Obituary: Unknown Troubles hero rescued by Ian Paisley

Alan Clouter was rescued from a suspicious crowd by Ian Paisley as he picked over the remains of a bomb at a pub
Alan Clouter was rescued from a suspicious crowd by Ian Paisley as he picked over the remains of a bomb at a pub
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It is not possible to say how many people Alan Clouter saved from a grisly and violent death.

The bomb disposal expert was sometimes called upon to tackle several devices per day during his time in Northern Ireland.

Alan Clouter's time in Northern Ireland helped him develop bomb disposal techniques that became widely used

Alan Clouter's time in Northern Ireland helped him develop bomb disposal techniques that became widely used

Born in Woolwich on September 18, 1941, he was the son of Elsie and Richard Clouter, a soldier who had risen to the rank of major.

Consequently Alan had always envisaged a military career for himself, and joined Sandhurst in 1961.

His early career took him to Malaya and Singapore before he opted to become an Ammunition Technical Officer – in other words, a bomb disposal expert – around 1970.

He had married some years before in 1964, and asked what motivated him to take on such a grave task, his son Sean said: “I think there were quite high losses at the time, and they needed good brains to go and fill the boots.”

Alan Clouter examines the aftermath of a letter bomb

Alan Clouter examines the aftermath of a letter bomb

In March that year, he was posted to Northern Ireland, and his family moved with him.

He would remain here for around two years.

Sean – who was about five at the time – said: “I think he did want to be there. He knew he was doing a good thing. He put his service above his family – above all. He put himself on the line so often.

“I’m sure it’s something he felt he had to do. He knew if he didn’t do it, somebody else had to.”

There are a number of stories of the tough situations he found himself in along with the rest of the team in his outfit – 321 EOD.

One recalls that he was once summoned to a police station, and found a bag of high explosives by the door with a timer attached.

He had to pull it away using a line before it exploded.

He tackled a bomb at the Europa Hotel, taking hours to make the complex device safe.

Sean also recalls that he arrived at the aftermath of a bombing of a pub.

Their escort to the scene had disappeared and it was only him and a fellow soldier left.

He began picking over the remains of the bomb site, with a view to reconstructing the device if possible – something that was seldom done at the time.

A crowd had gathered, and Sean suspects that they did not understand what he was doing.

They were getting ready to turn on him and his colleague, when Ian Paisley arrived and mollified the enraged bystanders.

He credited the firebrand’s intervention with having saved his life; a story he only divulged to his son in passing, much later in life.

He did not tell many people about the work he had carried out in Northern Ireland.

He was awarded the George Cross in 1972, but the exact citation was kept secret and embargoed by the government for 75 years – something son Sean believes was to do with the advanced defusing techniques they were developing.

His son suggested that one of the reasons for his success was that he was a huge fan of puzzles – particularly jigsaws.

As well as trying to piece the deadly devices back together, he also used various unorthodox or unheard of techniques at the time – borrowing an x-ray device from a hospital to examine a bomb; using his son’s remote control car (and later and electric wheelchair) to deliver a “disruptor” mechanism to the explosives.

“From that, the other developments came,” said Sean, adding that he deserved credit for helping pioneer the way for the Wheelbarrow remote-control device too.

He left Northern Ireland in 1972, but went on to work in bomb disposal on the mainland UK before transferring to Germany.

After leaving the military he worked in Iraq and Afghanistan in safety-related roles, going on to write a manual for anyone being deployed to Middle East conflict zones.

Latterly, he worked on health and safety projects at London building sites.

He died in bed in Great Totham, Essex, from what was essentially a massive heart attack on February 20. He was 73.

His funeral was held at Chelmsford Crematorium on March 26.

Sean said they are still deciding what to do with his ashes.

“We kind of think we should send them out with a bang,” he said, adding that they may put them into a firework and fire it over a patch of sea where his late second wife Catherine was scattered.

He is survived by son Sean and daughter Sheri, as well as stepchildren Sara, Sam and Mark, plus 12 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.