Old Bailey bomber held over murder of soldiers

Unrepentant republican convicted for her part in 1973 blast is arrested by police investigating barracks killings in March

For decades she has stood as a symbol of hardline Irish republican militancy.

And today Marian Price – who 36 years ago tried to blow up the Old Bailey as part of an IRA bombing campaign – was again the subject of a huge anti-terror operation.

Heavily armed police raided Price’s home in the republican Andersonstown area of west Belfast and she was taken away for questioning about the Real IRA killings of Sappers Patrick Azimkar, 21, from London, and Mark Quinsey, 23.

The soldiers were shot in March outside their barracks at Massereene, Co Antrim, when they went out to collect pizzas the night before they were due to deploy to Afghanistan. The attack was carried out by the Real IRA, a splinter group from the now-defunct mainstream IRA.

Since then a total of twelve people have been arrested in connection with the killings. Two of them have been charged with murder.

The incident was part of an ongoing upsurge of dissident republican violence in which gunmen also killed a police officer. Since then three small groups have been responsible for a wave of other attacks which are causing serious concerns to the security authorities.

Price and her sister Dolours, known together as the Price sisters, were jailed for life in the early 1970s after being convicted of setting off bombs at London's Old Bailey criminal court and New Scotland Yard.

She has since declared: “I've never had a sleepless night over anything I've done as an IRA volunteer. Bombs are weapons of war. Western states have used them far more brutally than we ever did.”

Price, now a 55-year-old mother of two children, has become a vocal supporter of the Real IRA and has opposed the peace process.

In recent years she has been associated with organisations which proclaim their support for the right of such groups to use violence. She now denounces Sinn Fein and its leaders such as Gerry Adams. “They sold out on all republican principles and core values,” she says

The Price sisters came from a staunch Belfast republican family headed by their father Albert, an IRA member. At an IRA funeral one of the firing party's pistols did not work and Albert took it from him, working with it to try to unjam it.

In the 1950s the sisters' Aunt Bridie, also an active republican, was handling a bomb when it exploded prematurely: she lost her sight and both eyes. Until her death she was venerated by Belfast republicans for what they regarded as her sacrifice.

Marian Price became an IRA member as a teenager, having done some training first as a nurse and later as a teacher.

She later said: “I joined young but I knew the risks involved. I had thought long and hard. It wasn't an emotional reaction to something that happened my family or me – it was a question of fulfilling the beliefs I still hold.”

She was 19 and Dolours was 22 when, in March 1973, the IRA put Dolours in charge of a unit which extended its campaign from Northern Ireland to the heart of London. The sisters volunteered for the mission.

The IRA later said its intention was “to strike at economic, military, political and judicial targets.”

Four bombs were brought from Belfast to Liverpool on car ferries by a team of eleven IRA members, some of whom were teenagers. They included Gerry Kelly who, after decades of IRA activity, is today a Sinn Fein minister in Northern Ireland's powersharing administration.

The cars were left during the morning at targets which included the Old Bailey, New Scotland Yard and an army recruitment office. The plan was that the devices would explode at 3pm, by which time the bombers would have flown back to Ireland.

But two of the cars were spotted during the day by police, who then sealed off ports and airports, netting almost every member of the unit. A detective who interrogated Price later said that around 3pm she looked at her watch and smiled.

The bombs at the Old Bailey and New Scotland Yard went off at this time, the device at the court injuring 213 people and causing extensive damage. Several hours after the explosion a local caretaker who had helped out in the aftermath of the blast collapsed and died.

The man, Frederick Milton, had suffered a heart attack hours before the explosion. An inquest jury returned a verdict of murder. Members of the unit were not however charged with murder but received lengthy sentences for causing explosions.

When one woman IRA member was acquitted the other defendants, who believed she had cooperated with police, hummed the Dead March from Saul. One threw a coin at her, shouting, “Take your blood money with you.”

The Price sisters and Gerry Kelly later went on hungerstrike after the authorities refused to allow them to serve their sentences in Northern Ireland rather than England.

The subsequent dispute dragged on for months, with opinion divided between those who thought a transfer should not be given to IRA bombers and those who believed the government was attracting damaging publicity.

A Home Secretary described force-feeding as “a barbarous practice” and eventually the transfers took place.

Price developed anorexia, her weight dropping to less than six stone, and in 1980 was freed under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy. For many years she was not politically prominent, but in the early 1990s she again came to public notice as a strong critic of the peace process.

It was reported that, a year before the Old Bailey bombing, the two sisters had collected Gerry Adams when he was freed from prison. As the peace process took shape, however, Marian launched fierce attacks on him and other republicans, accusing them of “treason and treachery.”

Sinn Fein's increasingly political course was supported by a large majority of republicans, including present and past IRA members, whose votes have ensured that it is now the largest nationalist party in Northern Ireland.

But a vociferous minority accuses the Adams leadership of abandoning real republicanism. Some of these critics do not advocate a return to “armed struggle” but others believe a violent campaign should go on. Both tendencies contain many for whom Adams is now a hate figure.

One interviewer described Price as “spitting scorn” when she spoke of Adams. According to Price: “Adams says he was never in the IRA. That is total hypocrisy. Gerry Adams and I were once friends. We certainly aren't now. He may have difficulty admitting his IRA past but I'm very, very proud of mine.”

In recent years she has been involved in an organisation looking after the welfare of jailed Real IRA members and their families. In 2000 she gave a graveside oration at the funeral of Joseph O'Connor, a prominent Real IRA member in Belfast who was shot by other republicans.

Blaming the IRA, which was then still active, for the killing, she warned in her speech: “Let there be no doubt - those responsible for this foul murder have been clearly identified. Shame, shame on you.

Dolours Price has also expressed dissident views. After her release from prison she married the prominent Belfast actor, Stephen Rea, who is not believed to share her political views. The couple separated some years ago.

Sectarian killers Where are they now?

Sean Murray is an IRA veteran, involved in republican activities since 1969 and regarded as key figure in the organisation. He was arrested many times and given a 12-year sentence for explosives offences in 1982. Today a community activist, he is involved in contacts with the authorities and with Protestant groups on issues such as contentious parades and peacelines.

Michael Stone, the loyalist described as one of Northern Ireland's most notorious but most mystifying murderers, came to the world's attention with a televised attack in 1988 on mourners at an IRA funeral. He killed three mourners with a revolver and hand grenades. After serving a lengthy prison sentence he staged another televised incident in 2006, attempting to burst into Belfast's Stormont parliament to attack republicans. He is appealing against the 16-year sentence he received.

Colin Duffy is a veteran republican activist who is behind bars awaiting trial over the murders of two soldiers shot dead by the Real IRA in March. In the 1990s he faced murder charges in connection with the shootings of two police officers in Co Armagh, but the charges were dropped. Earlier he escaped with his life in an incident when a friend was shot dead by loyalists.

Pat Magee is a Belfast republican known as the Brighton bomber who received multiple life sentences for planting a bomb which narrowly missed killing Margaret Thatcher in 1984. After many years in prison he has involved himself in forgiveness and reconciliation activities, often cooperating with Jo Berry, whose father, Conservative MP Sir Anthony Berry, died in the explosion.

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