At 2100 hrs on 10th April 1992 I had a very luck break. I was on duty as a uniformed inspector in Hackney when I was called into the police station and ordered to a neighbouring area where streets were being sealed off following a bomb threat. I went to the scene with three other officers. At 2120 hrs an IRA bomb consisting of 100 pounds of Semtex wrapped in fertiliser exploded in a van parked outside the Baltic Exchange. The one-ton bomb was contained in a large white truck. It killed three people: Paul Butt, 29, a Baltic Exchange employee, Thomas Casey, 49, and 15-year old Danielle Carter. Another 91 people were injured as the bomb ripped through the Baltic destroying offices of major companies in the building.
The first thing I knew of the blast was a flash of light, like a camera flash, only it filled the street. Then my recollection is confused. I recall a sound like scaffolding crashing down and a thump that hit me in the face and chest. I don’t think I was knocked out, but I was knocked over. All around us windows had been smashed and, there was dust, huge amounts of dust. That dust is my lasting memory, as it confused us and interfered with breathing and sense of direction.
A hundred or so yards away, the Baltic Exchange had been destroyed.
It was my first, direct experience of an I.E.D. I had attended the aftermath of bombs before and been involved in trying to catch the bombers, but I had never been there at the time of the explosion.
I was lucky. And when I see television reports about the affect that recent exposure to I.E.Ds has on our brave soldiers it gives me a little insight into how they feel. I also wonder if anyone like me, who had lived with PTSD for over 20 years, feels a little uncomfortable with the way the condition has become a bandwagon to be jumped on, now that more is known about it. It troubles me when I see the number of ‘help’ organisations being started up, when people use it as an excuse for criminal activity and when it seems it is becoming almost fashionable to be a sufferer.
Perhaps I am becoming cynical in my later years, perhaps I have been influenced by recent exposures of con-men who have started fake charities to steal when pretending to help? Perhaps the condition itself affects my impartiality?
London’s latest landmark, the Swiss Re tower, also widely known as the Gherkin, now stands on the site of the old Baltic Exchange. A phoenix has risen from the ashes.
The 1992 bomb caused £800 million worth of damage, £200 million more than the total damage caused by the 10,000 explosions that had occurred during the Northern Ireland troubles.
As today is the anniversary of this awful event, please take a moment to think about the victims of the ‘troubles’ and say a silent thanks for the relative peace that we now enjoy in this country. And for the people who think they can ride the PTSD bandwagon to con money out of others, I would say one thing.