IRA team who planned terror blitz on capital given 35 years

Judge condemns `most dangerous' men

Michael Streeter,Steve Boggan
Wednesday 02 July 1997 23:02 BST

Six IRA bombers who planned to bring chaos to London and the South-east by blowing up vital electricity sub-stations were yesterday given jail sentences of 35 years each.

The men - described by the security services as a terrorist "A-team" - intended to cause the biggest blackout since the Blitz but were thwarted by a sophisticated undercover operation mounted by police and MI5 officers.

A jury at the Old Bailey took 12 hours and four minutes to convict Donald Gannon, 34; John Crawley, 39; Gerard Hanratty, 38; Robert Morrow, 37; Patrick Martin, 35; and Francis Rafferty, 45; of conspiracy to cause explosions. Two others, Clive Brampton, 36, and Martin Murphy, 36, were cleared.

The security forces were jubilant last night at breaking up an IRA gang which, in the words of one senior anti-terrorist figure, contained some of "the most dangerous people" he had ever seen in one place.

Sentencing the gang, Mr Justice Scott Baker said: "Those who seek to advance a political argument by terrorism can expect no mercy in the courts of this land.

"You set out to destabilise the community by wrecking the electricity supplies to the South-east of England. You were reckless as to the number of people who might be killed or maimed as a consequence of your planned bombings."

Members of the IRA cell were seen last July "casing-out" power stations at Amersham, Elstree, Waltham Cross, Canterbury ,Weybridge, and Rayleigh. A joint operation by police, Special Branch, Criminal Intelligence, MI5 and the Anti-Terrorist Branch carried out 10 days of intensive surveillance, including electronic eavesdropping, and uncovered a highly-organised, well-funded and potentially lethal IRA plan to bring the capital to its knees.

When detectives raided the home of one of the gang in Peckham, south London, they found the basement packed with 37 wooden box devices - six for each sub-station and one prototype - ticking and being charged up from the mains.

No explosives were ever found but the jury rejected the gang's defence that they intended to use the devices to hoax the National Grid into closing down voluntarily.

Commander John Grieve, head of the Anti-Terrorist Branch at Scotland Yard, said the boxes in the terrorists "workshop" had been a "chilling and sinister" sight. "It reminded me of a row of coffins," he said.

The discovery of the plot last year was seen as having considerable implications. Although the team became active in early June last year and was under surveillance only from 5 July to 15 July , the vast array of false identity papers - each member had up to four aliases each - dated from up to two years before and suggested they had been involved in preparations during the IRA ceasefire.

Detectives were struck by the sheer scale of the operation, described by Commander Grieve as the most "sophisticated" he had ever seen.

The team carried out detailed reconnaissance of the sites and had maps of the National Grid. Gannon was spotted at Battersea public library taking notes from the Electricity Supply Handbook.

The gang was split into teams with an engineer/driver combination; Hanratty and Crawley to target Amersham and Elstree; Rafferty and Morrow on Rayleigh and Waltham Cross; and Gannon and Martin on Canterbury and Weybridge.

The devices - known as time and power units - were wooden boxes measuring 16in by 6in by 6in, containing a 6v battery, a switch, bulb and central heating timer giving the terrorists 100 hours leeway.

Detectives were frustrated they never found any of the explosives intended for the attack despite searching 7,000 lock up garages. They believe the Semtex was probably kept in a remote dump.

As an unexpected bonus, during the search of the garages, detectives found more than pounds 1m worth of stolen goods. Security forces have refused to reveal whether the terrorists planned future attacks, but it is widely assumed that such a high-level group in the IRA command structure would have been lined up for further projects.

If the plot had succeeded, the disruption would have been huge. The apparent plan was to strike early on Monday 22 July. As commuters headed for the capital, traffic lights would have failed, causing almost certain gridlock.

Police believe loss of life was inevitable, while the cost to businesses could have run into tens of millions of pounds.

After the case ended yesterday Mr Murphy was detained and questioned under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

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