Tears flow at reopening of bombed pub

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The Independent Online
WITH CLOSELY cropped hair and outwardly impassive, as befits his trade, the security guard stood with muscular arms folded scanning the large crowd that had assembled outside the Admiral Duncan pub in Soho, London - target of the horrific nail bomb attack just nine weeks ago that left three people dead and 86 injured. But as the short ceremony drew to a close, and a singer belted out a powerful version of "Somewhere" from West Side Story, the security man's eyes filled with tears.

In front of him a small knot of victims and their relatives hugged and stroked each other, and wept openly. One young man on crutches, his leg still held together by a metal frame, was so overcome that he had to be escorted back inside. Such was the charged emotion on Old Compton Street, in the heart of the capital's gay district, last night.

Boy George had by then already supplied the celebrity presence at the event, wearing a polka dot top hat and escorted through the cheering crowd by a huge policeman.

"Tonight is about so many things. It is about sadness and remembrance, but it is also about moving on," he said. "The opening of the Admiral Duncan in just nine weeks sends out a powerful message to the small but very dangerous minority that wishes to terrorise and destroy London's gay and ethnic communities."

The ceremony was taken by Neil Whitehouse from the charity Kairos, directly next door to the pub, which aims to provide "social and spiritual resources for lesbians, gay men and friends". Introducing himself as an "out, gay Methodist minister", he called for the bombing to be a catalyst for greater understanding between different communities.

As the time moved towards 6.37pm, the exact moment of the explosion, the crowd was stilled into a minute's silence for the victims, followed by the tolling bell of the local parish church.

Then the staff of the pub, who had been on duty that night, cut ribbons on a large rainbow rosette hanging in the doorway to declare the pub open again. They were led by Mark Taylor, its manager, who suffered severe burns when the bomb went offas he shepherded customers out of the bar. He urged that the evening should be a celebration. "We have to look to the future," he said. He was described by his boss as "one of the most courageous men I have ever met".

The opening came on the eve of London's annual gay and lesbian street march and festival. This year it has been modelled on the flamboyant Mardi Gras events in Sydney and San Francisco. Last year the Gay Pride celebration had to be cancelled after the organisersfailed to sell enough tickets. This year they hired one of the organisers of Sydney's event, andalmost 40,000 of the 65,000 tickets have been sold for the after-march party in Finsbury Park, north London, where Steps, Billy, E17 and Boy George among others will perform.