Will Brighton bomber return for anniversary?

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The Independent Online

The man who planted the Brighton hotel bomb has been invited back to the seaside town to attend a commemoration marking the upcoming 25th anniversary of the IRA's most deadly attack on mainland Britain, The Independent has learnt.

Patrick Magee's 30lb bomb killed five people during the Conservative Party conference in October 1984 and nearly succeeded in assassinating the then prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

An official commemoration marking the bombing is being planned at the Brighton Grand hotel and will be led by the Tory peer Lord Tebbit and his wife Margaret, who was paralysed in the blast. They will unveil a memorial plaque on 12 October, 25 years on from a bomb blast that shocked British society.

But Magee has also been invited to a separate ceremony by Jo Berry, whose father Sir Anthony Berry, a government whip, was killed in the blast. She has become good friends with the bomber since his early release from prison in 1999 under the terms of the Good Friday agreement. Berry's charity, Building Bridges for Peace, specialises in conflict resolution and the pair have given lectures around the world about their unlikely friendship after Magee killed her father.

Speaking to The Independent yesterday, Ms Berry said she would invite Magee down to Brighton for the 25th anniversary where they intend to separately screen "Soldiers of Peace", a film narrated by Michael Douglas about 14 different areas of the world where conflicts have been resolved through dialogue. Magee and Berry's friendship features prominently.

"I'm sure it [inviting Magee] will be a controversial move but I've thought long and hard about it," she said. "The reason why I feel OK about inviting Pat down is because the film is bigger than the two of us and it is about creating something positive from conflict. Pat's in a very different place to where he was 25 years ago."

There is no suggestion that Magee will be attending any of the official commemorations.

Magee, who now lives in Belfast and has publicly regretted the loss of life caused by the bomb but has resolutely defended his reasons for planting it, has yet to decide whether or not to travel to Brighton.

The invitation is likely to cause controversy, not least for Lord Tebbit who has said he can never forgive Magee and would only want to bump into the Irishman "with a heavy truck".

Margaret and Norman Tebbit were buried under tonnes of rubble as the ceiling above them collapsed. It took firemen hours to reach them and both were severely injured. But while Lord Tebbit recovered fully from his injuries, Margaret has been paralysed from the neck down for the past 25 years and has needed round-the-clock carers.

Exact plans for the official commemoration at the Brighton Grand have still to be finalised, but Tebbit and his wife will unveil a memorial plaque. Invitations have gone out to fellow survivors.

A close friend of the couple said yesterday that he decided to go after talking it through with his wife. "It's an incredibly brave thing to do," the friend said. "For 25 yeas now Margaret has been in that wheelchair, it's utterly heartbreaking."

Michael Knox-Johnston, the manager of the Brighton Grand said: "It's a sensitive issue but we feel it is important to mark the occasion somehow. We will be holding a remembrance service although I can't tell you all the people who are coming because we are still in the planning stages."