Airey Neave assasinated
In early 1979 Irish nationalist terror organisations returned to a tactic used five years previously (when Ross McWhirter was shot), the spectacular assassination of prominent targets.
At about 3pm on March 30 Airey Neave was blown up in his car as he drove out of the Palace of Westminster car park. Neave was a colourful character: the first British officer to escape from Colditz; subsequently a military intelligence operative; and after the war a lawyer at the Nuremburg trials . When he died Neave was Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary.
The day before the date for the general election had been announced. The message to all British politicians was clear, that they were not safe even in their own backyard. But Neave was also chosen as the terrorists’ victim because he was viewed by them as capable of making a major impact on their campaign in Northern Ireland should the Conservatives win the election (as indeed they did), and because he was very close to Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher – he ran her leadership campaign.
There was a second message for politicians, public and police alike in the device used to kill Airey Neave: it was sophisticated, using a tilt-switch that was activated as his car descended a ramp; and the bomb itself was attached to the underside of his car with magnets, a swift method reducing the danger of the bombers being spotted. The level of terror was being ratcheted up.
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