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Brighton hotel bombing

Coordinates: 50°49′17″N 0°08′50″W / 50.82139°N 0.14722°W / 50.82139; -0.14722
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Brighton bomb
Part of the Troubles
The Grand Hotel on the morning after the bombing
LocationGrand Hotel, Brighton, East Sussex, England, UK
Coordinates50°49′17″N 0°08′50″W / 50.82139°N 0.14722°W / 50.82139; -0.14722
Date12 October 1984; 39 years ago (1984-10-12)
2:54 am (BST)
TargetMargaret Thatcher[a]
Attack type
WeaponsTime bomb
PerpetratorProvisional IRA

On 12 October 1984, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) attempted to assassinate members of the British government at the Grand Hotel in Brighton, England. A long-delay time bomb was planted in the hotel by Patrick Magee before Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her cabinet arrived for the Conservative Party conference.[2] Five people were killed, including the Conservative MP and Deputy Chief Whip Sir Anthony Berry, and a further 31 were injured. Thatcher narrowly escaped the explosion.[3][4]


During the Troubles, as part of its armed campaign against British rule in Northern Ireland, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) regularly engaged in violent attacks, including bombings, against British authorities. While these incidents were largely confined to Northern Ireland, the IRA were known to carry out attacks in England. By the 1980s, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had come to the top of their list for assassination.

In October 1984, Thatcher's Conservative Party was scheduled to hold its conference at the Grand Hotel in Brighton, East Sussex. Patrick Magee, an IRA volunteer, stayed in the hotel under the pseudonym "Roy Walsh" on the weekend of 14–17 September. During his stay, he planted a bomb under the bath in his room, number 629, five floors above Thatcher's suite for the conference.[2] The device was fitted with a long-delay timer made from videocassette recorder components and a Memo Park Timer safety device.[5] IRA mole Sean O'Callaghan claimed that 20 lb (9 kg) of Frangex (gelignite) was used.[6] The device was described as a "small bomb by IRA standards" by a contemporary news report and may have avoided detection by sniffer dogs by being wrapped in cling film to mask the smell.[7]


The Grand Hotel, 2006

The bomb detonated at approximately 2:54 am (BST) on 12 October. The blast brought down a five-ton chimney stack, which crashed down through the floors into the basement, leaving a gaping hole in the hotel's façade. Firemen said that many lives were probably saved because the well-built Victorian hotel remained standing.[1] Thatcher was still awake at the time, working in her suite on her conference speech for the next day. The blast badly damaged her suite's bathroom, but left its sitting room and bedroom untouched although the windows were blown in. She and her husband Denis escaped injury. She changed her clothes and was led out through the wreckage along with her husband and her friend and aide Cynthia Crawford, and driven to a Brighton police station.[2][8]

At about 4:00 am, as Thatcher left the police station, she gave an impromptu interview to the BBC's John Cole saying that the conference would go on as usual. Alistair McAlpine persuaded Marks & Spencer to open early at 8:00 am so those who had lost their clothes in the bombing could purchase replacements. Thatcher went from the conference to visit the injured at the Royal Sussex County Hospital.[8]


The bombing killed five, none of whom were Cabinet ministers. A Conservative MP, Sir Anthony Berry (Deputy Chief Whip),[9] was killed, along with Eric Taylor (North-West Area Chairman of the Conservative Party), Lady Shattock (Jeanne, wife of Sir Gordon Shattock, Western Area Chairman of the Conservative Party), Lady Maclean (Muriel, wife of Sir Donald Maclean, President of the Scottish Conservatives), and Roberta Wakeham (wife of Chief Whip John Wakeham). Donald and Muriel Maclean were in the room in which the bomb exploded, but Donald survived.[8]

Several more were permanently disabled, including Walter Clegg, whose bedroom was directly above the blast,[10] and Margaret Tebbit who fell 4 floors and after undergoing two years of treatment recovered some use of her hands but used a wheelchair for the rest of her life.[11][12] Thirty-four people were left injured. When hospital staff asked Norman Tebbit, who was less seriously injured than his wife, Margaret, whether he was allergic to anything, he is said to have answered "bombs".[8]


IRA statement[edit]

The IRA claimed responsibility the same day; its statement read:

Mrs. Thatcher will now realise that Britain cannot occupy our country and torture our prisoners and shoot our people in their own streets and get away with it. 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 more war.[13]

Thatcher's response[edit]

Thatcher began the next session of the conference at 9:30 am the following morning, as scheduled. She dropped from her speech most of her planned attacks on the Labour Party and said the bombing was "an attempt to cripple Her Majesty's democratically elected Government":

That is the scale of the outrage in which we have all shared, and the fact that we are gathered here now—shocked, but composed and determined—is a sign not only that this attack has failed, but that all attempts to destroy democracy by terrorism will fail.[14]

Immediately afterwards, her popularity soared almost to the level it had been during the Falklands War.[15] The Saturday after the bombing, Thatcher said to her constituents: "We suffered a tragedy not one of us could have thought would happen in our country. And we picked ourselves up and sorted ourselves out as all good British people do, and I thought, let us stand together for we are British! They were trying to destroy the fundamental freedom that is the birth-right of every British citizen, freedom, justice and democracy."[16]

Approval in Britain[edit]

At the time of the bombing, the miners' strike was underway. As a result, those critical of Thatcher and her policies, including Morrissey, frontman of the English alternative rock band the Smiths, joked shortly after: "The only sorrow of the Brighton bombing is that Thatcher escaped unscathed."[17] David Bret wrote in the book Morrissey: Scandal & Passion that "The tabloids were full of such remarks; jokes about the incident were cracked on radio and television programmes. A working-men's club in South Yorkshire considered a whip-round[18] "to pay for the bomber to have another go".[19] In 1986, English punk band the Angelic Upstarts celebrated[20] the IRA's assassination attempt with their single "Brighton Bomb". They released an album of the same name in 1987.[21]

Patrick Magee[edit]

Once investigators had narrowed the seat of the blast to the bathroom of Room 629, police began to track down everyone who had stayed in the room. This eventually led them to "Roy Walsh", a pseudonym used by IRA member Patrick Magee.[2] Magee was tailed for months by MI5 and special branch, and finally arrested in an IRA flat in Glasgow. Despite days of interrogation he refused to answer questions – but a fingerprint on a registration card recovered from the hotel ruins was enough to convict him. He was arrested on 24 June 1985 with other members of an IRA active service unit while planning further bombings in England.[citation needed] Many years later, in August 2000, Magee admitted to The Guardian that he carried out the bombing, but told them he did not accept he left a fingerprint on the registration card, saying "If that was my fingerprint I did not put it there".[22]

In September 1985, Magee (then aged 35) was found guilty of planting the bomb, detonating it, and of five counts of murder. Magee received eight life sentences: seven for offences relating to the Brighton bombing, and the eighth for another bomb plot. Justice Sir Leslie Boreham recommended that he serve at least 35 years, describing Magee as "a man of exceptional cruelty and inhumanity".[23] Later Home Secretary Michael Howard lengthened this to "whole life". However, Magee was released from prison in 1999 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, having served 14 years (including the time before his sentencing).[7] A British Government spokesman said that his release "was hard to stomach" and an appeal by then Home Secretary Jack Straw to forestall it was turned down by the Northern Ireland High Court.

In 2000, Magee spoke about the bombing in an interview with The Sunday Business Post. He told interviewer Tom McGurk that the British government's strategy at the time was to depict the IRA as mere criminals while containing the Troubles within Northern Ireland:

As long as the war was kept in that context, they could sustain the years of attrition. But in the early 1980s we succeeded in destroying both strategies. The hunger strike destroyed the notion of criminalisation and the Brighton bombing destroyed the notion of containment [...] After Brighton, anything was possible and the British for the first time began to look very differently at us; even the IRA itself, I believe, began to fully accept the priority of the campaign in England.[24]

Of those killed in the bombing, Magee said: "I deeply regret that anybody had to lose their lives, but at the time did the Tory ruling class expect to remain immune from what their frontline troops were doing to us?"[24]

Attitudes towards security[edit]

The Daily Telegraph journalist David Hughes called the bombing "the most audacious attack on a British government since the Gunpowder Plot" and wrote that it "marked the end of an age of comparative innocence. From that day forward, all party conferences in this country have become heavily defended citadels".[8]

In popular culture[edit]

The bombing is depicted in the 2011 biographical film The Iron Lady.[25]

Jonathan Lee's 2015 novel High Dive is a fictionalised account of the bombing, written largely from the alternating perspectives of the hotel manager, his teenage daughter, and an IRA bombmaker who helps Magee. Rights to the book were purchased and it is in development as a potential feature film.[26]

The third novel in Adrian McKinty's "Troubles Trilogy", In the Morning I'll Be Gone, features his RUC detective protagonist Seán Duffy trying to prevent the Brighton bombing and saving Thatcher.[27]

In the third season of the alternate history TV series For All Mankind, an opening news reel reports that Margaret Thatcher was killed in the attack.[28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The assassination attempt targeted the entire Thatcher Cabinet at the Grand Hotel (including the Prime Minister).[1]


  1. ^ a b "1984: Tory Cabinet in Brighton bomb blast". BBC 'On This Day'.
  2. ^ a b c d Gareth Parry (10 June 1986). "Patrick Magee convicted of IRA terrorist attack". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 30 April 2007.
  3. ^ Charles Moore, Margaret Thatcher: At Her Zenith (2016) 2: 309–16
  4. ^ Kieran Hughes, Terror Attack Brighton – Blowing up the Iron Lady (2014).
  5. ^ Parry, Gareth; Pallister, David. Timer clue to Brighton bombing, The Guardian; 10 May 1986
  6. ^ Clarke, Liam. IRA mole warned police about Brighton bomb, The Sunday Times 15 December 1996
  7. ^ a b Lucy Williamson. "'Witness' Episode: The Brighton Hotel Bombing". BBC. Retrieved 16 October 2013.
  8. ^ a b c d e David Hughes (11 October 2009). "Brighton bombing: Daily Telegraph journalist recalls". The Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 25 December 2011. Retrieved 13 May 2011.
  9. ^ Crown, Hannah (12 October 2009). "Brighton bombing: 25th anniversary of Sir Anthony Berry's death remembered". Thisislocallondon. Archived from the original on 4 June 2011. Retrieved 14 October 2009.
  10. ^ Fleming, Craig (15 April 2013). "Nice to have you back where you belong". Blackpool Gazette. Archived from the original on 1 June 2016.
  11. ^ Tominey, Camilla (21 December 2020). "Lady Margaret Tebbit, survivor of Brighton bombing, dies aged 86". Archived from the original on 20 January 2021.
  12. ^ Tebbit, Norman (23 October 2011). "Norman Tebbit: 'Margaret and I both made the same mistake. We neglected to clone ourselves'" (Interview). Interviewed by Deborah Ross. Archived from the original on 10 October 2021.
  13. ^ Taylor, Peter (2001). Brits: The War Against the IRA. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 265. ISBN 0-7475-5806-X.
  14. ^ Margaret Thatcher, Speech to Conservative Party Conference, 12 October 1984
  15. ^ Campbell, p. 432.
  16. ^ "Speech to Finchley Conservatives (25th anniversary as MP) | Margaret Thatcher Foundation". www.margaretthatcher.org.
  17. ^ Julian Gavaghan (11 October 2013). "On This Day: Thatcher almost killed by IRA in Brighton bombing". yahoo.com. Retrieved 11 October 2018.
  18. ^ "'A whip round' – the meaning and origin of this phrase". 11 December 2023.
  19. ^ Bret, David. Morrissey: Scandal & Passion. Franz Steiner Verlag, 2004. p. 111
  20. ^ Angelic Upstarts. "Angelic Upstarts". AllMusic. Retrieved 11 October 2018.
  21. ^ Bucklet, Peter. The Rough Guide to Rock. Rough Guides, 2003. p. 31
  22. ^ Wilson, Jamie (28 August 2000). "Brighton bomber thinks again". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 26 April 2010.
  23. ^ "Sir Leslie Boreham". The Daily Telegraph. 6 May 2004. Archived from the original on 12 January 2022. Retrieved 29 March 2019.
  24. ^ a b "Brighton Bomb was a turning point – Magee". An Phoblacht, 31 August 2000.
  25. ^ Moore, Charles (2 December 2011). "Margaret Thatcher: a figure of history and legend". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Archived from the original on 12 January 2022. Retrieved 10 October 2018.
  26. ^ Senior, Jennifer (14 March 2016). "Review: Jonathan Lee's 'High Dive' Revisits a Plot to Kill Margaret Thatcher". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 October 2018.
  27. ^ Burke, Declan (18 January 2014). "Gripping RUC thriller has Troubles in mind". Irish Examiner. Retrieved 10 October 2018.
  28. ^ "Polaris - For All Mankind (Season 3, Episode 1) - Apple TV+". 9 June 2022.


Further reading[edit]

  • Charles Moore, Margaret Thatcher: At Her Zenith (2016) Vol. 2: pp. 309–16
  • Kieran Hughes, Terror Attack Brighton: Blowing up the Iron Lady (2014)
  • Steve Ramsey, Something Has Gone Wrong: Dealing with the Brighton Bomb (2018)
  • Rory Carroll, Killing Thatcher: The IRA, the Manhunt and the Long War on the Crown (published in the US as There Will Be Fire: Margaret Thatcher, the IRA, and Two Minutes That Changed History) (2023)