The Road to Balcombe Street
The IRA Reign of Terror in London
Author: Steven P Moysey
Publishers: The Haworth Press
Price: $65 HB or $35 soft cover
Publication Date: 2007
Publisher’s Title Information
Learn the story of the infamous
1975 standoff between the London Police and the IRA
The history of the IRA’s involvement in terrorist attacks on London
Background and build-up to the 1974-1975 London IRA campaign
The assassination of Ross McWhirter
The Met’s surveillance and dragnet operations tracking the IRA
A moment-by-moment account leading up to the events of December 6, 1975
Day-by-day details of the subsequent siege at Balcombe Street
Negotiation and hostage-crisis resolution techniques used by the Met
Psychological observations arising from the siege
And much, much more!
The Road to Balcombe Street: The IRA Reign of Terror in London is a useful resource for practicing law enforcement negotiating teams and professionals; history, sociology, and social psychology students and educators; and general readers as well.
This is in my view, a very well researched and written book, which covers and explains much more than the IRA murderous bombing and shooting campaign in London in 1974/5, which culminated in what has become known as, 'The Balcombe Street Siege'.
The book commences with an excellent forward by Lord Peter Imbert, QPM who was at the time a Superintendent in the Metropolitan Police, and who would take a major role in the events which unfold in this book.
There are then two pages of acknowledgments, and whilst reading this I became fully aware of the vast amount of research undertaken by the author in order to obtain every scrap of information possible about the events referred to in this book.
The book is, at its core, about the hostage negotiation episode that happened in London during a period of six days in December 1975.
The hostage-takers were four members of the Provisional IRA who had been sent to Britain, under the cloak of relative anonymity, to wreak havoc on the capital, which they did with some success and notoriety for fourteen months.
The book examines the road that brought together the two opposing sides, (the IRA unit and the police), together in Balcombe Street. The author examines the political context of the deliberate campaign of violence perpetrated by the provisional IRA, because, as the author states “without the situational context, we cannot begin to understand the men and their motivation in carrying out the unspeakable acts of violence on the streets, shops, pubs and restaurants of London”.
Chapter 1 Deals with the background to the Provisional IRA campaign.
In the past I have perceived that many people, (particularly some Americans that I have met), do not know the difference between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, nor indeed the difference between Great Britain and the United Kingdom. The history of how this all occurred, and how and why it was that Northern Ireland remained part of the UK is all explained here.
Intertwined in this chapter are the main events in what are now referred to as 'the troubles' in Northern Ireland. All the events, and many of the 'players' whether they were political, terrorist, sectarian or other are covered and well explained in a balanced way. However, I do believe that the author is at one point rather too critical of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and their actions at a civil rights march in Londonderry in the 1960s.
I would like to recommend this chapter, not only to historians, but also to anybody who would like to discover what 'the troubles' were all about or who might find a brief and accurate history of Northern Ireland of interest. The author explains what happened and why, what the outcomes were, and how this was all linked with the ideological thinking of some Republican sympathisers, and why the Provisional IRA embarked on their murderous campaign.
Chapters 2 and 3 explain the build up to what was, compared to previous IRA activities, a very well planned and prepared campaign.
The author explains how the leadership of the Provisional IRA planned this campaign, how and why the men to carry it out were selected and trained, and what they hoped to achieve. During this and the following chapter the author describes in detail all the terrible atrocities carried out by this provisional IRA unit, (and indeed other IRA units in other parts of the country during this period).
Having myself lived and worked in London throughout this time, and been involved, if only on the extreme periphery, of the investigation, I am surprised how my memory has dimmed of those terrible events. It is not until one reads this book and again re-visits those times, does one realise just how terrible the situation was.
The book takes the reader to all the crime scenes in the order in which they occurred, explains how the IRA unit operated, where their safe houses were, how they carried out their attacks, what the aftermaths were, and the police actions.
There were thirty-two different attacks by this particular unit in and around London over a period of fourteen months.
These attacks included explosive devices with timers, (some with anti-handling devices), explosive devices with fuses which were thrown at the targets, (most of the devices included ball bearings to inflict maximum injury), and shootings.
The targets were very varied and included military clubs, a school, busy restaurants, shops in Oxford Street, telephone exchanges, railway stations, prominent politicians, top hotels, bus shelters, and a water pumping station.
As well as the vast amount of damage, the bombs caused the death of scores of people, the maiming of dozens more, and severe injuries to hundreds of totally innocent people, among them foreign nationals.
Interspersed with this was the chase of a suspect, which resulted in the shooting and death of the young PC Stephen Tibble and the discovery of one of the units 'safe houses'.
The book takes the reader through the events of the murder of TV personality Ros McWhirter, leading cancer specialist Professor Gordon Hamilton-Farley, and Bomb Disposal Officer Capt. Roger Goad all as a result of the activities of this IRA unit.
The author also explains how one bomb meant for a leading politician narrowly missed killing Caroline Kennedy the daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy, who was staying in the politician's house as a guest of the family at the time.
Whilst all this is happening, the author also keeps the reader informed about the political activity that was taking place at this time, and also keeps the reader abreast of the police investigations. One interesting fact mentioned is the defiance that Londoner's showed, by continuing to live and go about their business as normally as possible under the circumstances.
Chapter 4 explains and describes how the police planned and set up an operation called “Operation Combo”, which eventually, after a false start, was responsible for the eventual capture of the terrorists.
The thinking and planning behind the operation is explained, and the author describes in detail the events of the evening of December 6th. 1975.
It is hard to keep in one's mind when reading this chapter, that the events as they unfold are fact and not fiction. The author takes the reader through all the events of that evening in detail, from the spotting of the terrorists by the police, a chase of the stolen car by taxi, a chase on foot during which the terrorist fired at the unarmed police who were pursuing them, a 'shoot out' between the terrorists and armed police, and how the IRA unit finished up inside the flat at 22b, Balcombe Street, with the two elderly occupants as hostages.
As I have stated earlier, this book is well written. However, this chapter is more than that. Every detail is described and explained with comments and quotes from those involved, (on both sides), and this makes it even more real for the reader. I found it impossible to put the book down until I had finished this chapter.
The chapter, (and Part 1 of the book), concludes with the police actions to contain the situation in and around the flat at the start of what the press would label 'The Balcombe Street Siege'.
Chapter takes the reader through the many events of the siege between December 7th and 12th 1975.
Each day is individualised, and the reader is informed not only about the police tactics, how and when contact was made with the terrorists, but also regarding the security of the scene, the handling of the press, and press conferences. The reader is also told about the equipment deployed both overtly and covertly by the police, the information thus gained, and how it was used.
The author, (Steven Moysey, PhD), is an organizational psychologist, so it is not surprising that this section of the book also concentrates on the psychological methods used by the two police officers who were to negotiate with the terrorists during the next six days.
Those two police officers were Chief Superintendent Jim Nevill and Superintendent Peter Imbert, assisted by Dr Peter Scott a psychiatrist from a local London hospital.
As explained by the author, the prime object for the police was the safe release of the two hostages. The secondary object was the capture of the terrorists - alive if possible. How this was eventually achieved is explored and explained in great detail. Many people may think that explaining the psychology used and its effects, would be a rather dull part of this book, but the reverse is true. The author uses day-by-day details and intersperses them with quotes from those engaged in the negotiations to keep the reader totally immersed in the siege situation as it unfolded, and eventually reaching a successful conclusion.
Post Siege Events. This chapter deals with the aftermath of the siege, the questioning of the terrorists by the police and the subsequent discovery of two further safe houses and their contents.
The chapter takes the reader through the legal process and subsequent court case at the Old Bailey.
Observations on the Balcombe Street Siege, looks at detail into the siege, what the problems faced by the police were, how some, but not all were overcome, and the techniques used by both sides.
The author also discusses the various stages of this siege, how all the pieces eventually fitted together, and indeed any improvements that might have been possible. He also describes how the SAS were brought to a location close to the scene, and how they were ready to be deployed at a moments notice if required. The author breaks down, investigates, discusses and explains the different stages of the siege as:- Contain, Control, Collect, Communications, Concessions and Conclusion Stage.
Chapter 8, Postscript. This final chapter ties up many loose ends. It also discusses the appeals by the Guildford Four, (Paul Hill, Gerry Conlon, Patrick 'Paddy' Armstrong and Carole Richardson,) and some very interesting reasoning on the part of the author as to why this IRA unit did not, (officially) admit to the Guildford and Woolwich bombings.
The chapter also briefly covers the ensuing careers of many of the police officers mentioned in the book, and the after-effects the siege had on the hostages.
The chapter then continues with a brief and very informative continued history of the political events in Northern Ireland, and brings the reader right up to date - through the 'Good Friday Agreement' and on to the first meeting at Stormont of the power-sharing government in May 2007.
I have just a couple of small criticisms about this book. There are quite a few typographical errors with letters and whole words missing here and there. This is not what I would expect from a publication of this quality.
There are also two factual inaccuracies; the author states that in 1975 the Police discussed with the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Crown Prosecution Service various aspects of the charges to be brought. The Crown Prosecution Service did not start operating until 1986. In 1975 each Police Force had its own legal service, in the case of the Metropolitan Police this was the Metropolitan Police Solicitors Department.
The other inaccuracy is that the author mentions the successful escape by the use of a helicopter of three IRA prisoners from "the Mountjoy prison in Northern Ireland". Mountjoy prison is not in Northern Ireland - it is in Dublin in the Republic of Ireland. It is situated at North Circular Road, Dublin 7.
The Road to Balcombe Street is a carefully crafted, excellent book, which can be read and appreciated by all, irrespective of the interests of the reader. It will most certainly be of great use to law enforcement agencies, negotiators and other professionals in this field.
I recommend this book not only to anybody who has an interest in this field, but also to general readers as well.
Andy Day. 2008.