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13 Feb 2003 : Column 1124continued
That the draft Industrial Training Levy (Engineering Construction Board) Order 2003, which was laid before this House on 20th January, be approved.[Dan Norris.]
Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell): I present a petition on behalf of the Epsom Common Association, concerning the proposal to build a roundabout adjoining Epsom common, a historic area of land on the edge of my constituency.
The petition of the Epsom Common Association.
Declares that the roundabout access proposed on the B280 (as a second access point to the West Park Site, Epsom) be removed from the relevant planning application by the National Health Service.
The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons put this matter before the relevant Minister, in order to implement and assist in the future protection of Epsom Common (designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest), by the removal of the said roundabout access from the relevant planning application by the N.H.S.
And the Petitioners remain, etc.
On Monday next, when the House will have risen and Members will have returned to their constituencies, people throughout the kingdom will go about their everyday chores, in business, at recreation and in the family. But in many parts of Northern Ireland, people will approach Monday in a very different frame of mind. They are the relatives of those who lost their lives in the La Mon bombing, one of the worst atrocities ever to occur in the Province. They are joined by the surviving victims, and by the many members of our emergency services who experienced the horror that unfolded in the Castlereagh hills on that dismal February evening.
Monday marks the 25th anniversary of that horrific bombing at the La Mon House Hotel, in Castlereagh, on Friday 17 February 1978. I speak not just as the Member of Parliament for Strangford, the constituency targeted by the Provisional IRA that night, but also as a member of the La Mon Bursary Committee. The committee comprises a representative group of people: relatives of the victims murdered that evening, victims who were injured in the bombing and former members of the emergency services who were involved in the aftermath of that indiscriminate and appalling attack on innocent people.
We seek, in a positive way, to keep the memory of La Mon alive and in the public domain. I speak not just from the call of duty but as someone who has been touched by the anguish and, yes, the courage of those to whom I shall refer as the "La Mon victims".
Serving with the La Mon group since its foundation in 1998 has allowed me more fully to comprehend the terrible pain and suffering that the victims experienced that terrible night and which abides with them 25 years later. Although those individuals cope with their pain and carry their burden with great dignity, one of the hardest challenges that they face is living with the knowledge that the Government have failed them by not holding an independent public inquiry to investigate the circumstances of the bombing and to establish where the responsibility lies for planning, directing and carrying out the atrocity. Twelve innocent people were killed in the massacre, and many more were seriously injured.
The events surrounding that fateful evening in Castlereagh will for ever be imprinted on the minds of the scores of people who escaped from the clutches of death. Some of those injured are still suffering physical pain to this day. Even those fortunate enough to walk away without a physical mark are haunted by the memories of that dreadful night.
The evening began as a night of celebration. It was a happy get-together for members of the Irish Collie Club and their friends. They had converged on the hotel from around the Province and were in a cheerful mood, looking forward to a pleasant event. They had been allocated a private function room known as the Peacock room.
If ever there was an apolitical and non-denominational group, that was it. If ever there was an event devoid of any political purpose or content, that was it. Yet through the dark of that evening a group of men descended on the hotel. As they approached they would have heard the laughter from inside. They would have seen the innocent families deep in conversation, and they would have assessed the huge numbers who would be their victims.
What followed defies human understanding. To plant a conventional bomb at the hotel would undoubtedly have resulted in loss of life or at least certain injury. But the evil executioners of this terrorist act left no margin for doubt as to the outcome of their evening's work.
The terrorists strapped their explosives to two cans of petrol and attached them to the security grille over the windows of the room. They retreated under the cover of darkness, and no doubt congratulated themselves on their brave act as they journeyed home.
The massive explosion that resulted sent a sheet of burning petrol through the small function room, incinerating those in its path. In addition, the glass and materials from the explosion shredded the many helpless, innocent and unsuspecting victims.
Following the bombing, forensic experts had to use scraps of clothing, jewellery and dental charts to undertake the task of identifying many of the guests that evening, such were the heat and ferocity of the blaze.
It is hard for us to imagine tonight what it was like for the victims. The explosion sent an intense and colossal fireball of blazing petrol raging through the room. It set people alight and fuelled an uncontrollable inferno.
In the adjoining function room, known as the Gransha room, 400 members and guests of the Northern Ireland Junior Motorcycle club, including almost 100 children, were holding their annual dance, but the guests in the Peacock room took the main force of the bomb. Those who couldmen and women, old and youngemerged screaming, with their hair, clothes and bodies on fire and scrambled out of the burning ruin. In addition to the many guests in the hotel that evening, there were in the region of 90 staff on the premises.
Eye-witnesses told of hotel guests with limbs blown off who must have been dead or who lay dying in the flames, which spread rapidly, as the burning petrol flowed across the floors. By the time the police received the bomb warning and set out for the hotel the doomed building was well alight.
The IRA killed 12 innocent people that night. Altogether some 33 people were injured, all suffering various degrees of burns. The number of those who to this day live with the mental scars remains unknown.
In the aftermath of the massacre, republicans sought to deflect criticism by suggesting that it had not been their intention to kill anyone and that the police were responsible for not acting on the warning. The more things change, the more they remain the same. That craven lieblaming the police for not acting on the warninggrieves the victims.
The death toll included three married couples. Those murdered were Mrs. Christine Lockhart, aged 32; Mrs. Carol Mills, aged 26, and her sister-in-law, Mrs. Sandra Morris, aged 27; Mrs. Sally Cooper and her son-in-law, Thomas NeesonSally Cooper was 62, but I do not have an age for her son-in-lawMr. Paul Nelson, aged 37, and his wife, Dorothy, aged 34; Mr. Gordon Crothers, aged 31, and his wife, Joan, aged 23; Mr. Ian McCracken and his wife, Elizabeth, both aged 25; and, finally, Mr. Daniel Magill, aged 37.
The Government's policy in Northern Ireland is to place in government those who represent the organisation that carried out this attack. More than that, the distinct possibility is that a candidate for one of the top Government posts after the next election will be the man who was arrested by the police during their investigation into the bombing, and who is known to have had control over the team responsible for this outrage and carnage. The car that was used in the terrorist attack was hijacked in his area, and those brought before the courts came from his area of command. The Daily Telegraph of 20 February 1978 said in its editorial:
I am proud to say that Castlereagh borough council, of which I am a member, has supported the La Mon victims committee in all its work, including the development of its bursary scheme. The council has also dedicated a stained glass window in its council chamber to the memory of the 12 innocent victims. The words of the Ulster poet, James Hewitt, are used:
As the victims prepare for the 25th anniversary of the bombing, the Government can show understanding and solidarity with them by announcing an inquiry. Frankly, the relatives and surviving victims are not asking for another farce such as the Bloody Sunday inquiry. They want a simple, legally competent inquiry that allows their questions to be directed to the relevant individuals and conclusions to be reached.
Is their pain less important than that of the relatives of Bloody Sunday? Are they citizens with lesser rights? Should not the Government take more care to ameliorate the hurt of the innocent victims of terrorism rather than pandering to and appeasing its perpetrators?