London bombs cost shops pounds 5m

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The Independent Online
THE IRA was accused of playing 'an obscene game' by giving deliberately vague and misleading warnings after two explosions injured four people in the West End of London yesterday. The bombs closed the Oxford Street area for several hours and cost stores up to pounds 5m in lost Christmas sales.

Commander David Tucker, head of Scotland Yard's Anti-Terrorist Branch, condemned the inadequate warnings after one bomb went off inside John Lewis's store in Oxford Street and a second just outside as the building was being evacuated.

Only four people, a security guard, two women shoppers and a taxi driver, needed hospital treatment, mostly for shock.

Although many shoppers were badly shaken, people were back in substantial numbers as shops reopened by mid- afternoon yesterday.

Jackie Watho, 21, a student from Islington, north London, who came in despite hearing about the explosions, said: 'I suppose I'm a bit mad but I guess if they have had two bombs they probably won't have any more.'

Because the warnings were vague, John Lewis was being searched but had not been evacuated when the first bomb went off at 11.10am in a men's lavatory. The store was crowded with customers and more than 1,000 staff.

Fourteen minutes later as people were being evacuated into Cavendish Square behind the store a second bomb went off there in a litter bin near a taxi rank. A parked black cab was damaged.

Three telephone warnings - one to the Independent - had been given that there was a single bomb. A man gave a code word and said that there was a device in an Oxford Street store. When the switchboard operator asked him which one he replied: 'That's for you to find out.'

Commander Tucker said: 'The warning was of one device. There was no mention either of John Lewis or Cavendish Square. Two of the callers claimed to be from the IRA.

'This seems to be a continuance

of this obscene game which the IRA wishes to play with the police. The pattern is there, imprecise messages not indicating whether it is inside the store or outside the store, and impossible time- scales for the police to clear areas.

'That always creates the danger that members of the public and police will be injured. It seems to me to be a deliberate campaign to send misleading messages.'

Both bombs were small, each containing less than a pound of high explosive, and the only serious damage caused was to the lavatory. There is no doubt the IRA knew people would be moved into the area where the second device was hidden.

The narrowest escape was that of Emmanuel Levene, 60, from Barkingside, east London, whose cab was damaged. He walked away around the corner 30 seconds before the blast.

Appeal to shoppers, page 2

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