Different world 20 years on from Brixton bomb
A fascist nail-bombing campaign which had London gripped with fear for weeks was launched exactly two decades ago today at 5.25pm in Brixtons busy market.
Miraculously, no one was killed by the explosion in the black capital of Europe, early on a Saturday evening. But 48 were injured, many seriously. It eventually turned out that the atrocity was carried out by a white, lone wolf attempting to trigger a race war. Sound familiar?
A south Londoner, I was living in my native Brixton at the time. And I was editor of weekly British-Asian national red-top tabloid Eastern Eye, based in east Londons Bethnal Green, a stones throw away from the Bangladeshi capital of Europe, Brick Lane. Somehow, our little paper found itself at the centre of the story.
Growing up in an ethnic minority area, my gut instinct about the attack was that it was racially-motivated. So I decided to go with the speculative, front-page headline: BRIXTON BOMB: SOUTHALL NEXT?
It was just a theory. But Southall, west London, is the Indian subcontinent capital of Europe and seemed like the natural next target, for me. However, some colleagues accused me of scaremongering. I took the point but decided to phone the publisher. He backed me, although probably just because he thought my headline would sell papers.
The following Saturday, an Asian, local resident spotted an unattended holdall on Brick Lane, east London. He took it to the part-time police station there. But it was closed, so he put it in the boot of his car, where it went off just moments later as he was dialling 999. There were 13 injuries, though there would almost certainly have been fatalities had it not been for the drivers actions. Each device of the campaign contained up to 1,500 four to six-inch nails.
We got racist mail most days at Eastern Eye but after the Brick Lane bomb, something stuck out in my mind about a particular bit of correspondence written in the style of a poison pen letter, which we had received a few days before the Brixton bomb. It was supposedly a warning from The White Wolves, a splinter group from neo-Nazi terrorist organisation Combat 18.
We reported the letter to the police immediately. A few days later, we got a phone call saying: “You will be next.”
I cant remember exactly how the mainstream media got wind of the White Wolves angle but things kicked off for Eastern Eye after that. Reporters from all the national papers descended on our office. A series of senior Asian journalists also came just to chat to me. Apparently, there was a lot of interest back home, in the Indian subcontinent. And I got invited to the Private Eye Editors Lunch.
I must have done at least half a dozen TV appearances on the back of the White Wolves letter and my prediction. But I drew the line when a Japanese broadcaster wanted to interview me. I did a dozen or more radio slots and, at 6am on LBC, veteran broadcaster Anne Diamond told me to go back to bed. To this day, I have absolutely no idea what I said.
I was quoted on another station saying the Met were glorified football stewards for not keeping the part-time police station open that fateful Saturday. If we, as journalists, sensed that the Brixton bomb was racially-motivated, surely the Met should have sensed that, too. We advised people in black and Asian areas to look out for unattended bags in our editorial which was published the day before the Brick Lane bomb. There was no such advice from the police.
I had hoped the football steward line would get quickly lost in the fog of war. Unfortunately, they played the quote every 15 minutes for hour upon hour. Ominously, a detective came to see me the next day at the office and we chatted for ages. He started by asking me to describe Eastern Eye and I said that up to this week, it was the Asian Sun…but without the tits. He fired back: So were there tits this week?!
I saw the funny side but it was a toxic atmosphere on the surrounding, desolate streets. Unattended hoax bags were being left all around, presumably to scare the Bangladeshi community. I came across a few myself. And I was in a Burger King branch in nearby Aldgate when I spotted an unattended holdall. I instructed the staff to call the police but a few moments later, an Asian guy emerged from the toilets and said it was his. Idiot.
Eastern Eye had two ex-Army security guards during that period. On a sunny afternoon in the middle of all this, they vigorously evacuated our office building. I was quite close to them and one gave me some chewing gum, saying it would help calm my nerves. SAS training. It turned out that, just across the street, there was a car with a bag on the back seat.
The gates to the yard behind the office building were locked, which meant we couldnt fully evacuate. So the guards ordered us, perhaps 50 people, to kneel down, place our heads in our laps and put fingers in our ears. A few moments later, crouching in the yard, we heard a little pop from out the front. A gratefully-received anti-climax. It was a police detonator under the car being used to create a controlled explosion in case there was anything major to detonate. There wasnt.
An ex-Eastern Eye friend phoned me to ask if it was a publicity stunt because the nations media had been gripped for hours by the drama. Meanwhile, all the talk from Bangladeshis was how the Brick Lane police station had been closed. On the Tuesday, I wrote a front page comment piece on how we had seen institutionalised racism in action on the part of the police. Headline: STOP BOMBERS BEFORE THEY KILL.
On the Thursday, I attended a press conference at New Scotland Yard, where the Met unveiled a specially-enhanced CCTV image of a suspect. I took the opportunity to ask about the closure of Brick Lane police station. But a correspondent from a certain national paper next to me sneered: Were not here for polemics.
Met Assistant Commissioner David Veness locked eyes with me from across the room and told me that everything was being done to protect ethnic minorities, in a booming, baritone voice, which was quite intimidating. My question was perfectly legitimate, especially as I was representing the British-Asian community. At least Veness took the question seriously.
I turned to the correspondent as things broke up and he didnt seem quite so cocky when it was just the two of us. I told him it wasnt up to him what questions I asked, adding: Youre just lucky were inside Scotland Yard.
Although I knew it to be untrue, such was my sense that the bombs were following me around, I went away for the weekend on the Friday with my then girlfriend to see a friend in Dublin. That evening, I heard a bomb had gone off at The Admiral Duncan pub in Soho, the heart of Londons gay community. Three people — including a pregnant woman — were killed and 79 were injured, many seriously. Four had to have limbs amputated.
Up to then, there had been little clue that homosexuals would be targeted, which meant it had become a fascist bombing campaign, as opposed to simply racially-motivated. On the night of the Soho bombing, David Copeland, then 22, was arrested at his home, a rented room in Cove, Hampshire, after being recognised in the CCTV image by an associate. He was a Neo-Nazi militant, a former member of the BNP and then the National Socialist Movement, thought to be the political wingRead More – Source[contf] [contfnew]