wreaked havoc during a 14 month campaign in London in 1974-1975. Hugh Doherty, Martin O’Connell, Eddie Butler, Brendan Dowd, Henry Duggan and Liam Quinn were responsible for 40 explosions and 35 deaths.

Their targets included pubs frequented by the armed forces, military barracks, Harrow school (no injuries), expensive restaurants in the West End and the house of Prime Minister Edward Heath.

The group also killed “Record Breakers” star and right wing political activist Ross McWhirter, who had offered a £50,000 reward for information leading to convictions for the bombings (as well as campaigning to make it mandatory for all Irish people in Britain to have to register with their local police station).

After the Metropolitan Police’s Commissioner Robert Mark made an appeal for help, a member of the public tipped off the cops about some suspicious people in a flat in Stoke Newington…

On 6th of December O’Connell, Butler, Duggan and Docherty stole a Ford Cortina and drove past Scott’s Restaurant in Mayfair, firing shots through the window. They were pursued by the police, eventually going to ground in a council flat in Balcombe Street, Marylebone, taking its two residents hostage and demanding safe passage to Ireland. The Balcombe Street Siege would last for six days before the hostages were freed and the four IRA men surrendered.

O’Connell and Duggan lived in a flat at 99 Milton Grove, Stoke Newington, which was raided by the police on 17th December 1975.

Here is a photo of the bath in the Milton Grove flat – explosives and bomb making equipment were stored underneath it:

bath

(NB: I couldn’t get the Getty Images “embed” function to work, so grudging apologies to them).

Notes suggesting a wide array of possible future targets were also discovered at the flat.

During the trial at the Old Bailey, Martin O’Connell made a speech from the dock to explain the actions of the group – and also to state that the recently imprisoned Guildford Four were innocent and had been falsely convicted for bombings that he and others had committed. The Guildford Four remained in jail despite this, eventually having their convictions overturned in 1989 after fourteen years of campaigning.

The “Balcombe Street Gang” received sentences of at least 30 years each, but were released from prison in April 1999 as part of the Good Friday Agreement.

1990s: Bombing of Harrods

harrods

harrods2

14th November 1992 – A large blue lorry was stopped on Stoke Newington Road by two police officers. The lorry contained 3.2 tonnes of explosive – the largest IRA bomb at that time. After some confusion and a chase in which one of the police officers was shot, an Irishman named Patrick Kelly was arrested. He pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted murder of a police officer and conspiracy to cause explosions. He was found guilty and sentenced to 25 years.

January 28th 1993 – An IRA bomb was detonated in a rubbish bin outside Harrods causing extensive damage to the building and injuries to four people – it was shortly before opening time. (NB: The IRA had bombed the shop 10 years previously with more devastating results).

2nd March 1993 – Following the release of CCTV images from outside Harrods, police raided the basement flat of Patrick Hayes in Walford Road, Stoke Newington. They found 22lb of Semtex, hand-guns, a sock full of bullets, several electronic detonators and timing devices, and keys to a lock-up garage in Muswell Hill from which home-made explosive were later recovered. Hayes and Jan Taylor were arrested in the flat – Taylor fired three shots at the policemen, but missed.

This (silent) news clip has footage of the exterior and interior of the flat from 1:19 onwards:

And this one includes an eyewitness account of the raid by a passerby:

May 1994 – Hayes and Taylor were both sentenced to 30 years for the Harrods bombing (and of a Victoria to Ramsgate train). Hayes was also linked forensically to other bombings using lorries, such as the one causing £350 million damage to the Baltic Exchange. Hayes announced in the courtroom that it was he that had been driving the lorry which was stopped by the police in Stoke Newington in November 1992 and that Patrick Kelly had been falsely imprisoned “on the basis of his nationality”.

Coverage of the trial focused on Hayes’ nationality instead – he was English, an usual background for an IRA bomber. He was also a member of Red Action:

In Hayes’s flat, police found literature associated with Red Action – a splinter of the Socialist Workers’ Party, founded in 1981 – and a copy of the Irish Republican News, as well as anti-fascist material.

The Independent

More precisely, Red Action was formed by militant working class anti-fascists who had been expelled by the SWP for “Squaddism” (i.e. physically confronting fascists) in the early eighties.

A further article in The Independent from a few years later covers the group’s forthright support for anti-fascism, Irish Republicanism and pro-working class politics – as well as Hayes’ membership.

Indeed, Red Action included a transcript of Hayes’ speech from the dock on the cover of the next issue of their paper, alongside a photograph of him kicking a fascist in the 1980s:

ra1001cover

(All issues of the Red Action paper are available as PDFs at the Red Action archive along with other material. The short autobiography of the group might be the best place to start.)

Whereas Martin O’Connell’s testimony about the innocence of the Guildford Four is now widely accepted, Hayes’ revelations about Patrick Kelly seem less definitive.

All I have been able to discover is that Jeremy Corbyn MP (whatever happened to him?) would successfully campaign in 1996 to get medical treatment for Kelly’s skin cancer which had been neglected by the prison authorities. Despite this intervention, Kelly seems to have died a year later – and was celebrated as an IRA Volunteer in 1998.

Like O’Connell and the Balcombe Street Gang, Hayes and Taylor were also released from prison in 1999 under the Good Friday Agreement.

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