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1984: Memories of the Brighton bomb"Today we were unlucky, but remember we only have to be lucky once - you will have to be lucky always."
This was the IRA's chilling statement soon after they had carried out the attempted assassination of the British Cabinet at The Grand Hotel, Brighton, 20 years ago.
The Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, survived but five people were killed as a result of the massive explosion and the nation went into a state of shock when news of the blast emerged.
I was not there for the explosion but being a member of Sussex Police at the time I was soon called out and brought into action in Brighton.
After the initial sense of shock at seeing a place I knew well on Breakfast TV, I found myself on the seafront looking at the same scenes.
There was property floating on the sea, bits of verandas embedded into objects on the other side of the road and dust and debris everywhere.
As a Traffic Officer I was given the task of driving one of the Cabinet around the town which included visiting the injured at the Royal Sussex County Hospital.
I can also recall recovering delegates cars from the multi storey car parks and reuniting them with their owners.
I remember the front line of press with Kate Adie presenting news after news live to the nation and the world.
I was proud to have played my small part in the operation at Brighton.
I was a school boy at the time of the Brighton bombing, attending Brighton College.
I was in France on a school exchange trip when I heard the news and I tried frantically to contact my father who was attending the conference and staying in the Metropole Hotel next door to The Grand.
He was safe, though had the bomb been detonated minutes earlier, he would have been in the bar with other delegates enjoying a late drink.
Several of my friends in the Conservative Party still have difficulty discussing what happened in the early hours that day - they continue to suffer very real trauma and medical problems as a result of that attack.
At the time I was both the Young Conservative Kent and South East Chairman.
On the night of the 11th October we had organised a disco in a basement function room of one of the hotels about a quarter of a mile from the Grand Hotel.
The disco started around 10.00 pm and went on to about 2.00am, when most people left to return to their various hotels.
Due to being in a basement room, I had not heard the explosion and had no inkling of what had just occurred as the emergency services had not yet arrived at the Grand.
I remember walking towards the Grand, as my hotel was in the same direction and had noticed a blue flashing light of a police car further up the seafront.
There was also a man walking about 20 metres in front of me, also heading in the direction of the Grand. I also noticed a girl running towards the man in front of me, who appeared to be crying.
As she passed the man, he asked her why she was upset and I heard her say something like "The hotel had gone".
As she passed me I also asked her what was wrong and she replied that "the front of the hotel had gone". I replied what hotel and she replied "The Grand".
I then hurried towards the blue flashing light and on arrival was appalled by the devastation to the front of the Grand Hotel - it was just incredible.
A large cloud of dust was coming out of the entrance, together with guests covered in dust being helped by fellow hotel guests.
The police were now beginning to arrive in some force and were now setting up a cordon around the hotel and assisting in the evacuation.
Also by now, a number of onlookers including some of my friends were beginning to arrive; we all ended up standing on the opposite side of the road. Victims were now being brought over to our side of the road.
At about this time, a BBC news crew had turned up and I remember a woman screaming at them to go away and leave the victims alone.
Another memory of the evening concerned the Metropole Hotel next door to the Grand. I knew that a number of the victims had been taken into the hotel; however they had to be evacuated along with all the resident guests due to a new security alert.
Among these was Sir Keith Joseph who was in pyjamas and dressing gown.
A little bit later someone in the crowd announced that the Prime Minister was OK and a little cheer went up from amongst the onlookers.
I know I'll never forget 12 October 1984.
I was 16 in 1984 and attending my first party conference. I had worked ridiculous hours the previous summer to be able to afford the trip south to Brighton.
I remember that, with my conference pass, it was possible to go anywhere. We frequently spent time in the Grand, and I had my photograph taken with many cabinet members. They were all so "accessible" then.
As a 16-year-old, alcohol inevitably played a role in my life, and we generally ended up at the Grand each night simply because it was the one bar in Brighton that was guaranteed to be open late.
I forget what we did on Thursday night, but we did end up at the Grand. We left the hotel 30 minutes before the bomb, to go back to our hotel just five minutes along the front, where I promptly fell into a deep, drunken sleep.
I remember being asked, "Did you hear the bomb last night?", which seemed downright surreal until I learned what had happened.
Friday was Thatcher's birthday, as well as being the climax of the conference, and the day centred around her speech. There was no question of plans being changed - the conference had to go on as normal, if for no other reason than to show solidarity.
I think she got a standing ovation for over an hour. But it was the day that changed politics in Britain for ever.
I went to one more conference before becoming disillusioned, the next year in Blackpool.
Armed police officers, including rooftop snipers, were commonplace. It was the first time I'd seen real guns, and it was even rumoured that a destroyer was lying offshore, just in case.
Politics had very much lost a degree of innocence, things would never be the same again.
I worked for a company called Kalle Infotec who had the government contract for fax machines and I was sent to the Grand Hotel on the Wednesday morning to show the PM's Office how to operate the machine.
Unfortunately, due to the urgency of the appointment, no paperwork was raised.
On the Wednesday morning, I turned up outside the Grand Hotel in a bright blue dress, purely coincidental, after all I was only about 22.
I attracted the attention of a young police officer and told him that I had an appointment in the Prime Minister's Office.
He told me that he didn't have the authority to let me pass through the barriers so he called his "Sarg" (his words not mine) and I explained my predicament to the sergeant.
After smiling at me he replied "It's OK. You can pass. Your don't look like a terrorist!" This is true, can you believe it? On the Friday the words didn't seem so funny.
I attended an English course in Brighton. October 12, 1984 was my second last day in England, the last day of school.
I had a room in the house of a Brighton couple. My older sister, who was on her way to Manchester, stayed with me that night. We heard the fire engines early in the morning.
When we got up at around 7 o'clock, my landlady was watching TV in the kitchen. I remember the picture of the hole in the middle of the building, of the bright lights, of Mrs Thatcher, deadly pale, saying something about 'the conference will go on as usual', and that democracy will not fail.
That moment, I realized what 'stiff upper lip' meant, and since I very much respect her, even if I am still doubtful about many aspects of her politics. My sister had to go back to London that day and there had to change trains. It took her many, many hours to get to Manchester, because on that same day there was a train accident.
In the evening, I wanted to go shopping for souvenirs in Oxford Street. Suddenly, there was a cordon of policemen, people were walking out of shops, I heard the word 'bomb'. My English being what it was (even after a two weeks' course), it took me a while to figure out what was going on: a bomb threat.
Everybody was calm, just walking out of the shops (including the people working in the shops), the police slowly progressing and evacuating all the buildings. Of course, I was rather excited and upset.
When I got back to may landlady's place, her husband was watching TV. I told him everything. His calm answer was about as follows: 'That's what they always do'! Again I was very impressed. (The gentleman in question flew with the RAF in WWII and drifted a couple of days in the Channel after his plane was shot down, so he obviously had seen worse.)
This experience, and others since, made me believe, that the English get calmer and more composed the ghastlier events are. I am convinced that this way of handling things, calmly, with a cool head, and reasonably, has to be adopted by every country and every indidivual, if terrorism shall be fought successfully.
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