Victims of IRA Docklands bomb: Our fight for compensation goes on

Victims today marked the 25th anniversary of the IRA London Docklands bombing with a vow to keep fighting for compensation.

By Michael McHugh
Sunday, 7th February 2021, 8:55 pm
Updated Sunday, 7th February 2021, 9:20 pm
Members of the service for the 25th anniversary memorial service of the London Docklands bombing yesterday at the spot where two people died in the IRA blast in February 1996. Picture: Aaron Chown/PA Wire
Members of the service for the 25th anniversary memorial service of the London Docklands bombing yesterday at the spot where two people died in the IRA blast in February 1996. Picture: Aaron Chown/PA Wire

A tiny number of socially-distanced survivors released doves at the spot as they commemorated the February 1996 blast which killed two people and injured scores of others.

Former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi armed the IRA with the powerful plastic explosive used in the bombing of Harrods in 1983, the Remembrance Day ceremony in Enniskillen in 1987, Warrington in 1993, and London’s Docklands.

Ihsan Bashir has been trying to keep the family business alive since his brother Inam’s death in the bombing. His parents have since died.

The aftermath of the 1996 Canary Wharf bomb

He said: “We are fighters.

“I have been fighting to keep their memory alive.”

The government collects £5 million a year in tax from frozen Libyan assets.

In the years after the attack, Mr Bashir was focused on the unfulfilled task of getting justice and said it was never about getting money.

Joyce Brown who survived the IRA London Docklands bombing and said she felt cheated of compensation. The 64 year old was cleaning a bank after closing time when the 3,000-pound bomb exploded in a vehicle outside. Photo: Family Handout/PA Wire

His business was left in debt following the explosion.

“I had to start over, I had no help,” he added.

A memorial garden is to be developed for victims.

Joyce Brown, 64, was cleaning in the Midland Bank building when the blast happened.

She said: “The doors were off their hinges and the ceiling had come in.

“There was water pouring from the ceiling, there were sirens, all the blinds were swaying in the wind and there was this constant alarm.”

Those bereaved and injured by the attack have long been pressing for government support for their bid for compensation paid out of the £12 billion of assets linked to the toppled Gaddafi regime which were frozen in the UK in 2011 under UN sanction.

Jonathan Ganesh, president of the Docklands Victims Association, organised today’s ceremony.

He said: “Sadly Covid-19 has prevented us from physically being together today but I feel overjoyed that so many people have virtually attended online.

“I feel very emotional as we have lost victims due to Covid-19 during this dreadful pandemic.”

Mr Ganesh, who helped deliver aid parcels to the severely disabled, added: “However, I feel immensely comforted and strengthened as our humanity continues to prevail against this deadly virus.”

He spent a significant time in hospital being treated for injuries he suffered in the blast.

Authorities in the US, Germany and France have already secured compensation for terror attacks allegedly directed by the Libyan government, such as the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

The UK government recently appointed William Shawcross as a Special Representative for UK victims of Gaddafi-sponsored IRA terrorism. One of his tasks is to calculate the amount of compensation due.

The victims are pressing the Government to publish the Shawcross Report.

• A woman who survived the IRA London Docklands bombing said she felt cheated of compensation.

Joyce Brown, 64, was cleaning the Midland Bank after closing time when the 3,000-pound bomb exploded in a vehicle outside in February 1996.

She heard a bang and said that “everything came down on my head”.

Fortunately, the ceiling in the toilet where she was working was made of polystyrene tiles.

The bomb was planted by the IRA using Libyan-made explosives and ended the organisation’s 18-month ceasefire.

It killed two, blighted the lives of many survivors and caused millions of pounds worth of damage.

The victims want the British Government to use assets frozen from dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s former regime to pay them compensation.

Ms Brown said: “Other countries have had compensation and I just feel like we have been let down.

“It feels like our government has forgotten about us. I feel cheated.”

Others in places like the US have received redress for terrorism linked to Libya.

Ms Brown said compensation could never obliterate memories of that day.

For a long time she could not go to a shopping centre because she was always looking for exits and thinking she would never get out if a bomb went off.

She recalled: “It affects you mentally, you are jittery and nervous. I feel like we are all forgotten, that is it, just get on with life.”

Authorities let their guard down ahead of the London Docklands bombing, a man whose brother died in the attack has said.

• A 3,000lb IRA explosive in a vehicle parked outside the Bashir family business exploded in February 1996 as the IRA ended an 18-month ceasefire.

Inam Bashir, 29, died in the newsagents he was working in, along with colleague John Jeffries.

Ihsan Bashir said: “A lot of questions have never been answered. All we know is that two people lost their lives, it happened while we were still in peace.

“Everyone let their guards down.”

He said money was never the issue for survivors, and they were initially only interested in justice.

The IRA sent him a letter saying it did not realise his brother was still in the shop but suggesting he should understand – citing the experience of the Indian subcontinent – how the Irish republican organisation felt about imperialism, Mr Bashir said.

His added that father died from a broken heart and his mother had a mental health breakdown.

The bereaved are still waiting for compensation.

Mr Bashir said: “It is a shame about our government. If we had an American or French or German passport, they got their closure, they got their money, they can live on – we cannot.

“The people injured quite severely are still suffering.”

He said victims’ relatives would have coped better if they had received money to pay for care.

He is aged 54 and not well, having spent 10 years with cancer and running a business.

The bomb devastated the newsagents, but he is running a delicatessen on the same spot.

“I have fought hard and made it work, supported the community – clearly it is in their memory that the business is running and it is the only living memorial site which is still going.

“It has created jobs and I have an ethos that it is for local people around the area.”

He said he had to start again in debt after the blast.

“I had no help, I was in debt in the 1990s, I had to reopen it, I was in debt again, we never had any help.”

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