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On This Day: Thatcher almost killed by IRA in Brighton bombing

The attack, which took during the Conservative Party conference, killed five people and injured 31

OCTOBER 12, 1984: Margaret Thatcher narrowly avoided being assassinated after IRA terrorists bombed the Grand Hotel in Brighton.

The attack, which took during the Conservative Party conference and amid the most turbulent year of her premiership, killed five people and injured 31.

But the Prime Minister, who was finishing off writing her speech when the bomb exploded on the floor above her suite at 2.54am, was uninjured and no Cabinet members died.

Seven hours later Mrs Thatcher further enhanced her invincible image and Iron Lady nickname by defiantly addressing the shaken Tory faithful on schedule.

In a hastily redrafted speech, she declared: 'This attack has failed. All attempts to destroy democracy by terrorism will fail.'

Meanwhile the IRA issued a statement saying: 'Today we were unlucky, but remember, we only have to be lucky once; you will have to be lucky always.'

Yet despite failing to destroy the Government, the bomb ripped the heart out of the Grand Hotel by sending the central section of eight floors crashing into the basement.

Among those injured after being buried by masonry was Secretary of State for Trade and Industry Norman Tebbit and his wife, who was left permanently disabled as a result of the attack.

MP Anthony Berry, Roberta Wakeham, Eric Taylor, Muriel Maclean and Jeanne Shattock were killed.

Bomber Patrick Magee, who had planted time-delayed 20lb gelignite bomb under the bath of room 629 three weeks earlier, was arrested in June 1985.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, helped by her husband Denis, leaves the Grand Hotel, Brighton following a bomb …
The hotel in Brighton was severely damaged by the IRA bomb blast. (PA)
The following year he was jailed - along with four other IRA members involved in the plot – but released in 1999 under a Good Friday Agreement amnesty.

While most Britons – regardless of their political views – condemned the attack, some publicly stated their dismay that the divisive Prime Minister hadn’t been killed.

For example, Morrissey, the frontman of the alternative rock band The Smiths, said: 'The only sorrow of the Brighton bombing is that Thatcher escaped unscathed.'

Despite winning a landslide election victory the year before, Mrs Thatcher – and her hardline right-wing policies - were extremely unpopular in many sections of society.

By 1984, her tough economic reforms had led to 11.9% unemployment – the highest rate since the Great Depression, with three million people out of work.

And by the time the bomb exploded, 160,000 coal miners had been striking for six months in an ultimately failed year-long bid to 'roll back the years of Thatcherism'.

Mrs Thatcher was also loathed by Irish republicans for her tough stance on Northern Ireland, partly born from the 1979 murder of her friend Airey Neave by terrorists.

This hatred intensified when she refused to bow to IRA prisoner demands for political status during the 1981 Hunger Strike when ten inmates starved themselves to death.

'Crime is crime is crime. It is not political,' she said as, one by one, the men – led by Bobby Sands, who was elected as an MP during his ordeal – died at the Maze jail.
For the IRA, the Brighton bombing was viewed as revenge against a woman Irish writer Danny Morrison once described as 'the biggest bastard we have ever known'.

Magee, who continues to defend his role in the blast, said in 2000: 'I deeply regret that anybody had to lose their lives, but at the time did the Tory ruling class expect to remain immune from what their frontline troops were doing to us?'