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Last Updated: Saturday, 20 November, 2004, 13:44 GMT
Ex-detective relives bomb memory
John Plimmer
The pub bombings changed John Plimmer's life
The 30th anniversary of the Birmingham pub bombings will be particularly poignant for John Plimmer, a former detective with West Midlands Police.

One of the first officers to deal with the aftermath, he will be reunited for the first time with two former colleagues who were also at the scene.

Mr Plimmer had been in the Tavern in the Town pub minutes before the first bomb went off.

He told BBC News he was unable to talk about the events for years.

What we came across really was total devastation
John Plimmer

As he recalled the events of that horrific night, Mr Plimmer described how he had a narrow escape.

Along with colleague Mike Davey, he had been investigating an armed robbery at the nearby Odeon cinema in New Street when they walked into the Tavern in the Town for a drink.

He had suggested staying for another but his colleague said he had work to finish at Digbeth police station where they were both based.

Barely 10 minutes after leaving the pub and walking past the Mulberry Bush at the foot of the Rotunda tower, they heard the first explosion.

Initially they thought the Rotunda had been hit and there was some confusion over the location but eventually they realised it was actually the Tavern in the Town in New Street.

"If Mike had said yes to that second drink, we probably wouldn't be here today," Mr Plimmer said.

"What we came across really was total devastation."

Mr Plimmer, who was 23 at the time, recalled seeing scores of badly injured people who were screaming, moaning and in obvious pain.

He says the horror of the situation dawned on him when he saw a young girl looking up at him.

"I tried to reassure her... told her we would get her out and don't worry, be patient.

"As I lifted her, her head fell to one side, the back of her head was missing completely.

"Suddenly I was holding a corpse. That really brought it home to you."

Rescue efforts

Injured people were carried out of the pub up two flights of stairs and then put down on the pavement outside New Street.

Everyone who was at the scene rushed to help, including taxi drivers who queued down the length of New Street to take casualties to hospital.

Mr Plimmer said: "It was all off the cuff, a sort of 'do what you can and don't stop' until we were happy we had cleared the area of people who were alive."

He and his colleague worked through the night from the time of the first explosion at 1950 GMT until 0600 GMT.

As they worked, they heard about the second bomb at the Mulberry Bush pub.

Every 21st November, you remember what happened that night.
John Plimmer

For Mr Plimmer, who retired from West Midlands Police in 1998, and his former colleagues the experience was surreal with events occurring in slow motion.

He says they all felt like they were divorced from reality watching themselves go through the motions.

It was only after he left the scene with Mr Davey that the real impact hit him.

"Having that experience at a young age, of course it has an effect on you, you remember it throughout your life.

"Every 21st November, you remember what happened that night."

A BBC documentary - 30 Years On: The Birmingham Bombings - due to be screened on Sunday, reunites Mr Plimmer and Mr Davey along with another colleague Maggie Adams for the first time.

All three were unable to talk about events for many years after 1974.

Mr Plimmer said: "It did change our lives, it changed my life in that it was a memory I could have long done without."

But he says his experience can never measure against those of the victims who suffered and the families of those who died 30 years ago.

  • 30 Years On: The Birmingham Bombings, will be shown on BBC1 on 21 November at 2035 GMT

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