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The Bishopsgate bomb – true tales from an ex-IT support man Episode 23

Some of you may remember, several years ago, 24 April 1993 to be exact, when the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) detonated a powerful truck bomb on Bishopsgate, in the City of London. I happened to have been working in SG Warburg on that day, which is a stone’s throw from where the bomb was detonated. I was supervising a team that was doing some maintenance and installations on several of the floors in the building – on that particular day I had taken my daughter into the office with me to give my other half a break.

On the way into the building, I noticed a very large cherrypicker/crane in a road adjacent to our building – it was on blocks to prevent movement.

When we got to the 2nd floor, where my office was, my daughter grabbed some pens and paper, sat in my chair at my desk and proceeded to draw things (as 7 year olds do), periodically spinning around on the chair. Everyone got down to the work of the day, ordering in McDonalds for breakfast, coffee - you know, standard office stuff. So, there we were, beavering away at the tasks of the day and then...

At 10:27, there was an almighty boom and the whole building felt as though it had lifted off its foundations, unseating my daughter from the chair on which she had been spinning (we kidded her that the bang was down to her falling off the chair – father of the year, I ain’t!), as well as setting off car alarms in the streets and causing an enormous dust cloud to roll down the road where the cherrypicker was. 

I had initially thought that it was the cherrypicker that had toppled over, so I ran down to the street level to have a look and saw the dust cloud rolling past the end of Finsbury Avenue, which was where our offices were situated. And the cherrypicker was still on its blocks.

Apart from the alarms, there was an eerie silence. I mean really quiet. Then we noticed Chinese banknotes floating gently to the ground. I thought maybe I had been warped into an alternate reality, it was so surreal.

We all trundled back up to the second floor and then heard that one of our guys, who had been working on the sixth floor, was dangling precariously out of a window, holding onto the window itself that had been opened by the blast which, we had discovered from Sky News, had happened. Our colleague was gratefully dragged back into the office and we decided that we had better take a head count, while a few of the team went out to the roof to see what had happened. One of the team was actually interviewed by the Sky News team via telephone so we could give a live, eyewitness account of what was going one.

Like I said, it was surreal: ash and Chinese banknotes and negotiable bonds fluttering down around us (the HSBC building on the corner of 99 Bishopsgate had taken a major part of the blast and must have had some of its vaults breached, hence the banknotes etc), car alarms and premises alarms ringing. It had been about 10 minutes since the blast had occurred.

And then, I kid you not, a fleet (at least ten) of glazing repair trucks appeared from nowhere, each bearing names that were definitely of Irish persuasion – we hear later that the IRA had given a phone warning before the detonation, and must have tipped off some of their mates in the trade – every cloud has a silver lining…

Bishopsgate Police station was about three hundred yards away from the blast, but we didn’t see any police presence until about 20 minutes AFTER the glaziers.

As I said, we conducted a headcount and everyone seemed to be accounted for, then I remembered that there were some British Telecom engineers working on the first floor, so I went down to see if they were ok as nobody had heard from them. I opened the door to the floor: it was a bit of a mess.  Every one of the ceiling panels had dropped from the ceiling and were littered around the floor and on the desks.  I say “every one” but that wasn’t quite true: there, standing on one of the desks, was a BT engineer with both his hands outstretched above him, hold up the one remaining tile. He seemed to be in shock and he'd been there since the blast – he’d also wet himself. What was worse, his colleague was crouching under the desk, also showing signs of shock, except this poor guy was a bit wet…

I think, at that point, we decided to call it a day and go home.

A few weeks later, we bumped into a chap in the City who we knew dealt in second-hand/used computers and who had been given a contract to retrieve the technical equipment that would have been in the buildings directly affected by the bomb. He told us he was making a fortune out of the incident – he was finding loads of perfectly unaffected machines in the buildings and retrieving them. His contract allowed for him to retain damaged PCs for scrap and spares, so he was apparently opening the undamaged ones on-site, gathering a handful of debris (usually small peices of shattered glass) and putting it into the system units and closing them up again. Then, when taking them out of the buildings, and challenged by the security guards placed on the exits, he just shook the units he was taking out of the building (which made them rattle), stating they were scrap and getting the guards to sign for them as broken. 
He would then take back to his workshop, take out the debris and then Bob’s your uncle, a working PC.  
Like I said, silver linings…