Thatcher said after Brighton bombing she ‘doubted she would die in her bed’

Documents reveal private reaction to 1984 attack at Conservative conference’s hotel

The shattered top floors of the Grand Hotel after the IRA bombing, which killed five and left 31 injured. Photograph: Getty

The shattered top floors of the Grand Hotel after the IRA bombing, which killed five and left 31 injured. Photograph: Getty

 

Margaret Thatcher confided after the IRA’s 1984 Brighton bomb attack that she “doubted now if she would die in her bed”, according to newly released State papers.

Despite the British prime minister’s “business as usual” public response, Department of Foreign Affairs files reveal she was shaken by the IRA’s attempt on her life when it bombed her hotel at the Conservative Party conference in Brighton on October 12th. Five people were killed and 31 injured.

The next Anglo-Irish summit was due to take place in Ireland a few weeks later, but the British government took up an Irish offer to travel to England for it.

In the run-up to the summit, the British cabinet secretary, Sir Robert Armstrong, told the Irish ambassador in London, Noel Dorr, that lately Thatcher had “become really edgy about security”. He added, for Dorr’s “own ear”, she had recently said to him she “doubted now if she would die in her bed”.

She really believed “the IRA will have another go – and might conceivably aim for a time when the Taoiseach is with her,” he told Dorr.

Patrick Hennessy, press officer at the Irish Embassy in London, was in Brighton the night the bomb exploded in the Grand Hotel at 3am.

‘Rallying effect’

He believed the Conservatives and other British parties were “quite clearly aware of the added resonance”, which he likened to the aftermath of the Falklands victory and which could yet have “important consequences” for Thatcher’s hope of winning a third general election.

Having heard of the bombing, taoiseach Garret FitzGerald had a letter promptly delivered to Thatcher to reassure her that although it was Ireland’s turn to host their next summit, he would be prepared to travel to Britain if that was to prove more appropriate in the changed circumstances.

Knock-on effect

At their Chequers summit meeting the following month, Thatcher insisted that whatever emerged “should not be more, or seen to be more” because of the Brighton bomb. “Neither should that incident be allowed to deflect us from whatever course was agreed.”

But the bomb had already determined the venue of the talks. Whereas on October 9th the Department of Foreign Affairs was informed that Thatcher would be pleased to come to Ashford Castle in Co Mayo for the next summit, by the end of the month Dublin was being advised “the prospect of coming to Ireland still caused her real distress”.

Within a fortnight, arrangements were being finalised for a Chequers summit, with Thatcher instructing Armstrong that she wanted no announcement of venue “at least until all the participants are safely gathered at Chequers on Sunday”.