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25th Anniversary Of The Bombing Of The Carlton Club – Lessons For Today

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Today marks the 25th anniversary of the terrorist bombing of London’s Carlton Club. At 8:39 p.m. on Monday 25 June 1990, a large bomb left inside the doorway of the “oldest, most elite, and most important of all Conservative clubs” by the Provisional Irish Republican Party (IRA) exploded injuring six people, an event which still has great meaning for all living in the shadow of Islamist terrorism today.

Although roughly half the ground floor, a quarter of the first and part of the basement were severely damaged, casualties were limited because the Club was not a busy venue that Monday evening. Nevertheless six people were injured, including two police officers, a former Member of Parliament and the Club Porter – the latter two being the most gravely affected never fully recovered from their injuries.

Charles Henry did manage to return to the his duties at the Club following a serious operation, but died three years later. Lord Kaberry, 82 years old when injured by the bomb, died less than a year later in March 1991. Except for a period during the Second World War, Donald Kaberry had been a Conservative councillor in Leeds from 1930 to 1950 and MP for Leeds North West from 1950 to 1983. During the war he served in the Royal Artillery commanding a battery at Dunkirk and receiving a Mention in Dispatches. He was awarded the Military Cross, the citation for which credited “a courageous example of calm leadership to all ranks.”

The bombing was part of the IRA’s summer offensive aimed at weakening the Conservative government’s commitment to Northern Ireland being part of the United Kingdom. It marked a continued shift from attacks on soft military targets to attacks on private citizens. The campaign failed, as had earlier attempts such as the fatal attack on the Grand Hotel in Brighton during the Conservative Party Conference in October six years earlier.

The New York Times reported the IRA statement that one of its units had ”struck at the heart of Tory rule.” The statement continued:

”Like Brighton in 1984, the I.R.A. has brought the war directly to those who keep the British Army on the streets and in the fields of Ireland. While such occupation continues, and the Nationalist people face daily oppression, the policy makers and their military arm will not be safe.”

The comments made by members of the House of Lords on hearing of the attack are of particular interest to the world in 2015. The Conservative Leader of the House of Lords, Lord Belstead said:

“Whether they strike at military or civilian targets, barracks or private homes, they are attacking democracy itself and they do not care who is killed or injured in the process…

“…The House should be aware that much is done every day of the week to prevent and deter and to combat terrorist activity and most of its cannot be safely revealed. But terrorists operate by stealth, surprise and with a callous disregard for life, and from time to time they may register what by their perverted standards they regard as a success. It is not something against which, in a free society, anyone can provide an absolute guarantee.

“What is needed to support the efforts of the police is renewed and constant vigilance on the part of every citizen.”

The former Labour Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Lord Mason, was even more stern in his warning:

“In place of what might be regarded as the old traditional army terrorist, with the occasional attack on the established authority which caused some civilian casualties, we now have a younger breed of mindless, adventurous militants, addicted to the adventure and thrill of bombing and killing and taking on unguarded establishments. They do not have to be trained or to be sophisticated: thrill of the kill is sufficient. That, in my opinion, is a distinct change. A small band of reckless terrorists of that kind can create havoc in any of the cities in our land. I believe that is their goal. Therefore eternal vigilance is absolutely necessary by everybody at all times, with special attention being given by those who are in a position of surveillance and concerned with the security of persons, enterprises and local and government establishments.

“Finally, it is imperative that the public should be totally aware that these terrorists are in their midst, and suspicious activities of any kind such as Irish people hiring cars, booking short-term stays in guest houses, using lock-up garages for short periods at a time, and so on, must be reported to the police. Harassment pays, and although some innocents may be perturbed and affected, chasing the terrorists will certainly pay.”

Lord Lexden, the official historian of the Conservative Party and also the Carlton Club, concludes the history of the event of 1990:

“The Club’s staff found a temporary home through the kindness of the nearby Over-Seas League. They returned in September 1990 when the Club reopened. By April 1991 all traces of the IRA’s attack had been removed as a result of an impressive restoration programme carried out under the instructions of the then Deputy Chairman, Keith Carmichael, and Secretary, Robert Linsley, working in brilliant partnership.

“The tragedy that occurred 25 years ago tested the Club’s resilience. It was not found wanting.”

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