Bomber and daughter of victim return to Brighton together

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The Independent Online

The IRA bomber Patrick Magee will return next week to Brighton, where he tried, 20 years ago, to blow up the British Cabinet. The last time Mr Magee visited Brighton he planted a bomb which killed five people in the Grand Hotel during the 1984 Tory party conference. This time he will be reunited with the daughter of one of his victims.

The IRA bomber Patrick Magee will return next week to Brighton, where he tried, 20 years ago, to blow up the British Cabinet. The last time Mr Magee visited Brighton he planted a bomb which killed five people in the Grand Hotel during the 1984 Tory party conference. This time he will be reunited with the daughter of one of his victims.

The relationship between Mr Magee and Jo Tuffnell, whose father Sir Anthony Berry MP died in the explosion in the hotel, is one of the most unexpected relationships to be forged from the Troubles in Northern Ireland. For several years the pair have been conducting long and searching conversations dissecting their roles as victim and perpetrator.

Although Mr Magee says he has come a long way since his gelignite days, he declares: "I stand by my actions." It is a stance that is echoed by many republicans, who say IRA killings were regrettable but stop short of saying they were wrong.

The bomb that Mr Magee left concealed in a hotel bathroom killed two Tory politicians and the wives of three others, as well as injuring more than 30 people, some very seriously. In September 1986, he received eight life sentences at the Old Bailey by a judge who described him as "a man of exceptional cruelty and inhumanity", but he was released after 14 years under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

He and Mrs Tuffnell describe their meetings in the latest edition of She, a women's lifestyle magazine. Mr Magee said of their first meeting: "I had an overwhelming urge to talk to Jo alone. It felt like the presence of anyone else was intrusive and would stop me opening up and being as frank as I needed."

But, he added: "I wasn't prepared, and I felt totally inadequate with someone sitting there with all that pain, telling it to me, while at the same time trying to understand me. There was certainly guilt there, that I'd caused this woman's father's death. But that feeling only came to the forefront when we were coming out of the [IRA] struggle, because during the struggle there wasn't time and you couldn't have engaged in it if you'd had that mind.

"Some day I may be able to forgive myself. Although I still stand by my actions, I will always carry the burden that I harmed other people.

"It's stood as an impediment between me and Jo when I reiterate that I stand behind my actions. It's hard for her to hear me say that but, if I am put on the spot and asked a difficult question, I'll answer it."

He said the "overwhelming thing" he had learnt through meeting Mrs Tuffnell and other victims was how precious human life was, and that violence must only be a last resort.

Mrs Tuffnell described visiting a church where "an incredible feeling came over me as I prayed to be able to find the strength to understand those who had done this and not stay a victim".

She said of meeting Mr Magee: "Only Pat could understand how I felt - he was the only person who actually wanted to hear how I felt. When we first met he said, 'I want to hear your anger and feel your pain.' No one else had ever said that to me. I'm no longer scared of my darkest feelings, because I know however negative and awful they are, I can transform them into a passion for change."

In hardline republican circles, Mr Magee was feted as a hero responsible for an audacious attack on the British establishment, who then endured years of strict jail conditions in England. In prison, he achieved a first-class honours degree as well as a PhD on the depiction of the IRA in fiction based on the Troubles. He became a strong supporter of the peace process.

Perceptions of Mr Magee have changed since his release from prison, his contacts with Mrs Tuffnell and other victims lending him the air of being one of the most introspective of republican activists. He now has a reputation for seriously contemplating his past.

Similar initiatives have also been taken, on a more private level, by other republican and loyalist ex-prisoners whose perspectives have been broadened by the decline of the major paramilitary campaigns. In the past decade, many victims have felt more free to speak out and pose questions, organising themselves into different groups. Some of these have a political agenda while others pursue their aims at a personal level.

One of those organising the Brighton meeting said: "This event is an attempt to bring some good out of something bad, to show there is another way to the future."

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