30 March 2006

Today in history: Car bomb kills Airey Neave


30 March 1979

The bomb exploded when the car was leaving the car park

Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Airey Neave has been killed by a car bomb as he left the House of Commons car park.

The bomb, said to be highly sophisticated, exploded as Mr Neave began driving up the exit ramp shortly before 1500GMT.

Emergency services were on the scene in minutes.

The 63-year-old Conservative MP, known for his tough line on anti-IRA security, was taken to Westminster Hospital where he died from his injuries.

So far two groups, the Provisional IRA and the Irish Natonal Liberation Army, have claimed they carried out the killing.

It is not yet known when the bomb was attached to his car but investigators believe a timing device and trembler - which detonates the bomb through movement - were used to ensure the bomb went off as Mr Neave was leaving the Commons.

The area around Parliament Square was immediately closed as police began a full-scale search of the premises.

Despite increased threats to the safety of MPs not all cars are checked fully as they enter the car park.

Gilbert Kellard, assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police said Mr Neave was aware of the dangers and was "happy and content" with his security.

Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher led tributes to Mr Neave saying: "He was one of freedom's warriors. Courageous, staunch, true. He lived for his beliefs and now he has died for them."

Prime Minister James Callaghan said: "No effort will be spared to bring the murderers to justice and to rid the United Kingdom of the scourge of terrorism."

The killing is thought to have been timed to coincide with the start of the election campaign which was announced yesterday.

Mr Neave was a close adviser to Mrs Thatcher, he led her campaign to become the Conservative Party leader and headed her private office.

In Context

The inquest into Airey Neave's death was told the bomb was attached to the car by magnets and the timer started by a wrist watch. A tiltswitch was used to activate the bomb when the car started.

The Irish National Liberation Army claimed they carried out the killing and said Mr Neave was targetted because he was engaged in "rabid militarist calls for more repression against the Irish people".

Mr Neave's wife, Lady Airey, was made a life peeress in June 1979 as a tribute to her courage following the death of her husband.

The Conservatives went on to win the 1979 general election and Mrs Thatcher became Britain's first ever woman prime minister.

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