Page last updated at 09:22 GMT, Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Files reveal 1970s IRA 'targets'

Letter concerning possible IRA target list
The list was found at a flat used by the gang as a bomb-making factory

Police found a list of potential IRA bombing targets, including Buckingham Palace, during a raid in London in 1975, newly released files show.

Hundreds of names, including those of MPs and soldiers, was found in a flat used by the IRA's Balcombe Street gang.

The four-man unit carried out a series of bombings and murders in the 1970s.

National Archive files show that Prime Minister Harold Wilson was told about the police find, but he was told that it did not represent a "death list".

The Balcombe Street gang - made up of Martin O'Connell, Edward Butler, Harry Duggan and Hugh Doherty - carried out a series of terrorist attacks, including the Guildford and Woolwich pub bombings in 1974, which killed seven people.

Another of their victims was broadcaster and co-founder of the Guinness Book of Records Ross McWhirter, who was shot dead outside his home on 27 November, 1975.

Shortly before the killing, Mr McWhirter had offered a reward of £50,000 for information leading to the arrest of those responsible for several IRA bombings.

He had also argued that all Irish people living in Britain should be made to register with their local police force.

Power stations

The gang was captured by police on 12 December 1975 after a six-day siege at a flat in Balcombe Street, central London.

It was after this that officers came across the list in another flat in Stoke Newington, north London, which was used by them as bomb factory.

It is a compilation of a vast amount of low-grade 'intelligence' material
Bill Innes
Private secretary at the Home Office

The list included major London tourist attractions such as the British Museum and Madame Tussauds, as well as sites including the Queen's Gallery in Buckingham Palace, Sandhurst military academy and the Stock Exchange.

There were also a number of less well-known targets, including power stations and sewage works around the capital.

In addition, the material contained the dates and venues of some specific functions, such as events held by the Law Society and the Royal Welsh Fusiliers.

The original document handed to Mr Wilson was 86 pages long, but large sections have not been made public.

Among those excluded are 23 pages listing "MPs, Lords and other civilian personnel", nine pages listing police officers and police premises and 35 pages listing military personnel.

In a covering letter to the document, Bill Innes, then private secretary at the Home Office, stressed that it was not a "death list".

He wrote: "It is a compilation of a vast amount of low-grade 'intelligence' material found in the flat, which has yet to be assessed and evaluated, and no significance or meaning can be attached to any of the names on the list."

Extract from possible list of IRA targets
An extract from the letter shows some of the high-profile locations

Mr Wilson later added notes to that letter, remarking that the material was "scrappy" and pointing out that some of the details were out of date.

He urged Scotland Yard to verify the information, writing: "No doubt they will check to see how many are dead, or changed jobs or address - as a guide to age of each piece of paper."

The prime minister also drew a tick and wrote "Yes" alongside a request that the contents of the document should not be revealed to any of the people on it.

The Balcombe Street four were jailed for life in 1977, but were freed in 1999 under the Good Friday Agreement.

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