Manchester IRA Bomb – 1996

The Provisional IRA loved nothing better than a ‘spectacular’, and few attacks fitted the bill more impressively than the massive car bomb planted in the center of Manchester in June 1996. Thanks to a telephone warning to the local television station no Mancunians were killed, but property damage was truly awesome.

In February 1996 the IRA ended a two-year ceasefire during which its political wing Sinn Fein had negotiated with the British government. Six bombs rocked London, starting with a device that killed two people near Canary Wharf on the Isle of Dogs, before the bombers turned to Manchester. A 1,400 kg (3,000 lb) bomb in a Ford Cargo van was parked in Corporation Street near the Arndale shopping center. The telephone warning was given at 09.43 and the huge task of evacuating 80,000 people from the area began. It was completed by 10.46 when the bomb squad moved in and tried to neutralize the bomb using a robot. The attempt failed when, at 11.17, the largest peacetime bomb ever detonated in Britain exploded, destroying or damaging a third of the city center’s retail space. Behind the barriers, over 200 people were hurt, mostly by flying glass, including seven who were seriously injured.

Nobody was ever charged with the Manchester bombing, much less convicted. Ironically – though six men thought to be responsible for the planning were jailed in connection with other offences – the only people to face charges in connection with the attack were a policeman and a newspaper reporter. The former was charged with leaking the information that Greater Manchester Police had a prime suspect the Crown Prosecution Service refused to prosecute. He was acquitted.

The newspaper reporter who broke the story was found to be in contempt of court for refusing to name his source.

When: June 15 1996

Where: Manchester, UK

Toll: Thanks to the prior warning and speedy evacuation, nobody was killed, though 212 were injured, including a pregnant woman who was thrown 4.5 m (15 ft) into the air by the blast. Property damage was extensive, requiring major reconstruction accompanied by much new building and general regeneration of the city, insurers paid out £411 million in claims, but the total bill was estimated at £700 million.

You should know: A red pillar-box stood close to the center of the massive explosion, but survived the blast and even protected the mail within. It now bears a modest brass plaque commemorating the event.

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