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24 April 1997 Edition

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IRA brings Britain to a halt

A SERIES OF IRA BOMBS AND BOMB SCARES carried out across England since Friday 18 April brought major transport links, including some of the most important road, rail and air transport facilities in England, to a standstill.

On Friday the M6 was blocked between junctions 25-31 and further south at junctions 13-16. Leeds was also closed after a bomb exploded at a signal box at Leeds station while a bomb on a road over a rail bridge just north of Doncaster brought road and rail traffic to a halt. Crewe station, one of the most important north/south rail links in Britain, was also closed. Effectively, Scotland was cut off from England.

The Leeds bomb was similar to the one exploded in Wilmslow in Chesire a number of weeks ago. It went off in a signal box at 9am as British police were evacuating the station despite having received an initial warning of the bomb almost two hours before. Leeds city centre ground to a halt because of the traffic disruption.

The Doncaster bomb detonated at 10am. Many trains were halted at stations as warnings coming in about bombs in Stoke-on-Trent forced massive searches ensuring that the rail network was paralysed.

The Freight Transport Association estimated that up to 40,000 goods vehicles a day use the parts of the M6 that was closed while 100 freight trains a day pass through Crewe and Doncaster stations.

Then on Monday a series of bomb hoaxes in and around the British capital caused travel chaos as rail, road and air travel was totally disrupted. Gatwick airport was closed for 6 hours while Luton and Stansted airports received bomb warnings forcing them to a standstill. Flights to both Belfast airports were abandoned, as were others to most major European cities.

Elsewhere, London's Jubilee line was closed to rail transport as warnings of bombs in some of London's main rail stations were phoned in. Millions were affected by the chaos and the economic cost has yet to be assessed.

A series of calls, the first at 6.45am, were made to hospitals and shops warning of bombs in mainline stations in London.

By 6.49am King's Cross, St. Pancras, Charing Cross, Paddington, Baker Street and all three stations at Watford junction were evacuated. Within three minutes, at 6.52am, Luton airport received a bomb warning. Soon after alerts closed Gatwick, Stansted and parts of Heathrow airports. By 9am, at the height of the rush hour, London was `gridlocked' with a ten mile jam on the M25. At one point Trafalgar Square was empty.

Transport consultant Martin Mogeridge said that 250,000 vehicles ``cross the inner London cordon during the peak of the rush hour. If you target four key points in the morning rush hour where drivers have no choice but to carry on in to London, then it is relatively easy to bring the roads to a halt''.

Claiming responsibility for the disruption the IRA in a statement said, ``Volunteers in Oglaigh na hEireann planted 2 bombs at Leeds and Doncaster last Friday 18 April. Our Volunteers were also behind the series of bomb alerts issued throughout the London area on Monday 21 April which caused widespread road, rail and air traffic disruption''. P O'Neill, Irish Republican Publicity Bureau, Dublin.
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