IRA Ceasefire: How confusion and fear came to British cities: Mainland attacks and killings led to 'Belfast conditions'

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The Independent Online
TWENTY-FIVE years ago, the people of Britain could visit a public house without worrying about unaccompanied bags, drive through London and not encounter armed police roadblocks, and go shopping knowing that the litter bins would not contain Semtex.

Now a ring of steel surrounds both the City of London and the Conservative Party conferences as part of a huge police and security service apparatus. This will take a long time to dismantle. Last night the City of London said its 'traffic management scheme' would remain.

Although Northern Ireland had been seething since 1969, the mainland campaign did not begin until February 1972 when a bomb exploded at Aldershot barracks, killing seven people. It was a reaction to the Bloody Sunday killings and was the Official IRA's first and last mainland attack. The Provisionals' response came in March 1973 in London with bombs at the Old Bailey and Whitehall, killing one and injuring scores.

There followed the public house bombings, in Guildford and Woolwich and then in Birmingham in November 1974.

The effect on social and commercial life of the public house bombings - and the London campaign of bombings and shootings - was dramatic: the doorman and the body and bag search became the norm.

The miscarriages of justice after the public house bombings and the M62 coach bomb resulted mainly from the clumsy responses of police and lawyers unprepared for Irish terrorism and have left a scar on the criminal justice system.

The public grew hardened to the carnage and the restrictions it imposed: the closed-circuit television camera and security spotlight became commonplace.

When six people were killed outside Harrods in December 1983, it ensured that the Christmas shopping period would always be associated with violence. The Conservative conference bombing in Brighton created a new type of divide between politicians and their public.

However, it was not until the well-organised campaign of the late 1980s that the security restrictions in Great Britain began to approach 'Belfast conditions' of armed police patrols, roadblocks and city centre controls.

The murder of Ian Gow in 1990 showed that even the middle echelons of political life were unsafe. A re-appraisal of the protection given to politicians followed. But even the gates at the entrance of Downing Street could not stop mortar bombs landing in the back garden of Number 10.