The suburban bomb factory

`Obviously, O'Brien had to live somewhere - but not in my road. I thought we were safe down here.'
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The Independent Online
It was an unremarkable house in an ordinary street in south-east London, until the police burst through the doors to find Semtex explosive and enough equipment to have sustained a month-long campaign of violence.

Neighbours were shocked to learn that 117 George Lane had been an IRA bomb factory. Scotland Yard first arrived on Monday, but revealed few details of their interest in the large turn-of-the-century house on the Lewisham-Catford border.

Yesterday, as the opening of an inquest shed first light on the London life of the bomber Edward O'Brien, and the media descended, news of the explosive find spread rapidly.

"Obviously, he had to live somewhere," said Charlie Costa, 16, a labourer. "But not in my road. I thought we would be safe down here, away from the centre of London."

Edward O'Brien, 21, had been just another passer-through in a once close- knit community that is now a bedsit land of flat conversions.

Marcus Bowery, 22, lived next door but never saw his recently departed neighbour. "I've never seen anybody next door at all actually," he said.

"They raided it on Monday. I thought it must be serious coming just after the bomb, but it was only confirmed this morning. It's taken a while to sink in," he said. If the explosive went off by accident in the bus, it could have gone off by accident anywhere. It's not what you expect to find in your own neighbourhood."

No one claimed to know Edward O'Brien. He slipped into the community last November, renting the fourth flat in the home owned by an elderly couple, Anthony and Marie Carley, who used to run the George pub down the road. Their phone appeared to be off the hook yesterday.

In an area of many accents and nationalities, another Irish voice went unnoticed. The Lewisham Irish community centre is in the neighbouring Davenport Road, welcomingemigrants daily, with bingo and tea dances for pensioners; language classes for the kids.

Besides, O'Brien rarely said anything. Ramesh Patel, the local newsagent, said: "He was very quiet. He never spoke to us in the shop. He just used to come in and buy his cigarettes and go out, he was not at all friendly." The red-haired youth was always untidy, dressed in jeans and jumpers but, said Mr Patel: "He looked too young to be a terrorist."

On Fridays, O'Brien would grab a pounds 5 minicab to the Swan at Stockwell to the "life of Riley" irish music gigsl. The manager at Easyrider Cabs - who did not want to be named - said there was never any conversation.There was never a tip either.

The bus driver Bob Newitt, 49, who was critically injured in the explosion, lives in Brockley, barely a couple of miles from George Lane.

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