The Bishopsgate Bomb: Workers sift through the debris in a scene of silent devastation: Tim Kelsey witnessed a sense of disbelief and shock when he went to the site of the blast in the City
Monday 26 April 1993
Some were looking for clues that might lead them to his murderers; others making a start on clearing up. Desolation inspires silence; there was little human noise. There was the wheezing of emergency generators, and the grinding of excavators. Above everything, the shop alarm bells whined.
Detective Superintendent John White kept on saying: 'As far as I know. . . as far as I know everybody else has been accounted for.' There had been several people missing shortly after the explosion. Behind him officers were discussing their difficult progress through the buildings devastated by the IRA bomb on Saturday morning. By yesterday afternoon, they had still not gained access to all of them.
One estate agency reckoned that nearly 2 million sq ft of office space - there are 52 million sq ft in the whole of the City - has been affected. While I was waiting for an escort into Bishopsgate, where the IRA had left its bomb, a man passed by on his way out: 'It's unbelievable, simply unbelievable,' he said.
It was. Behind the blue and white police tape at the north end of Bishopsgate, people went about their business. The traffic was a little heavier than it might otherwise have been. But the police had sealed off about a quarter of the City's square mile, and what Sunday traffic there was choked on roads around the exclusion zone. The sightseers started to arrive in the early afternoon.
Beyond the police tape, there was chaos. Out of the windows of the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank building, stripped of all its glossy architectural conceit, venetian blinds dangled like streamers. Across the road, the National Bank of Abu Dhabi had been devastated. Several floors up, some of the exterior office walls had been torn away. Inside, desks, chairs and typewriters had been thrown around, as if in a violent fight. In offices about 150 yards from the explosion, metal filing cabinets had been ripped open. The damage extended for at least 100 yards beyond that.
In the rubbish of glass, clothing and metal strewn along the road and pavement below, there were some bedraggled pot plants and shattered pots. Det Supt White said: 'It's still very dangerous, there is a lot of glass still hanging in the windows and it's falling.' Workmen were manhandling a huge fractured splinter of glass on to the back of a lorry.
The epicentre of the blast was in the road outside the Church of St Ethelburga-the- Virgin, 50 yards south of the Bank of Abu Dhabi. The church, thought to date from the 13th century, was the smallest in the City. Inside hung the painting, Christ Healing Blind Bartimaeus, a work attributed to the 16th-century Flemish artist Van Aelst. It had 17th- century windows which had survived the Great Fire of London. But where the church stood there is now only a pile of masonry next to a 30-ft crater.
The Dean of the City, Prebendary Alan Tanner, said last night: 'A church of that period would have been built without foundations. It would have no chance . . .'
Further to the north, St Botolph's without Bishopsgate, where John Keats was christened, survives. In the adjacent gardens, daffodils were torn from the soil by the blast and thrown against its walls. But it has only lost some window panes. Outside, there is a board advertising a Eucharist at 11am. St Botolph's was damaged during the Blitz. There has been nothing since to compare with the devastation of this blast. The area affected by the bombing of the Baltic Exchange last year was smaller, though the loss of life - three killed - was higher.
The massive police presence has deterred any breakdown in civil order. A number of shops have no windows or protection. The autobank machine at a branch of Barclays has been blown out of the wall. But Det Sup White confirmed that there had been no looting. Shortly after he said that, one workman thoughtfully picked up a shoe from the pavement and replaced it on its pedestal in the window of a shoe shop.
The police do not know how long it will take before Bishopsgate will be reopened. Some buildings close to the epicentre may have to be demolished. But they are optimistic that neighbouring areas will be cleared quickly.
A short walk from Bishopsgate, at St Paul's Cathedral, the Dean, the Very Rev Eric Evans, made this point in his sermon: 'This great City has faced plague, pestilence, fire and the Blitz and it has won through. It will do so again and the IRA have no more hope of killing the spirit of London and its people than Hitler did.'
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