Baltic Exchange bomb: Portrait of a family devastated by IRA bloodbath that claimed three lives – and caused untold misery to many more

For many people, London’s famous Gherkin skyscraper conjures up images besuited bankers and business barons.

By Adam Kula
Saturday, 9th April 2022, 8:00 am
Updated Saturday, 9th April 2022, 8:26 am

For the Carter family of Essex, it holds an entirely different association.

This weekend they will be laying flowers at the base of the building to mark the violent death of their relative, Danielle Carter.

The skyscraper replaced the offices of a shipping firm called The Baltic Exchange, where – exactly 30 years ago on April 10 – the IRA killed her and two other random bystanders.

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The old Baltic Exchange offices have now gone, replaced by The Gherkin - one of the City of London's most renowned skyscrapers

Now Danielle’s brother Robert has spoken to the News Letter, on the eve of her death.

TRIPLE FATALITY:

Robert, a 41-year-old builder with a gravelly cockney baritone, at times welled up with emotion as he told the tale of what happened.

Danielle and Robert’s father, Daniel, worked as a chauffeur, and had been leaving a car back to City of London on the night of the bombing.

An image of the aftermath of the Baltic Exchange bombing, taken from the Twitter feed of London Fire Brigade

Danielle (aged 15) and sister Christiane (then aged eight) came along for the ride.

The children waited outside what was then the Baltic Exchange while dad visited an underground carpark.

Just as he re-merged, an enormous IRA bomb detonated in a van nearby.

Daniel was blown backwards. Christiane was severely wounded. And Danielle was dead – alongside two other fatal victims, Paul Butt (29), and father-of-four Thomas Casey (49).

Danielle Carter

‘WHAT’S REALLY HAPPENED TO DANIELLE?’:

While all this chaos was happening, Robert, then aged 11, had been at home.

He woke up as usual at 7.30am the next day, got some toast for breakfast, and went across the street to his nan’s house.

He found it filled with people in tears.

His father took him aside and told him: “Danielle’s gone.”

Robert’s response was: “Gone where?”

His dad spelled it out: Danielle had died.

Robert didn’t believe it.

He left, then came back an hour later, demanding to know “what’s really happened to Danielle”.

“Dad said: ‘She’s died, mate – she’s been killed’,” Robert recalled.

What followed was a “circus”, with the tabloid press descending on their neighbourhood.

Robert said reporters were “giving kids £20” if they could supply pictures or information about the Carter family.

Some impersonated long-lost relatives, he said, while others offered to pay a window-cleaner to take photos of people inside the family home.

A week after the bomb, Christiane was released from hospital.

But for Robert, the enormity of what happened took years to sink in.

“It never hit me ‘til I was about 14 years old,” he said.

And when the realisation did come, it was sudden.

He burst into tears at a friend’s house and needed to go home.

And then “for about 20 years, I was petrified of dying,” he said.

“It really affected me mentally. I did three months in a mental health unit.”

GLASS AND METAL:

Christiane, whilst still alive, had been “blown to bits” and “obliterated”.

A padded jacket she had been wearing contained five pounds of glass and metal debris, and doctors attributed her survival to that durable item of clothing.

Just in her face alone, she had at least 385 stitches.

The reason they don’t know the exact number is because the doctor stopped counting after that.

Later she became afraid of certain noises, and even gusts of wind.

Robert added: “Five years ago she went back to the hospital, for something with her eye. And they took a bit of glass out of her eye, 25 years later.”

The family lives with the aftermath to this day.

“When my sister got killed my mum literally just gave up,” said Robert.

She developed problems with drink and hard drugs – but has recently overcome them.

“My mum has not touched a drop of drink or drugs for nine months,” he said.

“And I have a mum again after nearly over 20 years. It’s amazing to have my mum back.”

Robert believes dad Daniel (who is also still alive) carries around guilt with him “because he’s taken his two daughters to London, and only one’s come back”.

But Robert added: “Dad is so, so, so, so strong.

“I said to him: Why didn’t you cry dad when we were kids?

“He said: I cried a lot in my own time, but I couldn’t cry in front of you children – that’s out of order.”

Bizarrely, it was not the first IRA bomb Daniel had been caught in.

He was nearby when the Carlton Club was bombed on June 25, 1990 – a blast which killed Tory grandee Lord Kaberry and cost Daniel much of his hearing.

Returning to the anniversary of his sister’s death, Robert said that the bomb that night had been intended for a political meeting taking place in the Strand, to the west of the city, but couldn’t reach the venue due to roadworks and so the IRA abandoned the bomb.

FIRST RESPONDER NEVER RECOVERED:

The book Lost Lives recounts the tale of the first ambulance man on the scene on the night of the Baltic Exchange bomb.

He had cradled Danielle as she died.

The book says: “He never recovered from the emotional stress.

“Five months later the 51-year-old [called Trevor Thomas] killed his girlfriend [Susan Oliver] with a shotgun in the home they shared at Barking, Essex.

“The ambulance man had made several suicide attempts before the shooting, and after his arrest he again tried to kill himself in Pentonville Prison.

“He was transferred to a secure unit at Hackney, where he tried to hang himself.

“He pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility, and was remanded to a psychiatric unit.”

‘YOU HAVE RUINED OUR LIVES’:

As for the IRA, Robert’s message was: “You’re out of order, and you’re scumbags... You murdered my sister. You’ve ruined my life. You’ve ruined my whole family’s life.”

He said that if the IRA truly wanted to stand up for their cause, they wouldn’t bomb civilians.

They should’ve been “man enough to stand and have a fight with someone, don’t do it hiding bombs in cars, in lorries, behind face masks; stand up and be accounted for”.

He also said it was “a kick in the nuts” to see Tony Blair sign the Belfast agreement in 1998, six years to the day after the explosion.

As for Danielle, they will hold a series of little events over the weekend to remember her.

She had been “full of the joys of life, bubbly, always smiling”.

“We’re going up to the Gherkin, lay some flowers down... [then we’ll] raise a glass, remember Danielle, go to the cemetery, have a cuddle, and just get on with life, I’m afraid.

“You never get over it. You just learn to live with it.”