Sitnews - Stories In The News - Ketchikan, Alaska - News, Features, Opinions...


Britons return to old routine - survival mode
San Francisco Chronicle


July 11, 2005

LONDON - At the height of the Irish Republican Army attacks in Britain a decade ago, Pamela Bleazard was riding a commuter train into central London when a small bomb exploded onboard.

No one was injured, but passengers were trapped inside when the train doors jammed. Instead of panicking, Bleazard, a high school English teacher, recalled, "we all just lit up cigarettes - despite the 'no smoking' signs."

The grit and resilience of Britons in the face of last week's bombings that killed at least 50 people and injured 700 is a product of years of practice, residents say.

"We've experienced it all before," said Ellen Davies, a 78-year-old former railway worker, who lives near London's Euston train station. "We've been through too much already - the war, the IRA bombings - so we know how to cope."

But the attacks last week are forcing Britons to dust off survival skills honed during the 1980s and 1990s, when the IRA regularly bombed hotels, department stores, banks, buses and trains.

Residents are once again reporting suspicious packages to police, sparking incidents such as the one Saturday in Birmingham, where 20,000 people were evacuated after two suspicious items were found on a bus near the city center and at a nearby Travelodge hotel.

"There will be lots of bomb scares and lots of disruptions," said Pat Murray, a 64-year-old London contractor, who predicted the immediate future would be similar to the time of IRA attacks.

"Sometimes it would take two hours to get to work through traffic. Buses wouldn't run. ... We never knew where it was going to happen next," he said. "It wasn't so much living in fear - it was living with the unknown."

Some IRA attacks were aimed at political leaders, such as at the 1984 bombing of the Grand Hotel in Brighton during a Conservative Party conference. That attack killed five people and wounded 30 others; Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher narrowly escaped serious injury.

The group also targeted public areas with the hope of raising the public's fear. But after an IRA bombing of the Harrods department store in west London in 1983 killed five people and injured 80, shoppers were not frightened off.

"Everyone knew the code," said Tom Gattos, an interior designer and Harrods customer from Chelsea. "When there is an announcement that says, 'All floor supervisors, please come at once,' we would all just get the heck out."

Many Britons seem to agree with the optimistic axiom that once a place is attacked, it is unlikely to be attacked again, at least not for a while.

"My mom was worried about me taking a train to London, but I said to her, 'This is probably the safest day to travel,' " said Nicole McDonough, who had just arrived Sunday on a train from Liverpool to visit her sister in London. "Everyone thinks the attacks were concentrated on one day, and now it's over."

One legacy of the IRA bombings is that British officials have removed trash bins from train stations and many other public places, an anti-terrorism strategy copied by many U.S. cities after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Authorities also have installed security cameras at public places across London. Those tapes are now being reviewed by police in hope of identifying the perpetrators of Thursday's attacks as they entered train stations.

But many residents are pessimistic that stepped up security measures will stop future attacks.

"No matter how tight the security is, you can't stop it," said Bartley Monaghan, a 70-year-old retired nurse from Liverpool. "The criminal mind will always find a way to overcome the security."

Britons have been spared any major incidents since the Good Friday agreement of 1998, which eased the sectarian violence between the Catholic and Protestant groups in Northern Ireland. But some fear last week's bombings may foreshadow more unpredictable global acts of terrorism.

"The IRA phoned in their attacks to radio stations so people could evacuate. They wanted to cause mayhem," said Gavin Brown, a truck driver from Nottingham, who visited a makeshift memorial to the victims at King's Cross station Sunday. "This is very different. It's international - New York, Madrid, London. The whole world is a target."


Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

Publish A Letter on SitNews
        Read Letters/Opinions
Submit A Letter to the Editor

Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska