The imposing Grand Hotel on Brighton’s seafront has often been the first choice of British political parties for their annual party conferences. On October 12 1984 it was fully occupied by the Conservative Party. As usual, the best suites and rooms facing the sea were occupied by the most important people: Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her most senior Cabinet colleagues and friends.
The predictability of it all was a gift to the Provisional IRA. Three weeks earlier, long before security teams began to check the hotel, one of them had stayed as a guest and planted a huge bomb among the VIP rooms upstairs. The explosion at 02.54 in the morning tore the front wall off the Grand Hotel, collapsed eight floors vertically on top of one another, killed five and maimed 34 people.
Mrs Thatcher wasn’t among them.
Her incredible luck (and the sturdy Victorian construction of the building) left Mrs Thatcher on her feet to preside over the propaganda of the aftermath. The shattered debris of the Grand Hotel was intended by the IRA to showcase the destruction of the political elite and the futility of their democratic notions. The disaster for Britain is that in the end it did. Despite the personal courage of the Thatchers, Tebbits and dozens more, the hotel bombing led to the creation of a ‘ring of steel’ around senior members of the political establishment.
When: October 12 1984
Where: Grand Hotel, Brighton, Sussex, UK
Death toll: The bomb killed five and left 34 injured. Among the injured were Trade and Industry Secretary Norman Tebbit and his wife. Tebbit made a full recovery but his wife was permanently confined to a wheelchair. Some years later the couple’s legendary courage came to be valued as transcending politics, and as the embodiment of a Churchillian spark which would be an asset to any political force.
You should know: ln the middle of the rescue operation, and mindful that his boss intended to open the Conference that morning on time, Conservative Party Treasurer Alistair McAlpine arranged for Marks and Spencer to open early so that everyone who had lost their clothes in the attack could get new ones.