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Page last updated at 11:19 GMT, Monday, 2 November 2009
MAG: Manchester's best kept secret

MAG deminer lifting anti-personnel mine

Scientific discovery, sporting greatness, the world's first modern city - Manchester has much to be proud of. But it all seems to pale compared to the achievements of its best kept secret, MAG.

Since it was established in 1989, the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) charity has quietly gone about its business organising the disarming and destruction of millions of landmines, bombs and other tools of armed conflict around the world.

Tom Morgan in Laos

Its work has spared countless numbers of innocent people from death, amputation or serious disfigurement and helped communities all over the world to reclaim their land and rebuild their lives.

In fact, MAG has arguably saved more lives than any other organisation on the planet.

Its campaign work to ban the use of anti-personnel mines was recognised with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 and won support from none other than Diana, Princess of Wales.

Yet this life-changing humanitarian operation, active in 17 current and former conflict zones around the world, is controlled right here, from the charity's headquarters on Sackville Street in the centre of Manchester.


MAG's story begins 20 years ago, and is the remarkable achievement of two brothers, Rae and Lou McGrath.

Princess Diana in minefield
Princess Diana was a leading figure in the campaign to ban landmines

Speaking in 1997, Rae, a former soldier, said was so horrified by the landmine injuries he'd witnessed in Afghanistan that he decided to do something about it.

"I can remember being up in the hills in Paktia and coming across the remains of this little kid, you know, blown up by a landmine," he said.

"But nobody knew where he came from. He must have died up there on his own…."

Adding: "I can't see a problem and then sit around and say well somebody's going to come and solve this. I have always been a person who without thinking is going to try and solve it myself.…"

For the next two years, Rae and Lou worked out of a caravan in Cumbria laying the foundations for what would become the most recognised and respected mine action organisation in the world.

Peace Prize

Fast forward to 2009, and MAG's nerve centre is a bustling four-storey headquarters in the heart of Manchester overseeing a worldwide workforce of more than 3,500 in 17 current and former conflict zones around the globe.

In 1997, MAG was honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for its life-saving work and the role it played persuading governments to sign the Ottawa treaty to ban anti-personnel mines.

Just months earlier Princess Diana had visited Angola to see landmine clearance work for herself and the publicity surrounding her trip was absolutely crucial to the campaign.


No country has suffered more from the effects of unexploded ordnance than Laos, which was secretly bombed by the Americans during the Vietnam War without the US Congress even knowing about it.

Lou McGrath
If no-one does anything about these munitions we're leaving a terrible legacy.
Lou McGrath, MAG director

Three generations later people live with the consequences every day, being killed and injured by the bombs that were dropped.

Detecting landmines takes a sharp eye and a steady hand and nerve.

MAG has trained thousands of field workers to perform this dangerous task and has an excellent safety record. But there is no such thing as total safety in mine clearance.

The alternative is to leave mines that can kill and maim in the ground for ever. But as MAG director Lou McGrath insists, doing nothing is not an option.

"If no-one does anything about these munitions we're leaving a terrible legacy and it's from this office here in Manchester, with these 3,500 staff that we have around the world, which is actually solving that problem."

MAG patron and former BBC war correspondent Martin Bell presents a special Inside Out Northwest programme on MAG on Monday 2 November, 7.30pm.

MAG: audio diary from Laos
10 Nov 09 |  People & Places
In pictures: 20 years of MAG
03 Nov 09 |  People & Places
Clearing landmines in Iraq
29 Aug 08 |  In Pictures



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