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Remembering the Brick Lane bombing 20 years on

PUBLISHED: 07:00 24 April 2019

Wreckage of a Ford Sierra at the scene of the nail bombing in Brick Lane on April 24, 1999. Picture: PA Archives

Wreckage of a Ford Sierra at the scene of the nail bombing in Brick Lane on April 24, 1999. Picture: PA Archives

PA Archive/PA Images

Twenty years ago, Brick Lane was the scene of destruction and devastation when a nail bomb exploded.

A nail found near the scene in Brick Lane after the explosion. Picture: PA ArchivesA nail found near the scene in Brick Lane after the explosion. Picture: PA Archives

Thankfully, nobody was killed or seriously injured in the attack - one of three carried out during April 1999.

The targets - which also included Brixton Market and the Admiral Duncan pub in Soho - were deliberately selected because of the communities they were popular with.

Thirteen people were injured in the Brick Lane bombing on April 24, 1999 - but things could have been a lot worse.

It was just a week after a similiar device had gone off in Brixton, injuring 39, and people were on high alert.

The scene in Brick Lane after the bomb exploded. Picture: PA ArchivesThe scene in Brick Lane after the bomb exploded. Picture: PA Archives

At around 5.45pm on a Saturday afternoon, eagle-eyed member of the public spotted an abandoned sports bag in Hanbury Street and took it to the nearest police station, in Brick Lane.

The station was closed, so he put it into his car boot - where it exploded just moments later. Police believe that the bomb exploding in the boot, rather than in the street, saved lives.

Another factor was the tradition of Brick Lane to shut on Saturdays because of the Jewish Sabbath, and open on Sundays instead.

Although much of the area's Jewish population had moved away, the trading hours remained - meaning Brick Lane was relatively empty when the bomb went off.

Police officers at the scene. Picture: PA ArchivesPolice officers at the scene. Picture: PA Archives

The anniversary is set to be remembered by organisation 17-24-30 National Hate Crime Awareness Week, which takes its name from the dates of the three bomb attacks - April 17, 24 and 30.

The commemoration is being organised by Mark Healey, who was a regular at the Admiral Duncan but was at work at the time of the pub's bombing, which claimed the lives of three people.

“There are records of something happening one year after the bombings, but nothing after that,” he said.

“Coming up to the 10th anniversary [in 2009], I read an article saying that the community didn't want to commemorate it.

Home secretary in 1999 Jack Straw with the then-Bethnal Green and Bow MP Oona King visiting the scene of the bombing. Picture: PA ArchivesHome secretary in 1999 Jack Straw with the then-Bethnal Green and Bow MP Oona King visiting the scene of the bombing. Picture: PA Archives

“I set up a Facebook group and within a month, 2,000 people joined, showing people did want to remember what happened.”

The Brick Lane event is set to take place at 6pm on Wednesday, April 24, where three candles will be lit to remember the three communities that were attacked and the three people who died.

Trudy Howson, the LGBT poet laureate, will read a poem, and volunteers will hand out hate crime information and reporting cards.

“Every year we get people approach us to talk about their experiences,” Mark said.

“We try and signpost them to existing organisations that can help them.”

He also encouraged people as well as to attend the gathering outside the Admiral Duncan at 5pm on Tuesday, April 30.

It is the biggest of the three commemorative events to be held each year and aims to bring the black, Bangladeshi and gay communities - the three targets of the bombings - together to remember what happened.

Rushanara Ali, MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, said: “It is 20 years on since the Brick Lane nail bomb terrorist attack, one of three horrific far-right terror attacks carried out across London in 1999.

“A lone Neo-Nazi targeted London's Asian, Black and LGBT communities, in an attempt to stir up fear and hatred. We remember the victims of this horrific attack.

“The threat of international and domestic terrorism both from the far right and religious extremists has been on the rise in the past two decades, including with the very recent attacks in New Zealand and Sri Lanka which have cost the lives of so many innocent people and injured hundreds of people. My thoughts are with all the victims of terrorism and their friends and families.

“This anniversary should be a reminder that we must redouble our efforts to fight all forms of hate, extremism and terrorism and ensure there no place for hate crime and intolerance

Met Police Commander Mark McEwan said: “Two decades have passed since these abhorrent attacks which left an indelible mark on London. “Our thoughts are with everyone affected - those who lost their lives, their family and loved ones, and all of the people who survived the attacks and continue to live with the physical and psychological trauma of what happened.”

“The anniversary of these atrocities serve as a reminder that we can never be complacent in dealing with extremism and people who harbour radical views based on racial, religious and other forms of prejudice.”

David Copeland, of Hampshire, was handed six life sentences in June 2000 after being found guilty of three counts of murder and for planting the three homemande devices. A 2007 High Court hearing later revised that to 50 years.

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