WORLD

A midsummer nightmare

CAROL KENNEDY August 2 1982
WORLD

A midsummer nightmare

CAROL KENNEDY August 2 1982

A midsummer nightmare

WORLD

BRITAIN

It was a week that began in black comedy, as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s Tory government struggled with the aftermath of a series of security scandals. But it turned into deepest tragedy as Provisional IRA bombers struck twice in as many hours in the heart of tourist-crowded London. The bloody carnage, as remote-controlled bombs blew up a ceremonial troop of Household Cavalry in Hyde Park and a bandstand in Regent’s Park, was the worst since two Birmingham pubs were blown up in 1974. Twenty-one people died on that occasion. This time the toll was 10 soldiers killed and 53 people injured, including women and holidaymakers. Seven cavalry horses also perished. As TV newsreader Alastair Burnet remarked wearily, an old war had begun again.

Police had been half-expecting a renewal of mainland bombing and had warned public figures to be on their guard, but the double atrocity was a calculated strike at the heart of London’s military ceremonial—a popular tourist attraction. The clockwork precision of the cavalry’s route from Knightsbridge barracks along Hyde Park’s South Carriage Drive enabled the bombers to time their blast for maximum effect. Police believe that the bomb—up to 4.5 kg of explosive wrapped round with 10and 15-cm nails and concealed in a parked blue Morris Marina—was detonated by someone watching from a vantage point, possibly a fifth-floor room in the luxurious Berkeley Hotel overlooking the park.

The explosion occurred just as the 16-man troop headed by Lieut. Anthony

Daly, 23, came alongside the car. It flung men and horses into the air amid a rain of blood, nails and pieces of shrapnel. Daly, who had just returned from his honeymoon, was one of three soldiers killed. Just over two hours later, and 3.2 km to the north, the 31 musicians of the Royal Green Jackets band had finished playing a selection from the musical Oliver to a crowd of about 200, a party of handicapped children among them. Bandmaster David Little turned to acknowledge the applause. Then the bandstand—searched routinely that morning for bombs—blew up. Said a pensioner, Violet Benjamin: “There were bodies and limbs thrown into the audience. Little children were covered with the blood of soldiers. It was a nightmare.” As the wounded and dying were rushed to hospitals, striking Health Service workers on picket duty dropped their banners and ran to help. Scotland Yard’s antiterrorist squad immediately mounted a nationwide hunt and put ports and airports on special alert.

Police later built up a picture of the gang, believed to include a blond woman, and vainly searched all 300,000 lockup garages in London for explosives. Meanwhile, in a shocked House of Commons, Thatcher denounced the bombings as “callous and cowardly crimes.” Opposition Leader Michael Foot said no political question could be settled by such “pitiless barbarity.” In Dublin Irish Prime Minister Charles Haughey said those responsible did “irreparable harm to the good name of Ireland and the cause of Irish unity,” and the Irish Press editorialized: “The hor-

rific carnage shames us all.” The Provisionals, with appalling irony, justified the massacre with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter—invoked by Britain in sending a task force to retake the Falklands—and mockingly turned to their own use “all Thatcher’s fine phrases on the right to self-determination of a people.”

The tragedy was not allowed to disrupt London’s summer ceremonial: late in the week, another cavalry troop rode along the same route, carrying the blood-spattered and torn regimental colors. But, for the government, there was no respite—only continuing embarrassment over the intruder in the Queen’s bedroom and the subsequent resignation of the Queen’s personal bodyguard, Cmdr. Michael Trestrail, 51, after Commissioner David McNee confronted him with evidence of a 15-year homosexual relationship with a male prostitute.

Home Secretary William Whitelaw, sidestepping demands for his own resignation, moved swiftly to shake up what he called “slackness and weaknesses” in the palace policing. Two senior officers resigned, a new security supremo was appointed and Supt. Christopher Hagan, 37, became the Queen’s new bodyguard. To MPs’ dissatisfaction, Thatcher refused to be drawn on the other major security scandal involving leaks at the top-secret electronic warfare centre at Cheltenham {Maclean’s, July 26). But amid all the unanswered questions, one was decisively settled: Thatcher told her backbenchers that she wants another full year to push through legislation and combat inflation, killing speculation about a snap election in the afterglow of the Falklands victory. That glow, however, seemed very remote last week.

-CAROL KENNEDY in London.