The Harrods bombing refers to the car bomb that exploded at Harrods department store in London on Saturday 17 December 1983. The bomb had been planted by members of the Provisional IRA, although the IRA Army Council later claimed that it had not authorised the attack. IRA members had sent a warning 37 minutes before the explosion, but the area was not evacuated. Six people were killed – three police officers and three civilians. The IRA had been bombing commercial targets in England since the early 1970s, as part of its “economic war”. The goal was to damage the economy and cause disruption, which would put pressure on the British Government to withdraw from Northern Ireland.
The store was the target of a much smaller IRA bomb almost ten years later, in January 1993, which injured four people.
The bomb contained between 25 and 30 lb (14 kg) of explosives and was left in a 1972 blue Austin 1300 GT four-door saloon car with a black vinyl roof, registration plate KFP 252K. It was parked outside the side entrance of Harrods, on Hans Crescent, and set to be detonated by a timer.
At 12:44, a man using an IRA codeword phoned the central London branch of the Samaritans charity. The caller said there were bombs inside and outside Harrods, specifying the registration plate of the car, but not its make or colour. At around 13:21, four police officers in a car, a dog handler, and an officer on foot approached the suspect vehicle when the bomb exploded. The police car absorbed much of the blast, probably reducing further casualties. Six people were killed; three passers-by (including one citizen of the United States), and three Metropolitan Police officers.
Those killed instantly by the explosion were: Philip Geddes, a journalist aged 24; Kenneth Salvesen, 28; Jasmine Cochrane-Patrick, 25; Police Sergeant Noel Lane, 28; and Police Constable Jane Arbuthnot, 22. Police Inspector Stephen Dodd, 34, was mortally injured and died in hospital on 24 December. Police Constable Jon Gordon survived, but lost both legs and part of a hand in the blast.
At the time of the explosion, a second warning call was made by the IRA. The caller stated that a bomb had been left in the C&A department store on the east side of Oxford Street. Police cleared the area and cordoned it off but this claim was found to be false.
IRA statement and response:
In a statement, the IRA Army Council admitted that its members had planted the bomb, but claimed that it had not authorised the attack:
The Harrods operation was not authorised by the Irish Republican Army. We have taken immediate steps to ensure that there will be no repetition of this type of operation again. The volunteers involved gave a 40 minutes specific warning, which should have been adequate. But due to the inefficiency or failure of the Metropolitan Police, who boasted of foreknowledge of IRA activity, this warning did not result in an evacuation. We regret the civilian casualties, even though our expression of sympathy will be dismissed.
Leon Brittan, the Home Secretary, commented: “The nature of a terrorist organisation is that those in it are not under disciplined control”.
There is a memorial at the site of the blast. Yearly prizes in the honour of Philip Geddes are awarded to aspiring journalists attending the University of Oxford. Also, every year the Philip Geddes Memorial Lecture on the theme of the future of journalism is given by a leading journalist.
In January 1993, Harrods was once again targeted by the IRA: this time a package containing 1 lb of Semtex plastic explosive placed in a litter bin at the front of the store in Brompton Road. Four people were injured and the explosion smashed windows but did no internal damage to the store. Those responsible were Jan Taylor, a 51-year-old former corporal who served in the Royal Signals Corps of the British Army, and Patrick Hayes, a 41-year-old computer programmer with a degree in business studies from Central London Polytechnic and a member of Red Action. In March 1993, police captured them at Hayes’ home in Stoke Newington, north London. They each received prison sentences of 30 years for the January Harrods bombing and for a second attack on a train a month later which caused extensive damage but resulted in no casualties. Hayes was also convicted of conspiracy to cause three additional explosions in 1992. Both men are English and had no connections to Ireland.