Lt-Col George Styles

Courageous bomb disposal officer awarded the George Cross
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The Independent Online

Stephen George Styles, bomb disposal officer and engineer: born Crawley, Sussex 16 March 1928; GC 1972; married 1952 Mary Woolgar (one son, two daughters); died 1 August 2006.

George Styles was awarded the George Cross for successfully disarming two extremely complex and highly dangerous bombs in the Europa Hotel in Belfast in 1971.

As Senior Ammunition Technical Officer in Northern Ireland, Major Styles was commanding the Explosive Ordnance and Disposal Team of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps (RAOC) who were attempting to deal with the upsurge of explosive devices. One of these had been discovered in Castlerobin, Co Antrim, but while attempting to dismantle the device one of Styles's officers had been killed.

Fortunately a similar device was discovered intact. An X-ray showed microswitches at the base and the top of the box which meant that when the box was either lifted, or the lid opened, the bomb would explode. With a light bulb substituting for a detonator, Styles constructed an identical model out of cake and biscuit tins and worked with this mock-up on his kitchen table, much to the interest of his children. When the light bulb came on he realised that he would have been killed had it been the real thing.

Styles was alerted in October 1971 that the IRA had placed a box containing a 15lb bomb behind a telephone booth in the bar of the newly constructed, 12-storey Europa Hotel, which had become the HQ for the world's press who had come to report on the Troubles. Styles immediately recognised that it was a similar bomb to that which had killed his colleague. He ordered the area to be cordoned off and the first thing he did was to X-ray the bomb. The plates had to be sent to the Royal Victoria Hospital to be developed.

Once he had the results, Styles set out to disarm the bomb step-by-step. Finally he had two of his team fix a harness around the device which they cautiously pulled out of the hotel and set behind a sandbag bunker. Styles detonated the bomb with a controlled explosion. The whole operation had taken seven nerve-wracking hours. He was to say later: "Inside of that box was enough energy to blow your head from your shoulders, your arms and legs from your trunk and your trunk through the plate-glass window of the Europa and into the house across the road."

Styles believed that the IRA would be back again and to the Europa. He was proved right as, 48 hours later, two armed IRA men placed a 40lb bomb on the main reception desk. On it they had scrawled: "Tee, hee, hee, hee, ho, ho, ha, ha."

Styles worked diligently for nine hours to disarm the bomb, even though it had an anti-handling device and an immense confusion of wire. Two determined and ingenious attempts by the IRA against life and property had been defeated and much technical information had been obtained which would help save lives of operators in the future. For his courage under immense pressure Styles was awarded the George Cross. His former Commanding Officer said of him: "In an emergency, when George Styles is present the world is a safer place."

Born in 1928, Styles was educated at Collyer Grammar School in Horsham, Sussex, and was called up for National Service in 1946 and commissioned into the RAOC. In 1949 he obtained a regular commission and was seconded to the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry with whom he saw action in the Malayan Campaign in 1949-50, for which he was mentioned in Dispatches. On his return to the UK he studied for an engineering degree at the Royal Military College of Science before returning to Malaya to command an ordnance field regiment.

After a posting to Germany, Styles moved to Northern Ireland at the onset of the civil unrest in 1969 and his team defused over a thousand explosive devices. One of his lighter moments came when he was observing a suspicious box in a house. The owner's cat also took a shine to the box but Styles's shooing and shooing did nothing to halt the cat's progress until he decided to bark at it like a bad-tempered dog.

He left Northern Ireland in 1972 and was promoted Lieutenant-Colonel. He continued his intense interest in bomb disposal and ballistics after he left the Army in 1974. He was called as an expert witness after the shooting of WPC Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan Embassy in London in 1984.

Styles served as a director of various firms advising on security and anti-terrorist methods and in 1975 wrote Bombs Have No Pity. He was an excellent shot and enjoyed rifle and game shooting. His hobby was collecting rare cartridges.

Max Arthur