Off-duty soldier injured by pub bomb wins pension

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The Independent Online

A former soldier who was seriously injured in an IRA bomb attack on a Guildford pub in 1974 has won compensation from the Ministry of Defence.

Sheila Higham was a 19-year-old private in the Women's Royal Army Corps, celebrating a birthday with friends, when the blast ripped through the Horse and Groom pub. Three of her friends were killed and she suffered severe burns, bruises and lacerations.

In total, five people died and 57 were injured in explosions at the Horse and Groom and the nearby Seven Stars, another pub popular with soldiers. She has now become the first former member of the armed forces to be awarded a war pension for injuries suffered while she was off-duty.

The Guildford bombings have become notorious for the subsequent miscarriage of justice in which three men and a woman were wrongfully convicted of the attacks, spending 15 years in jail before the verdict was quashed. Their story was made into a Hollywood film,In the Name of the Father.

But the failure to bring the real bombers to justice has only made the pain of the victims worse. Ms Higham, now 46, said: "Having nobody to pay for something is very difficult when your friends were murdered when they were 17 and had a full life ahead of them."

After the attack, she was determined "not to let the terrorists win" and tried to complete her basic training. But a year later she remained deeply disturbed by the bombing and left the service. The memory of the attack has continued to play on her mind and she suffered a breakdown last year.

"I have had very vivid nightmares for years and it is physically exhausting," she said. She still occasionally visits hospital to have pieces of glass removed from beneath her skin.

After the bombings, the military authorities ruled that the injured service personnel were victims of a criminal act and, so, ineligible for a war pension.

It was the political reaction to the 11 September attacks that made Ms Higham determined to seek more appropriate redress. "I heard politicians saying that terrorism was an act of war," she said. "The terrorists targeted the pub that I was in because they saw it as a military target."

The War Pensions Agency awarded Ms Higham a 30 per cent disablement pension, saying her case was "exceptional".