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How IRA plotted to switch off London

Jason Bennetto Crime Correspondent
Friday 11 April 1997 23:02 BST

An IRA team planned an elaborate multiple bomb attack to knock out the electricity supply across London and substantial parts of the South-East for months, the Old Bailey heard yesterday. But the terrorist plot, which would have blacked out millions of homes and businesses, was foiled by a joint police and MI5 operation, members of the jury were told.

Thirty-seven explosive devices were recovered in police raids in which seven alleged members of an active terrorist unit, including a former US Marine, were arrested.

The IRA cell intended to blow up six electrical sub-stations last July as part of an elaborate scheme to bring chaos to the British mainland, the prosecution claimed. An eighth man was hired to provide fake identifications and find premises in the Birmingham area where a lorry could be secretly unloaded, the court heard.

The trial is the first to involve alleged IRA action since the ceasefire was shattered by the Docklands bomb in east London in February 1996.

Donald Gannon, 33, Gerard Hanratty, 37, Martin Murphy, 38, Patrick Martin, 34, Robert Morrow, 36, Francis Rafferty, 44, and John Crawley, 39, all from Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, and Clive Brampton, 36, from Birmingham,deny conspiring to cause explosions likely to endanger life or cause serious injury to property.

The court heard that Mr Crawley, an Irish-American, was a US Marine from 1975 until 1979. He was in a battalion which specialised in map reading and demolition, using explosives.

The alleged IRA team was able to get details about the sub-stations, which are owned by the National Grid Group, from a library book which included map of the system.

Nigel Sweeney, prosecuting, said the IRA unit had intended to carry out the co-ordinated attacks last summer.

Mr Sweeney said: "Had the conspiracy succeeded, it would have resulted in serious and widespread loss of electricity to London and the South- East.

"Supplies to consumers would have been affected over a considerable period", he said.

The jury heard that all the defendants, except Clive Brampton, are accused of being IRA members who came to London from the Republic with false identities and pounds 24,000 in cash, which was used to rent a lock-up garage in Wimbledon, south-west London, and three safe houses, in Tooting, and Peckham, in south London, and near Wandsworth, south-west London.

They researched their intended targets and reconnoitred at least five of the sub-stations. By crippling the six sub-stations, which channel almost all the electricity used in the London area and parts of the Home Counties, the city's power would be knocked out for a considerable period. The sub-stations were named as Amersham Main, Buckinghamshire, Elstree, Waltham Cross, in Hertsfordshire, Rayleigh Main, in Essex, Canterbury North, in Kent and West Weybridge, in Surrey.

However, while the IRA men were carrying out their work, they were being secretly watched by officers from the Metropolitan Police, MI5, and the West Midlands Police, the court heard.

In the early hours of 15 July last year, Metropolitan police raided three premises London. At both the Tooting and Peckham addresses officers found "a mass of incriminating evidence", the jury was told. At a basement in Peckham this included 37 part-made "time and power units", said Mr Sweeney. The only parts missing from the devices were the 2.5kg of Semtex explosives and detonators. Each unit could be set to explode up to 100 hours in advance.

Mr Sweeney said evidence recovered included fake identifications, large amounts of cash, maps and research about the electricity network.

To attack the sub-stations, he claimed the IRA cell had brought six pairs of extendible ladders, bolt cutters, and crow bars.

The prosecution will argue that Mr Gannon obtained a map of the electricity network from the annual Electricity Supply Handbook which he took from Battersea public library in London. Mr Brampton was arrested in Birmingham by West Midlands police on the same day as the seven defendants in London.

The trial, which is expected to last up to eight weeks, continues on Monday.

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