Saturday, May 02, 2009

The Soho bombing: 10 years on

On April 30, 1999 the Admiral Duncan pub was targeted by a fascist psychopath.

On two consecutive Saturdays ten years ago London was the theatre of unexplained explosions. The first injured fifty people on the corner of Electric Avenue in Brixton, while the second hit Brick Lane, a busy and picturesque district with a large Bangladeshi population.

Barely were Londoners beginning to make sense of those incidents that, in the evening of Friday, April 30, the crowded Admiral Duncan pub - at the heart of London's gay village- was blown up. The device turned out to be a nail bomb and the most lethal of the three explosions. From the wreckage, a pregnant mother and two friends were found dead while seventy-nine people where injured and some were to remain mutilated for the rest of their life.

Soho, until now a safe haven, was being targeted. No gay man was ever to feel safe from attack again.

However, that was the one episode when CCTV footage proved crucial. The images released prompted a man to alert the police with the news that one of his work colleagues resembled the person caught on camera. The suspect, David Copeland, a 24-year-old from Cove, Hampshire, admitted planting all three bombs as soon as the police paid him a visit.

Very quickly a grim picture came to light, that of a paranoid schizophrenic, a neo-Nazi obsessive on a one-man mission against the black, Asian and gay communities. Copeland claimed "he had been having sadistic dreams from the age of 12. He had thought about killing his classmates and had wanted to be reincarnated as an SS officer. In May 1997, he joined, who else, the British National Party and soon after the National Socialist Movement. In 1998, he was prescribed anti-depressants and told his GP he was 'losing his mind'.

At the trial, his counsel Michael Wolkind QC said that Copeland was suffering from "religious, grandiose, persecutory delusions", convinced that he had been "sent by God" to start a race war and pave the way for an extreme rightwing government. Copeland was sentenced to six life sentences with a High Court judge recommending that he serve a minimum of 50 years.

Ten years on, I remember how the whole affair left the country with a creeping sense of malaise. Some people said Copeland was the predictable, however involuntary, by-product of two decades of solid mainstream homophobia spurted out by successive Tory governments.

Mostly though, it was startling how one of the most vicious terrorist attacks ever to take place in central London was quickly turned into a footnote. After all, did any of the commemorations make the main news?

1 comment:

Imm said...

I enjoyed this, but wonder why you say it was just "gay men" who couldn't feel safe again. What about the women? Or indeed any of the straight people who frequent the area?