How quickly time passes – IanVists reminds me today is 15 years since the IRA bomb at South Quay station on the Isle of Dogs, killing the two men who ran the newspaper stall and causing millions of pounds worth of damage. As Ian says, there’s still empty premises following that explosion, and one of the flagship developments of the time had to be torn down and rebuilt.
It’s a Friday night I remember vividly. I was working at a pub in Southwark at the time, and we had an Australian woman alongside us who was living in the Isle of Dogs – I remember Janelle running around in a panic, telling everyone the news, and trying to contact her boyfriend, who worked in another pub.
The only radio in the place was in the kitchen, and we skipped our duties to turn it to a news station to find out what the hell was going on. My own home in Greenwich hadn’t been damaged (we were too far away, but all I could think of was the widespread devastation after the Bishopsgate bomb) but I was told the explosion was certainly heard.
Then there was another problem – how was Janelle going to get home? And what about her boyfriend, across central London?
The whole Isle of Dogs had been sealed off by police, the Docklands Light Railway closed, the Jubilee Line not finished, and here were wide-eyed Australians without a clue about London beyond the pubs they worked in and the flat they rented, in a newish development on the Millwall side of the island.
Janelle’s boyfriend was snuck into our pub after hours, and I got them both back by night bus as far as Greenwich town centre, walking them back to the foot tunnel. They made it back okay, but my clearest memory is of walking home along the river, at about 2.30am, standing outside the naval college and looking at the flashing blue lights across the river, fearing what horrors could come next.
But the next – and final – IRA incident in London was more Keystone Kops than freedom fighters, as a hapless terrorist blew himself up by accident on top of a 171 bus at the Aldwych, injuring eight others.
As Ian notes, James McArdle was convicted of the South Quay bombing, but was released from prison in 2000 under the Good Friday Agreement.