Thatcher saved by signing one last document

IT was the most audacious attack yet mounted by the IRA, although the toll in lives and injuries was far less than in many other of its atrocities.

But the Brighton Bomb of October 12, 1984, precisely 20 years ago, which devastated the seafront Grand Hotel during the Conservative Party conference of that year, totally failed to achieve the objectives of its perpetrators.

It did not kill then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher nor any members of her cabinet. Five other people died and many were injured, including Margaret Tebbit, wife of the then Trade and Industry Secretary, Norman Tebbit, who himself badly hurt. She was paralysed and has been in a wheelchair since then.

But, because of the unswerving resolve of Margaret Thatcher - who had a miraculous escape - that the IRA should not win, the conference resumed at 9.30am sharp, barely six hours after the deadly bomb was detonated.

What is more, thanks to meticulous police work, the man who skilfully secreted the bomb in room 629, 24 days before it exploded on a long time-fuse, was arrested and imprisoned.

The entire operation from the viewpoint of the IRA could be described as a bungled failure, except to serve as a dramatic warning of what it was capable of.

Immediately afterwards, the IRA issued a chilling statement effectively addressed to Margaret Thatcher. It said: “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 war.”

Indeed, to say that Margaret Thatcher was merely “lucky” is a huge understatement. It was a miracle that she was not killed.

She and her advisers had been working until 2.50am on the key speech she was to deliver (and which, suitably amended, she did deliver) at the conference in the morning.

“Right,” she said. “That’s that. Finished.” She was just heading for the bathroom when Robin Butler, effectively her chief-of-staff, suddenly called her back. There was just one more paper she had to sign.

She returned and sat in an armchair - and the bomb, planted 24 days earlier in the suite above, number 629, blew the bathroom to smithereens.

Ms Thatcher herself has since said that if she had been in the bathroom she would have suffered only minor cuts.

Ms Thatcher has described her departure from the devastated hotel. She said there was the fear of a second device designed to kill those trying to escape.

“At 3.10am in groups, we began to leave. It turned out that the first route suggested was impassable and we were turned back by a fireman.

“The air was full of thick dust: it was in my mouth and covered my clothes.”

Eventually she was driven at high speed to Lewes Police College, where she spent the rest of the night, praying and sleeping fitfully.

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