‘All hell broke loose’ - Manchester bombing memories

An injured woman being helped away from the scene in Manchester, following the IRA bomb blast which ripped the heart out of  the city's shopping area
An injured woman being helped away from the scene in Manchester, following the IRA bomb blast which ripped the heart out of the city's shopping area

Twenty years ago this week, the biggest bomb to detonate in England since Hitler’s Blitzkrieg tore the heart out of Manchester.

It was one of the Provisional IRA’s last major assaults on the British mainland before being persuaded to lay down their weapons.

One of a set of four pictures issued by Greater Manchester Police (GMP), taken from a police helicopter, of a massive IRA bomb which devastated the city centre in 1996

One of a set of four pictures issued by Greater Manchester Police (GMP), taken from a police helicopter, of a massive IRA bomb which devastated the city centre in 1996

The Corporation Street truck bomb outside Marks and Spencer and near the Arndale Centre left 200 injured, caused £700m in damages (£1.2bn in today’s money) yet miraculously there was no loss of life at the time, although fears remain that those involved in the clear-up may yet be in danger from asbestos in the dust clouds that were given off at the time.

Today WiganToday readers, some of whom were caught up in the blast and evacuation, recall that shocking day just 20 miles down the road from the borough.

Paul Gaskell said: “I never really appreciated the force of a bomb until that day.

“I was at Spring Gardens when it went off and the force and vibrations when it went off was very very scary.

Windows were smashing amd caving in, people were screaming and crying and a massive mushroom shaped cloud of smoke appeared from the front side of the building

Ben Lee Wood

“I became a much more edgy person that day.”

Ben Lee Wood said: “I was in Manchester with family on the day of the bombing. We were near the Barrow Boys fruit ‘n’ veg stall. The ground police escorted us towards the Arndale as an overhead helicopter told us to get away. We were forced into a carpet shop opposite the BT offices. As the bomb went off it fell almighty silent for a few seconds and then all hell broke loose.

“Windows were smashing amd caving in, people were screaming and crying and a massive mushroom shaped cloud of smoke appeared from the front side of the building. Everyone was in a state of shock, not knowing where to go and then the police (after the explosion) forced us away from the Arndale.

“There was then a scare at Picadilly station to which my brother and cousin got put on a train and ended up in Southport. It was a real bad day and one I won’t ever forget.”

Brian J Hayes said: “I was at work in Rail House, next to Piccdilly Station when the warning came.

“I will never forget the feeling when the explosion happened, the pall of brown smoke and all the car alarms going off.

“The first thing I did was to phone home to say I was OK.”

Linda Goodwin said: “I was there. I heard and felt the bomb go off. It shattered the windows of the then Lewis’s store (now Primark) where we were getting something to eat. We were evacuated quickly and were able to get to my car and head on home. I will never forget that day.”

Louise Hebborn said: “God that day was horrendous. It was really hot and we were stranded with no idea of how to get home. So young. I can’t imagine how scary it would have been to have been in the centre when it happened.”

Nick Mackenzie Garner said: “I was on my way home from my night shift in the security control room. The Arndale was our flagship site. I remember returning to work and then sleeping for a week on the control room building’s floor and trying to co-ordinate with eight other security firms, the police, North West Ambulance Service, army and fire service within the ‘ring of steel’ set up by the Anti-terrorist squad. It was a very long week.”

Lynn Wilde said: “I was there. I have never seen Manchester so empty, so quiet or such a mess when they eventually let us out of our building. It was very scary.”

Gary Williams said: “I just missed this but was on train home from Victoria station. The train shook from the blast and we were told to get off the train to await further instructions as they expected further damage.

“I will never forget how Manchester has grown from this a terrible day. To this day I tend to get off at Oxford Road. Going to the Arena still brings back memories.”

Several readers also told our Facebook page that they felt lucky that they had changed plans that Saturday and so didn’t visit the city centre as was their routine.

The police officer who would two years later become Wigan’s head of CID and eventually rise to the rank of Assistant Chief Constable, Ian Seabridge, was tasked with evacuating the city centre after the IRA sent a coded message saying the 3,300lb truck bomb had been planted.

In an exclusive interview with the Wigan Evening Post back in 1998, he said that he was close to the vehicle co-ordinating the clearing and checking of the city centre, when the terrorists detonated it.

He said: “It has to be the most frightening moment of my life. People were blown off their feet who were standing 800 yards away.

“I was 70 yards away but fortunately the corner of a building was shielding me when the van went up.

“The explosion was so loud that it knocked my senses sideways. I was too dazed to be frightened at first.

“My instinct was to run for cover but with glass falling from the tall buildings all around it was safer to stay in the middle of the street and hope that luck was on my side. I looked round the corner to the seat of the explosion but could see nothing but smoke.

“It is merciful that no one was killed that day. We had made as many preparations for the blast as possible in the time available and once the bomb had gone off the main job was to command the removal of casualties.”

Long-time Standish resident Mr Seabridge was promoted to detective superintendent shortly after the bombing and received a commendation for his bravery.

Five days after the blast, the IRA issued a statement in which it claimed responsibility, but regretted causing injury to civilians.

No-one was ever successfully prosecuted in relation to the attack.

It took several years for the demolition and redevelopment of the area to be completed.