M62 coach bombing

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M62 coach bombing
Part of The Troubles
Location Near Oakwell Hall, between junctions 26 and 27, M62 motorway, West Riding of Yorkshire, England
Coordinates 53°44′35.4″N 1°40′12″W / 53.743167°N 1.67000°W / 53.743167; -1.67000Coordinates: 53°44′35.4″N 1°40′12″W / 53.743167°N 1.67000°W / 53.743167; -1.67000
Date 4 February 1974
Attack type
Time bomb
Deaths 12 (9 soldiers, 3 civilians)[1]
Non-fatal injuries
38 (soldiers and civilians)
Perpetrator Provisional IRA

The M62 coach bombing happened on 4 February 1974 on the M62 motorway in northern England, when a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) bomb exploded in a coach carrying off-duty British Armed Forces personnel and their family members. Twelve people (nine soldiers, three civilians) were killed by the bomb, which consisted of 25 pounds (11 kg) of high explosive hidden in a luggage locker on the coach.[2] Judith Ward was convicted of the crime later in 1974, but 18 years later the conviction was judged as wrongful and she was released from prison.

The bombing[edit]

Plaque unveiled in Oldham in 2010 in memory of the victims of the bombing

The coach had been specially commissioned to carry British Army and Royal Air Force personnel on leave with their families from and to the bases at Catterick and Darlington during a period of industrial strike action on the trains. The vehicle had departed Manchester some time before, and was making good progress on the M62 motorway. Shortly after midnight, when the bus was between junction 26 and 27, near Oakwell Hall, there was a large explosion on board. Most of those aboard were sleeping at the time. The blast, which could be heard several miles away, reduced the coach to a "tangle of twisted metal" and threw body parts up to 250 yards (230 m).[3]

The explosion killed eleven people outright and wounded over fifty others, one of whom died four days later. Amongst the dead were nine soldiers – two from the Royal Artillery, three from the Royal Corps of Signals and four from the 2nd battalion Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. One of the latter was Corporal Clifford Houghton, whose entire family, consisting of his wife Linda and his sons Lee (5) and Robert (2), also died. Numerous others suffered severe injuries, including a six-year-old boy, who was badly burned.[3]

Suspicions immediately fell upon the IRA, which was in the midst of an armed campaign in Britain involving numerous operations, later including the Guildford pub bombing and the Birmingham pub bombings.

Reaction[edit]

Memorial at Hartshead Moor services

Reactions in Britain were furious, with senior politicians from all parties calling for immediate action against the perpetrators and the IRA in general.[4] The British media were equally condemnatory; according to The Guardian, it was "the worst IRA outrage on the British mainland" at that time,[5] whilst the BBC has described it as "one of the IRA's worst mainland terror attacks".[6] The Irish Sunday Business Post has described it as the "worst" of the "awful atrocities perpetrated by the IRA" during this period.[7]

IRA Army Council member Dáithí Ó Conaill was challenged over the bombing and the death of civilians during an interview, and replied that the coach was bombed because IRA intelligence indicated that it was carrying military personnel only.[8]

The attack's most lasting consequence was the adoption of much stricter 'anti-terrorism' laws in Great Britain and Northern Ireland, allowing police to hold those 'suspected of terrorism' for up to seven days without charge, and to deport those 'suspected of terrorism' in Britain or the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland to face trial, where special courts judged with separate rules on 'terrorism' suspects.[9]

There was a memorial to those who were killed, situated in the entrance hall of the westbound section of the Hartshead Moor service area, which was used as a first aid station for those wounded in the blast.[6] There is now a larger memorial, set away from the foyer of the Hartshead Moor service area,[10] following a campaign by relatives of the dead.[11] A memorial plaque engraved with the names of the casualties was also unveiled in Oldham in 2010.[12]

Prosecution[edit]

Second memorial at Hartshead Moor services

Following the explosion, the British public and politicians from all three major parties called for swift justice.[4] The ensuing police investigation led by Detective Chief Superintendent George Oldfield was rushed, careless and ultimately forged, resulting in the arrest of the mentally ill Judith Ward who claimed to have conducted a string of bombings in Britain in 1973 and 1974 and to have married and had a baby with two separate IRA members. Despite her retraction of these claims,[13] the lack of any corroborating evidence against her, and serious gaps in her testimony – which was frequently rambling, incoherent and "improbable"[14] – she was wrongfully convicted in November 1974. Following her conviction, the Irish Republican Publicity Bureau issued a statement:

Miss Ward was not a member of Óglaigh na hÉireann and was not used in any capacity by the organisation. She had nothing to do what-so-ever with the military coach bomb (on 4 February 1974), the bombing of Euston Station and the attack on Latimer Military College. Those acts were authorised operations carried out by units of the Irish Republican Army.[15]

The case against her was almost completely based on inaccurate scientific evidence using the Griess test and deliberate manipulation of her confession by some members of the investigating team.[4] The case was similar to those of the Guildford Four, the Birmingham Six and the Maguire Seven, which occurred at the same time and involved similar forged confessions and inaccurate scientific analysis. Judith Ward was finally released in 1992, when three appeal court judges held unanimously that her conviction was "a grave miscarriage of justice", and that it had been "secured by ambush".[16]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ CAIN – Index of Deaths – 4 February 1974
  2. ^ Also described as a 50lb bomb in Lost Lives 2007 ed, p.434, ISBN 978-1-84018-504-1
  3. ^ a b p.240, Williams & Head
  4. ^ a b c p.241, Williams & Head
  5. ^ Guardian Unlimited, 'Miscarriages of justice', retrieved 28 February 2007
  6. ^ a b BBC Bradford and West Yorkshire, 'Tragedy on the M62', retrieved 28 February 2007
  7. ^ Sunday Business Post, 'Her body simply disintegrated in our arms . . .', 14 December 2003, retrieved 28 February 2007
  8. ^ McGladdery, Gary (2006). The Provisional IRA in England: The Bombing Campaign 1973–1997. Irish Academic Press. p. 150. ISBN 978-0-7165-3374-0. 
  9. ^ p.245 Williams & Head
  10. ^ "New tribute to bomb's victims; M62 atrocity recalled after 35 years". Huddersfield Daily Examiner. 2008. 
  11. ^ BBC News | England | West Yorkshire | "Plans to move bomb blast memorial". 29 July 2008.
  12. ^ Ayala, Beatrix (19 January 2009). "M62 coach-bomb survivors sought for new memorial". Oldham Evening Chronicle. Retrieved 4 February 2014. [better source needed]
  13. ^ BBC On This Day, '1974: Soldiers and children killed in coach bombing', retrieved 27 February 2007
  14. ^ In the words of her barrister Andrew Rankin QC, p.242 Williams & Head
  15. ^ p.89 McGladdery,
  16. ^ p.244 Williams & Head

References[edit]

  • Anne Williams & Vivian Head (2006). Terror Attacks: The Violent Expression of Desperation – IRA Coach Bomb. Futura. ISBN 0-7088-0783-6. 

External links[edit]