The 1979 Yeovil Bombings

The 1979 Yeovil Bombings

Four hurt as bombs explode in Yeovil

 

During the early afternoon of Friday 24 February 1979, Yeovil town centre - at the time crowded with market-day shoppers - was rocked by two large explosions. The first bomb to explode, hidden in a shopping bag in the paint department on the first floor of the Woolworth's store in Middle Street, detonated at around 2.58pm. The second bomb exploded in a van in the Petters Way car park.

A 19-year old man suffered serious leg injuries (some reports allege he lost his leg) in the explosion at the Woolworth's store. He later had an operation on his leg in Yeovil District Hospital. He was stated to be "helping the Police with their enquiries", and the Police maintained a "bedside vigil".

Meanwhile, a telephone caller to a Dublin newspaper said the Irish Republican Army was responsible for the blasts and repeated the IRA demand that the British leave Northern Ireland. This was later refuted (see Gallery) and, it quickly transpired, was completely untrue. A senior Police Officer said that the man was not local, but did not have an Irish accent. Today, we sometimes forget that during Christmas 1978, the IRA had carried out a bombing terror campaign targeting six English towns and cities. As a consequence, there was a general feeling of anxiety and wondering where the next bombings would take place.

Three other people were treated in hospital (two girls for shock and minor injuries, and a man with damaged ears due to the blast), before being released from hospital. The store manager of Woolworth's, Russell Grinden, said "Staff reacted wonderfully, rushing to help customers. The blast occurred without warning in the paint department. I couldn't see much because there was so much dust and debris about."

The police promptly sealed off the town centre and ushered some three hundred shoppers from Middle Street. The Army Bomb Disposal Unit were quickly on the scene, searching for further devices and checking suspect packages in Tesco's, Halfords, Great Mills Discount Store and the Trustee Savings Bank. The sealed-off town centre was not re-opened until shortly before midnight.

There were no injuries from the second blast, in which two devices exploded, destroying the bomber's 5cwt blue Bedford van in Petters Way car park, backing onto the rear of Dolphin House in Hendford. The van had false number plates. A third device in the van was detonated by the Army Bomb Disposal Unit. The car park remained sealed off over the weekend, while forensic scientists continued their search for bomb fragments that may have given clues to the origin and type of bombs used. As a sidenote, my car was parked just a few cars away from the bombed car although it survived without a scratch. Unfortunately, I couldn't collect it for two days as it was within the crime scene.

 

Yeovilians remember...

From Alison Bryant - "I worked for Barclays Bank back then and remember the bombing. As staff, we weren't allowed to leave the branch and, if I remember correctly, the banking hall was used as shelter for members of the public. On the day, we were told by someone that our bank was the intended target, but a lot of rumours were flying around so we weren't sure what was true!"

From Sue Morris - "I was in Woolworth’s, just going up the escalator when the bomb went off. Everything went into slow motion then. The metal sheeting on the ceiling bent and smoke came down the escalator, followed by people. Alarms were going, but people queuing at the cash desks on the ground floor still insisted on being served before they vacated! That evening my brother arrived in the town by coach, but they couldn’t get to the bus station as the town was cordoned off. He got off the coach with his suitcase and went into a pub to call home. The landlord insisted on searching his suitcase before letting him in. It was full of dirty laundry."

From Steve Perkins - "I was working in Meech's gent's outfitters. Police came round and told us to close up and wait to be checked in case other devices had been planted."

From Pamela Montacute "My gran was in the shop when it happened. She was mad because she could not finish her till transaction. Me and my brothers were at the cinema and they closed that as well. My brothers were angry as they were not able to watch their film. None of us were told why."

From Lynne Browning - "I remember it well. I was at the cinema with my daughter Jill, we got asked to leave with no explanation. So, here we are walking around and not a soul in sight. I thought where has everybody gone? Alien abduction? Then a policeman came over and told me to go to the bottom of town, hence phoning my dad to pick us up. I didn't even keep my ticket stub so we could go back - never been back since."

From Phill Sandford - "I was working at Tesco (where Wilkinson’s is now) and we had a bomb scare, full evacuation.... some of the staff (including me) were ‘volunteered’ in to search for the package! Anyway, I had walked right past it; a big gym bag hidden under shelving, which was taken away by the Bomb Disposal."

From Michael Wade - "I remember this well. I was stuck in a traffic jam in my bus, as the town was locked down. Saturday morning we had to check under the seats before leaving Reckleford garage. We were all suspicious and extra careful that day."

From Barry Rose - " I was one of the ambulance crew that attended the incident, later transferring the culprit Shane Ring to a Bristol Hospital under Police escort. He was trying to divert attention so he could rob a Building Society. He left His Transit van in Petters Way car park full of bomb-making stuff, this was blown up by the Bomb Squad. The bonnet ended up on the building's roof at the bottom of the car park."

From Andi Ballantyne - "I was working in Drayton’s. Two friends, who worked in the tax office and a chemist, were sent home and as we all travelled to work from Milborne Port in my car, I was allowed home too!"

From Erica Woolmington - "I recall, as staff, how vigilant we had to become. If a shopper left their bag or any other objects anywhere, we had to alert our warehouse men, who had the job of ensuring all was safe. A risky job for them, as they had no experience of this type of task. I recall our bomb alert alarm as being two continuous intermittent rings, and the fire alarm one continuous ring. Marks and Spencer's assembly point was in the Borough."

and finally...

From Ken Dugdale - "I was on my first leave during training for the Royal Marines and first thoughts were.... nah I'm not important enough for the IRA to target me!"

 


 

It was discovered that the some of the bombs were made from fertiliser in empty Calor gas bottles and others were petrol bombs. The devices were later described by the Police as "crude and childish" although they admitted they had "sophisticated electronic timing mechanisms". A fifth device was dropped in the garden of a nearby house on Penn Hill. About a  hundred local residents were evacuated and the bomb was defused.

The following day, another bomb was discovered and defused in the Co-op store in Glovers Walk. It transpired that, in all, ten home-made explosive devices had been planted in the town centre - five canister bombs and five bottle bombs.

Over the weekend, detectives raided a home in King's Stanley, near Stroud, Gloucestershire, seventy miles from Yeovil, where they found bomb-making ingredients - chemicals and fertiliser - together with electronic equipment. The Police believed the house was the bomb factory and continued house-to-house inquiries in Yeovil.

The incident was reported nationally and internationally - from the Western Gazette to the New York Times.

Two days after the blasts, on 26 February, while still in a private ward at Yeovil District Hospital, 19-year old Shayne Ring of King's Stanley, was arrested and charged with causing an explosion. He was tried at Dorchester in November 1979 and was sentenced to nine years imprisonment. He had placed the bombs around Yeovil town centre in an attempt to create a diversion while he robbed Barclays Bank.

Yeovil slowly returned to normal.

 

GALLERY

 

The black and white photographs below are 'borrowed' from various newspapers.

 


Courtesy of Erica Woolmington

Marks and Spencer's staff evacuated to the safety of St John's church doorway following the first explosion.

 

After the first explosion in Woolworth's store, the Police move market-day shoppers away from Middle Street towards the Borough.

 

A man is removed from Woolworth's store in Middle Street with serious leg injuries (self-inflicted as it transpired). This was Shayne Ring, who was later arrested and put on trial for the bombings. He was sentenced to nine years imprisonment.

 

An Army Bomb Disposal Unit technician with a  ‘wheelbarrow’ remotely-controlled bomb disposal robot. The technicians usually tried to hide their faces from cameras to avoid their identities becoming known to, for example, the IRA.

 

A controlled explosion destroys the bomber's Bedford van in the Petters Way car park, as well as a car parked next to it.

 

Firemen hose down the van wrecked by one of the explosions.

 

The bombings made headline news around the world.

 

A report on the Yeovil bombings from the 24 February 1979 edition of the Belfast Telegraph.

 

... and this report from the 27 February 1979 edition of the Belfast Telegraph.

 

It all came out in the trial as reported in this article from the 13 November 1979 edition of the Birmingham Daily Post.

 

... and a few more details of the case in this article from the 13 November 1979 edition of the Newcastle Journal.