Ceiling fell in as Docklands bomb exploded, survivor recalls

Michael McHugh, PA
·3-min read

A woman who survived the IRA London Docklands bombing said she felt cheated of compensation.

Joyce Brown, 64, was cleaning the Midland Bank after closing time when the 3,000-pound bomb exploded in a vehicle outside in February 1996.

She heard a bang and said that “everything came down on my head”.

Fortunately, the ceiling in the toilet where she was working was made of polystyrene tiles.

Joyce Brown, 64, was cleaning the Midland Bank after closing time when the 3,000-pound bomb exploded in a vehicle outside in February 1996 (Family/PA).
Joyce Brown, 64, was cleaning the Midland Bank after closing time when the 3,000-pound bomb exploded in a vehicle outside in February 1996 (Family/PA).

The bomb was planted by the IRA using Libyan-made explosives and ended the organisation’s 18-month ceasefire.

It killed two, blighted the lives of many survivors and caused millions of pounds worth of damage.

The victims want the British Government to use assets frozen from dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s former regime to pay them compensation.

Ms Brown said: “Other countries have had compensation and I just feel like we have been let down.

“It feels like our Government has forgotten about us. I feel cheated.”

Others in places like the US have received redress for terrorism linked to Libya.

Ms Brown said compensation could never obliterate memories of that day.

For a long time she could not go to a shopping centre because she was always looking for exits and thinking she would never get out if a bomb went off.

She recalled: “It affects you mentally, you are jittery and nervous. I feel like we are all forgotten, that is it, just get on with life.”

When the explosion happened, she thought it was caused by gas.

She remembered: “The doors were off their hinges and the ceiling had come in. I thought, ‘what is going on here, I have just cleaned this toilet’.

Dockland bombing site
The bomb was planted by the IRA using Libyan-made explosives (David Giles/PA)

“There was water pouring from the ceiling, there were sirens, all the blinds were swaying in the wind and there was this constant alarm.”

She picked up an office phone and heard no dial tone. She found an emergency phone in the corridor and was told to go to the basement.

The concrete staircase was intact but the lift was destroyed.

Ms Brown said: “The lift was just completely nothing. I thought, ‘Jesus Christ, I am lucky to be here’.”

She waited in the basement for the fire brigade to escort them out, saying the wait “seemed like forever”.

Upon exiting via the car park, Mrs Brown said: “That is when I realised. The whole building just looked like a war zone.

“The whole car park was covered in glass, everything was black and the manhole was tilted up.”

She was lucky on a number of levels as normally she would have been sitting in a car in the car park waiting to go home with a colleague and could have been hit by debris.

Had she been in the corridor, the collapsing ceiling tiles could have been made of concrete.

Had she followed her normal routine she would have been much closer to the site of the blast but she started her cleaning at the top of the eight-storey building this time.

“It just seemed like fate,” she added.

The teaching assistant, 64, said she recalled the events like they happened yesterday.

“It is something you do not forget, you just live with it.”

She lives near the site of the old bank, which has been replaced, and she can see it from her kitchen window.

She said: “You can still picture what was there.”

She only found out the IRA was responsible afterwards.

Mrs Brown added: “We are innocent people, we just went about doing our work. We are innocent in all of this, there are millions of innocent people.”