Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Bombing of The Grand

Twenty-five years ago I was a young political correspondent reporting on the Tory Party Conference. With a one year old son at home, I couldn't bear the separation and my husband arrived in Brighton for the last night with our gorgeous curly headed son in his arms. At the end of the evening we headed for The Grand Hotel - that's what you always do on the last night, and, Sam - ever cheerful in his pushchair - was no barrier. My husband was happy Sam was there as he attracted a crowd of BA stewardesses. We dropped any pretence of early bedtimes and stayed there enjoying ourselves till the early hours.
I think of that scene when I play back the events of that conference. Our cheerful departure to a nearby hotel. No we didn't hear the explosion. No mobiles then, I first got the news from early morning tv and ran back to The Grand to see the scene of utter devastation.

In the conference centre, we journalists milled around each other trying to piece together our thoughts before filing copy (I was an evening paper journalist). Someone said: "you know this was an attempt to assassinate the entire Cabinet". It was the first time any of us appreciated quite the scale of what had been attempted. I walked into the hall, and there on the platform was a dignified figure, sitting quietly and calmly. Mrs Thatcher. She had declined security advice to leave, and felt she must show by her presence that the IRA weren't going to defeat our democracy by bombs. On that awful morning I was so glad to see her there, expressing by her quiet dignity an overwhelming moral rejection of IRA violence.

Party conferences never have been quite the same since. Security fell like a heavy curtain. A certain innocence was lost. I remember sitting with Sam afterwards and trying to connect that happy evening to the picture of carnage I had seen myself but hours later and the shocking human consequences. They could have been even worse - the bar had closed earlier than usual (many journalists would otherwise have been there when the bomb went off). But above all it is Mrs Thatcher I remember.

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