White doves released over Canary Wharf as survivors mark 20th anniversary of IRA bombing
- Credit: Archant
White doves of peace were released in the bright sunshine today as survivors turned up to remember the 1996 IRA bombing that killed two men, injured 50 people and devastated a community in London’s East End. A memorial service was staged at South Quay close to where the Semtex device packed into a lorry parked next to Inam Bashire’s news kiosk exploded, wrecking the Midland Bank office block opposite.
Inam, 29, was killed outright, along with his assistant John Jeffries, 27, while dozens of staff were trapped in the bank HQ.
Inam’s brother Ihsan, now 50, returned to release the first of the 20 doves.
Another was released by one of the bank security guards at the time, Jonathan Ganesh, who managed to dig himself out of the rubble and help others to safety—despite his own injuries in the explosion at 7pm on February 9, 1996.
Jonathan later set up the Docklands Victims Association which is still fighting 20 years on to get compensation for relatives and survivors for the explosion caused by Semtex supplied to the IRA by Libya’s Colonel Gadaffi.
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Local MP Jim Fitzpatrick is pushing the campaign in Parliament and has just secured a half-hour Commons debate next Tuesday, he revealed today.
“It’s an opportunity to get the Government minister to listen and respond to our point,” the MP told the East London Advertiser.
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“I’ve got years of campaigning to put to the Minister and will be asking why the Libyan assets frozen by the government some years ago can’t be used for compensation.
“The government must concede. It has a compensation case to answer for UK citizens, but has done nothing.
“It’s going to be a long fight—but we’ll continue till we see light at the end of the tunnel.”
Backing for the campaign has come form Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs, who was working in the nearby Town Hall when the bomb went off and is now, 20 years on, calling for a change in the law.
He urged: “The victims of terrorist bombings should be able to secure the same level compensation in mainland Britain as they do in Northern Ireland.
“There’s a gap in the legislated provision. The government needs to amend the law.”
Mayor Biggs has written to the Secretary of State pressing for action.
“It would be the right thing to do,” he added. “It’s not a massive cost to the Exchequer, but an important act to demonstrate our understanding of the suffering people experienced here.”
The blast in 1996 shook Millwall’s Barkantine housing estate close by.
One resident, Joyce Brown, a bank cleaner at the time who was trapped in the building, also returned today, still battling to get over the trauma two decades on—and the memories.
She said: “I was scare in case no-one knew I was in the building. All the ceiling tiles caved in and the door came off. There was glass everywhere, just like a war zone.
“I managed to make my way down to the basement where the fire brigade got us out after an hour. I was put in an ambulance and taken to hospital.”
The blast still haunts Joyce when she thinks of those who died.
“I still feel emotional 20 years later,” she added. “I was lucky, but the two men who died weren’t. It could have been me.”
Midland Bank security guard Ganesh had dug his way out of the wreckage and guided the staff to safety before collapsing himself and having to be rescued by stretcher.
He recalled: “It was the worst moment of my life. I thought I would die, that death had come to me and that would be the end of it.
“The worst was the glass cutting into me.”
The mayor paid tribute to him for organising today’s commemoration and keeping the fight for compensation going all these years.
Mr Biggs spoke of the devastating effect the bombing had on the East End.
“In addition to the two men killed, there were families severely injured by flying glass in a block of flats on the Barkantine Estate in Millwall, Lantern House, which later had to be demolished. It had a massive impact on the area.
“Jonathan Ganesh has fought a rugged campaign down the years to keep the memory of the IRA bombing alive and I pay tribute top his work.”
Jonathan later received an award for his bravery rescuing others despite his own severe wounds and went on set up the Docklands Victims’ Association to get the government to press the Libyans for compensation which has never happened.
It still campaigns today for those injured and for relatives of newsagent Inam Bashir for criminal compensation on the British mainland on a par with Northern Ireland legislation.
Foreign Office minister Tobias Ellwood joined today’s remembrance at South Quay, knowing what it is like to lose a close relative to terrorism. His son died in the Bali atrocity in Indonesia in 2002, when 200 people were killed.
Mr Ellwood told the Advertiser: “It’s important we mark these events, to show that the terrorists don’t win.
“You can have as many police as you like on the streets, but sadly if a terrorist chooses to do an act of terror, you can’t prevent it.”
One atrocity that wasn’t prevented was the London 7/7 bombings 11 years ago.
A survivor from 2005, Beverli Rhodes, turned up to show solidarity with the Docklands survivors. She was on the Piccadilly Line train wrecked by an Islamic fundamentalist’s rucksack bomb in the tunnel between King’s Cross and Russell Square and later set up the Survivors Coalition Foundation.
Today’s memorial to 1996 ended with a brief service conducted by Tower Hamlets Interfaith Forum chairman Alan Green, Rector of John at Bethnal Green, before the doves of peace were released over the gleaming waters of Canary Wharf.