At 6.37 pm on 30th April 1999 a bomb exploded in the Admiral Duncan pub on Old Compton Street, Soho. It was a Friday and the start of a bank holiday weekend. Soho is always busy on a Friday evening but was particularly busy and the pub was packed. Rather eerily (from my point of view) it had been a sunny day and was, like the Baltic Exchange, an unseasonably warm evening.
The bomb was a nail bomb and clearly designed to maximise injury. It was the third nail bomb in London in a fortnight. The previous two had been planted in locations that appeared to target “ethnic” communities. The Admiral Duncan was seen as a “gay pub” and so it seemed possible that gay people were the intended target of this bomb. And so it turned out. All three bombs had been made and planted by David Copeland a former member of BNP.
Three people were killed by the bomb, all friends of each other. Andrea Dykes was 4 months pregnant, her husband was seriously injured. John Light, who had been best man at their wedding, also died as did their friend Nik Moore. The bomb contained about 1500 4 inch nails. The devastating effect of this in such a confined environment is easy to imagine. Dozens of people were injured, some very seriously.
I was on duty that evening and happened to be in an appliance heading over Westminster Bridge towards Parliament Square when the initial call came in. This is close to the scene and so we arrived very quickly. In hindsight this was probably a very good thing as it meant I had no time to think about things. I was in a command support role at the time and we parked our appliance a couple of hundred yards away. I then walked with my driver to the scene. On the walk down we passed a number of shocked looking people. When we arrived at the scene it was obvious that, at this time, there were not enough emergency workers yet on the scene to completely deal with the situation. it was obvious that my driver and I needed to take on a “hands-on” role and I radioed my appliance to explain this and ask them to start the command function etc. There were a number of injured with severe words losing lots of blood and we got to work helping to deal with this. Some of the injuries were quite appalling, as you would expect with that number of large nails flying around.
Later into the incident I encountered the body of Andrea Dykes. The stand out thing for me was the uncanny similarity of her injuries to those of Danielle Carter at the Baltic Exchange. So much so, that for a moment, I thought I was experiencing a flashback.
There was a press photo taken quite early in the incident that features me quite prominently. It was used in some national papers and on the cover of a couple of magazines. I am in the centre of the picture looking towards the camera. The thing that really hits me is that my eyes look “dead”. The expression that always comes to mind is thousand yard stare. But I think that is something that my brain did as a defensive strategy. I think part of my mind simply closed down to enable me to get on with my job.
The next few days were similar to the aftermath, in that I felt very tired. I remember on the train home the following day people were reading the newspaper reports and casually chatting about it. I wanted to yell that I was there. Totally illogical I know. A few days later I heard somebody make a homophobic remark relating to the bomb and I very nearly “lost the plot”. Luckily I had a friend with me to steer me emphatically away.
Beyond that I did not feel the incident was a personally intrusive as The Baltic Exchange. I think I simply buried it and failed to process it. Something that was to come back and bite me big time!