Beginning in January, 1975, PIRA/SF renewed their campaign in England. This fresh offensive was characterised by no-warning bombs, gun attacks on pubs and cafes and the indiscriminate murder of civilians. On the 27th of January the Provos set off five I.E.Ds in London and another in Manchester, wounding 26 innocent civilians. On Friday the 5th of September, a Provo bomb exploded in the lobby of the Hilton hotel in London, killing a man and a young woman. Sixty-three others were injured including a party of school children, some as young as four. On the 28th and 29th of September there were further outrages with bomb attacks on civilian targets in Caterham, in the Surrey commuter belt, and in London’s packed Oxford Street, although by some miracle no-one was killed. On the 9th of October PIRA/Sinn Fein detonated a bomb outside the busy Green Park Underground Station, killing 23 year old civilian Graham Tuck and wounding twenty others.
On Tuesday, the 18th of November, 1975, two more civilians were deliberately targeted and killed by the Provo murder gang operating in London. Audrey Edgson (45) and Theo Williams (49) were murdered when a bomb was thrown through the window of Walton’s Restaurant in Chelsea. Twenty-three others, diners and bystanders, were wounded. Disgusted by the mindless, indiscriminate bombing and killing, Guinness Book of Records co-founder, editor, and BBC Record Breakers presenter, Ross McWhirter offered a cash reward of £50,000 for information leading to the arrest of the Irish nationalist gang responsible for this latest wave of murder and maiming. The Provisional IRA did not take it well. They were incensed. In their minds no-one had the right to criticise them or their nefarious ‘cause’ , and having the audacity to actually offer a reward for the capture of their foot-soldiers could mean only one thing, a death sentence. On the 27th of November, the Provos carried out that sentence. When Mr McWhirter’s wife, Rosemary, arrived home, she got out of her blue Ford Granada and was approached by two men holding pistols. She ran into the house as her husband came to the front door and seconds later heard two shots.The killers then used her car to escape. Police later found the car abandoned a few miles away in Tottenham. It was a murder of which the Mafia would have been proud. The ‘removal’ of someone against whom the PIRA held a very personal grudge. Indeed, one could say that this was a vendetta. So much for the Provos being “an army“.
The Balcombe Street Gang
The Provo gang that killed Ross McWhirter and carried out dozens of other attacks in London throughout 1975, was apprehended two weeks later. Martin O’Connell, Edward Butler, Harry Duggan and Hugh Doherty, exchanged gunfire with police in central London on the 6th of December, and escaped to a flat in Balcombe Street, sparking a lengthy siege, (hence the gang’s sobriquet of ‘Balcombe Street Gang’). The siege began after a chase through London. The Metropolitan Police pursuing the four Irish nationalist fanatics through the streets after they had fired gunshots through the window of Scotts Restaurant in Mayfair, aiming to murder yet more civilians. The Provo gang had thrown a bomb through the window of the very same restaurant just a few weeks before, on the 12th of November 1975, killing one person and injuring 15 others. The four terrorists, the police close on their heels, ended up in a flat at 22b Balcombe Street, Marylebone, taking its two residents, John Matthews (54) and his wife Sheila (53), hostage. The couple were relaxing in their flat, watching an episode of Kojak on television, when the armed republican thugs kicked down the door of their humble home and ordered them to lie face down on the floor. The men declared that they were members of PIRA, and when police negotiators were summoned, the gang informed them they wanted a plane to fly both them and their hostages to the safe-haven of the Irish Republic. A lengthy stand-off followed. The gang only surrendered after several days of intense negotiations between Metropolitan Police Bomb squad officers Peter Imbert and Jim Nevill, and the gang’s leader Joe O’Connell. Mr and Mrs Matthews endured days of terror whilst the whole of the UK watched and waited, wondering if the unfortunate couple would live or die.
In 1977 the four Provo killers were found guilty, at the Old Bailey, of seven murders, conspiring to cause explosions, and falsely imprisoning John and Sheila Matthews. O’Connell, Butler and Duggan each received twelve life sentences, and Doherty eleven. Each of the men was later given a whole life tariff, the only Irish republican murderers to receive such a tariff. The Balcombe Street Gang’s reign of terror and murder was over but they had left many broken bodies and many broken families in their wake. The four extremists (and their accomplices) had carried out forty-one bombings, several gun attacks, and had murdered no fewer than 35 people. All of those murdered, with the exception of Police constable Stephen Tibble, had been innocent civilians going about their daily lives. The revisionist notion that PIRA/SF never deliberately targeted civilians is, in light of the evidence, almost laughable. The Balcombe Street Gang set out to murder civilians. They bombed restaurants, pubs and tube stations. They assassinated a much loved, inoffensive old man for daring to stand up to them, not with threats or actual violence but with the offer of a reward for information! The Balcombe Street Gang acted on the direct orders of the PIRA ‘Army Council’. The plain truth here is that Irish nationalist terror gangs have no qualms about targeting civilians, they never had. It didn’t matter if you were eating in a London restaurant or a café in L’derry, if you were not singing from the same hymn sheet as the Provos, you were regarded as a ‘legitimate target’.
The Dolphin Restaurant Murders
Four days before the start of the Balcombe Street siege, Irish nationalists murdered two Protestant civilians as they sat in the Dolphin Restaurant on Strand Road, Londonderry. The two men, Charles McNaul (55) and Alexander Mitchell (46), had no connection to the Security Forces, Loyalist paramilitaries or even any Unionist/Loyalist political party. They were murdered because they were Protestants. A cut and dried case of sectarian murder. As the two men sat eating, gunmen walked calmly into the restaurant and shot them dead. Today some claim that this cold-blooded double murder was the work of the INLA/IRSP. It was not. It was the work of PIRA/Sinn Fein!
The INLA had been formed in December, 1974. It was born out of a split in the Official IRA. Initially, it was known as the ‘People’s Liberation Army’ and was the armed wing of the IRSP. For months after its formation the INLA/IRSP was involved in a deadly feud with the OIRA. In fact, that INLA vs OIRA feud continued, on and off, until 1977. During those years most INLA/IRSP attacks were directed at the Official IRA (and vice versa). The INLA were not adverse to sectarian murder. Their history is full of examples of it. But in December, 1975, the INLA/IRSP were far more concerned with trying to wipe out their former comrades in the OIRA than attacking their supposed ‘real enemy’, ie. Unionists, Loyalists and the wider Protestant community. The double murder in the Dolphin Restaurant was not the work of INLA/IRSP, a group at that time fighting for its very survival in a bloody republican feud. Far more likely that it was the work of PIRA/Sinn Fein. Part of their wider strategy to ‘ethnically cleanse’ Londonderry’s West Bank of any and all non-Catholics. A campaign which saw an estimated 30,000 people uprooted and forced from their homes. Some forced out at the point of a gun, some intimidated out, some worn down by years of sectarian persecution and harassment.
Whichever Irish nationalist/republican murder gang was responsible, the message was still the same. Protestants had better stay out of the City-side. Or else! Irish nationalists in Londonderry succeeded in their aims. Today the West Bank of the Foyle is almost exclusively nationalist, republican and Catholic (all but the small enclave of The Fountain, an area under almost constant sectarian attack from the Bogside). Now in other parts of Ulster they are trying to achieve the same objective. Exclusive claims of ownership have been placed on areas like the Crumlin Road in North Belfast, the Garvaghy Road in Portadown and the whole village of Rasharkin in North Antrim. Today though this cultural/sectarian Apartheid isn’t enforced with murder, it doesn’t have to be, for now PIRA/SF and their fellow travellers have the Parades Commission and the utterly corrupt PSNI to do their bidding and enforce their territorial claims for them. All they have to do is set up a ‘Residents Group’ and go crying to the PC or the PSNI, organs of the British state that they supposedly so despise. Tribalism has become so entrenched within the Irish nationalist/republican community that it is now seen almost as virtue. The years and years of murder and indiscriminate bombing have been forgotten and the nationalist community have once again decided to play the victim.
Next Week: 1976 and 77, the Herron Family, Pub Shootings and Indiscriminate Slaughter