It was just a week after the IRA’s “Balcombe Street Siege” unit had been arrested in December 1975 – the unit’s members shown surrendering from the flat where they had taken hostages in a vain attempt to escape capture – and when Londoners thought the threat of more bombings and murders had receded that another no-warning bomb exploded in London.
The IRA “Balcombe Street Siege” unit had murdered Ross McWhirter [one of the founders of The Guinness Book of Records] a month earlier at his front door after he had announced a £50,000 cash reward for information leading to their arrest.
Shortly after 8pm on a freezing foggy Saturday evening, December 20 1975, in “Biddy Mulligan’s” pub in the largely Irish neighbourhood of Kilburn, North London, bar manager John Constantine asked a teenage youth to allow him see inside a duffel bag he was carrying.
The youth refused and left the bar which was crowded with some 90 customers five days before Christmas.
Forty-five minutes later, at approximately 9pm, a bomb weighing between 3 and 5 pounds exploded in the porch of the pub causing devastation and, miraculously, injuring only 5 customers seriously enough to warrant hospital treatment.
Biddy Mulligan’s pub was a well-known Irish pub frequented by members and supporters of London Sinn Féin where, it was alleged, regular collections of cash amounted one year to £17,000.
The IRA’s “Balcombe Street” unit had only recently practiced [contrary to the claim of the BBC’s Peter Taylor] “no warning” bomb attacks against ‘upper class’ restaurants such as Scott’s Oyster Bar [1 dead, 15 seriously injured] and Walton’s Restaurant [2 dead, 20 seriously injured] in the weeks preceding their siege and capture.
So who had planted a ‘no warning’ bomb in the porch of an Irish pub five days before Christmas and just days after the world had watched the surrender of the IRA gang on television?
In fact, if the teenage Biddy Mulligan’s bomber had not been challenged by the bar manager, the bomb might have exploded inside the bar with entirely different consequences.
The Biddy Mulligan’s Pub bomb was claimed back in Northern Ireland by the Ulster Defence Association, the UDA, which said one of its ‘associate units’ had carried out the attack on a bar frequented by IRA members/supporters.
Apparently, the UDA had a habit of claiming UVF ‘jobs’ that did not trouble the UVF which enjoyed the deflection of police action while it lasted.
Within 24 hours, a 17-year-old Northern Ireland youth was arrested at a hotel in London along with his girlfriend – seemingly unaware of the degree of police surveillance in London brought about by the sustained IRA campaign.
Apparently in order to clear his girlfriend, Alexander Brown, an apprentice chef from Dufferin Avenue, Bangor, admitted his part in the bombing and stated that his UVF commander in Bangor had asked him a few weeks before if he would be willing to participate in the London bombing against the IRA – to which he had instantly agreed.
Shortly afterwards, three men were arrested in Scotland and were brought to London.
One of them, 30-year-old Samuel Carson from Ballyree Drive, Bangor, a storeman and part-time UDR member, admitted that he was the UVF commander of the bomb unit.
Noel Moore Boyd, from Glen Bryn Drive, Belfast, 20 years old and an electrician, had admitted making the bomb in London and inserting the detonator into the explosives. Noel was also a part-time member of the UDR.
The other man was a 40-year-old Scot, Archibald McGregor Brown, of Pine Place, Cumbernauld, who admitted giving support to the unit and false alibis.
These Ulster Volunteer Force bombers never expected to be in a courtroom – or in a prison transport truck – alongside the IRA Balcombe Street Siege unit.
As far as the average Londoner was aware, the IRA Balcombe Street Siege murderers and bombers and the UVF Biddy Mulligan’s Pub bombers were – together – unwanted terrorists.
Very few people in London could tell the difference between a UVF terrorist and an IRA terrorist.
Two members of the UVF unit pleaded guilty and two tried to plead innocence at the trial a year later, to no avail.
The court case got exactly the same media coverage as an IRA terrorist trial.
The UVF unit members were later sentenced to a total of 51 years in prison for a bombing that showed an ability to plant a bomb in London in the middle of an IRA campaign, but which – like many of the IRA units then and thereafter – failed to perfect a getaway plan.
I was ‘on remand’ in the tiny High Security “A” Segregation Unit in Brixton Prison when Sammy, Noel, Alex and Archibald McGregor were brought in following their arrest and remand to prison.
I got talking with Sammy and Noel and we became friendly.
Young Alex and the older Archibald McGregor from Cumbernauld could not – at that time – bring themselves to talk to a 20-year-old IRA bomber, but they mellowed over the next few months as we faced into our trials a year later.
Sammy, Noel and I shared our experiences of desiring to bomb targets in London.
They were open with me about their part-time UDR membership.
It was hardly any different from the IRA members who were in the Irish Guards and Irish Army – the first ever IRA bomber in England to have his face and name printed in the press as England’s Most Wanted was Irish Guardsman Kieran McMorrow – wanted for London bombings and later, along with Marlene Coyle, for the M62 coach bombing which murdered men, women and children.
So I spent a goodly part of my time before my trial in “A” Seg with the UVF London bombers, the youngest of whom, Alex, at 17 years of age, reminded me of my entry into the Provisional IRA at 15 years of age at the invitation of another 15-year-old, Paul O’Connor – the only difference being that Paul O’Connor/Director of the Pat Finucane Centre began a trajectory of lies and denials lasting until last year…
The extraordinary fact about the recent claims by Irish nationalist politicians concerning possible ‘dissident’ New IRA attacks on border infrastructure is that the mere THREAT of attacks was sufficient to drive democratic political policy on a grand scale.
The alleged tiny number of dissidents didn’t even have to explode a single border bomb to achieve and be granted an enormous degree of political influence.
The Provisional IRA caused £1Billion of damage to Bishopsgate financial district in April of 1993 to finally win desired immunity from prosecution for its Army Council leadership and OTR letters for its wanted ‘volunteers’.
If we have allowed the oft-mentioned mere THREAT of possible dissident IRA border violence to drive and shape political agreements and protocols, why wouldn’t that same THREAT template be used by others of a similar extreme pedigree?
The Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland has stated that dissident IRA weaponry is left over material from the Provisional IRA stocks, material which was NOT decommissioned, and that the threat of dissident violence is the deciding factor in relation to policing and border policy.
Democratic politicians have blown up the THREAT of dissident IRA violence to a size that entirely surpasses the actual CAPACITY of the current dissident IRA organisation.
We may live to regret such exaggeration and pandering to mere threats.
Sauce for the threatening Green Goose may yet turn out to be sauce for the threatening Orange Gander.