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Today in Terrorism

Today in terrorism: 12 October 1984, Margaret Thatcher bombing attempt

On this day in 1984, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) bombed the Grand Hotel in Brighton (England), where then UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s ruling Conservative Party was holding its annual conference. Five people died and many more were injured.

On this day in 1984, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) bombed the Grand Hotel in Brighton (England), where then UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s ruling Conservative Party was holding its annual conference. Five people died and many more were injured.


When you are a terrorist you aim for the top. If you want to have the greatest impact possible, either to effect the changes you are trying to impose on everyone else or just to instill fear as widely as possible, it is a good idea to do one of two things:

  • Kill as many people as possible (e.g. 9/11)
  • Kill a VIP

We have seen quite a few of the latter already in these blogs on terrorism that took place on particular days in history. In fact, the first ‘wave’ of terrorism in the modern era was remarkably good at identifying and taking out leaders: presidents, kings, tsars and so on. In many ways these acts were the embodiment of the anarchists’ ‘propaganda of the deed’.

It is not necessary, however, to go back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries to discover that the focus on leaders is still a priority for violent extremists. On this day in 1984 the Irish Republican Army (IRA) claimed responsibility for a bomb which exploded inside the Grand Hotel in Brighton (England), where then UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s ruling Conservative Party was holding its annual conference. Five people died and many more were injured.

Margaret Thatcher's bathroom in the Grand Hotel, Brighton, following the explosion
Margaret Thatcher’s bathroom in the Grand Hotel, Brighton, following the explosion (Photo: PA Media)

Lucky, unlucky

Ms. Thatcher obviously survived but the attack was clearly upsetting: her husband, Denis, bought her a new watch afterwards and told her “every minute counts” And, despite the fact that the assassination attempt occurred 35 years ago it still fascinates many. A UK TV production company plans to create a series on the attack which will “offer a timely exploration of the allure of extremism and present a tense, nuanced, and gripping portrait of an assassination attempt that changed the face of global politics forever.”

The IRA operation also gave us on of the most memorable lines on the reality of terrorism. In a chilling statement released hours after the attack, the IRA reiterated its threat to the UK saying: “Today we were unlucky but we only have to be lucky once, you will have to be lucky always, give Ireland peace and there will be no more war.” An odd thing to state given that five people did die (although I suppose the fact that Ms. Thatcher explains her ‘luck’).

The Brighton hotel bombing was a Provisional Irish Republican Army assassination attempt against the top tier of the British government that occurred on 12 October 1984 at the Grand Brighton Hotel in Brighton, England.
The Brighton hotel bombing was a Provisional Irish Republican Army assassination attempt against the top tier of the British government that occurred on 12 October 1984 at the Grand Brighton Hotel in Brighton, England. (Photo: Rex)

Failure is not an option

This, in a nutshell, is the world of counter terrorism. Security intelligence and law enforcement agencies have to foil every plot since failure is not an option: the bad guys will nevertheless be successful on occasion. They will ‘get lucky’ every now and then and people, including prime ministers who are closely guarded unlike the rest of us, will die.

I wish it were otherwise.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. and Director of the National Security programme at the University of Ottawa’s Professional Development Institute (PDI). Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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