Balcombe Street Siege
The Balcombe Street Siege was an incident involving members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army
Provisional Irish Republican Army
The Provisional Irish Republican Army is an Irish republican paramilitary organisation whose aim was to remove Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom and bring about a socialist republic within a united Ireland by force of arms and political persuasion...

 (IRA) and the Metropolitan Police Service
Metropolitan Police Service
The Metropolitan Police Service is the territorial police force responsible for Greater London, excluding the "square mile" of the City of London which is the responsibility of the City of London Police...

 of London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

, England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 lasting from 6 December to 12 December 1975. The siege ended with the surrender of the four IRA volunteers
Volunteer (Irish republican)
Volunteer, often abbreviated Vol., is a term used by a number of Irish republican paramilitary organisations to describe their members. Among these have been the various forms of the Irish Republican Army and the Irish National Liberation Army...

 and the release of their two hostages. The events were televised and watched by millions.


In 1974 and 1975 London was subjected to a 14-month campaign by the Provisional IRA, including gun and bomb attacks. Some 40 bombs exploded in the capital, killing 35 people and injuring many more. In one incident the Guinness Book of Records
Guinness World Records
Guinness World Records, known until 2000 as The Guinness Book of Records , is a reference book published annually, containing a collection of world records, both human achievements and the extremes of the natural world...

co-founder and conservative political activist Ross McWhirter
Ross McWhirter
Alan Ross Mayfield McWhirter , known as Ross McWhirter, was, with his twin brother, Norris McWhirter, co-founder of the Guinness Book of Records and a contributor to Record Breakers...

 was assassinated; he had offered a £50,000 reward to anyone willing to inform the security forces of IRA activity.

The four members of what became known as the 'Balcombe Street gang' - Martin O'Connell, Edward Butler, Harry Duggan and Hugh Doherty - were part of a six-man IRA Active Service Unit
Active Service Unit
An active service unit was a Provisional Irish Republican Army cell of five to eight members, tasked with carrying out armed attacks. In 2002 the IRA had about 1,000 active members of which about 300 were in active service units....

 (ASU) that also included Brendan Dowd and Liam Quinn
Liam Quinn
William Joseph Quinn, known as Liam Quinn, is a former volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army who shot dead PC Stephen Tibble in London on 26 February 1975....

. Quinn had recently shot dead police constable
A constable is a person holding a particular office, most commonly in law enforcement. The office of constable can vary significantly in different jurisdictions.-Etymology:...

 Stephen Tibble
Stephen Tibble
PC Stephen Andrew Tibble, QPM, was a police officer in London's Metropolitan Police Service. During a chase through central London, Tibble was fatally shot by Liam Quinn, a member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army....

 in London after fleeing from police officers. The flat he was seen fleeing from was discovered to be a bomb factory used by the unit.

The Balcombe Street siege started after a chase through London, as the Metropolitan Police pursued Hugh Doherty, Joe O'Connell, Eddie Butler and Harry Duggan through the streets after they had fired gunshots through the window of Scotts Restaurant in Mount Street, Mayfair
Mayfair is an area of central London, within the City of Westminster.-History:Mayfair is named after the annual fortnight-long May Fair that took place on the site that is Shepherd Market today...

. They had thrown a bomb through the restaurant window a few weeks before on 12 November 1975, killing one person and injuring 15 others. The Metropolitan Police Bomb Squad had detected a pattern of behaviour in the ASU, determining that they had a habit of attacking again some of the sites they had previously visited. In a scheme devised by a young Detective Sergeant, the Met flooded the streets of London with unarmed plain-clothes officers on the lookout for the ASU. The four IRA men were spotted as they slowed to a halt outside Scotts and fired from their stolen car.

Inspector John Purnell and Sergeant Phil McVeigh, on duty as part of the dragnet operation, picked up the radio call from the team in Mount Street as the stolen Cortina approached their position. With no means of transport readily available, the two unarmed officers flagged down a taxi cab and tailed the men for several miles through London, until the IRA men abandoned their vehicle. Purnell and McVeigh, unarmed, continued the pursuit on foot despite handgun fire from the gang. Other officers joined the chase, with the four IRA men running into a block of council flats in Balcombe Street, adjacent to Marylebone rail station, triggering the six-day stand-off. Purnell was subsequently awarded the George Medal
George Medal
The George Medal is the second level civil decoration of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth.The GM was instituted on 24 September 1940 by King George VI. At this time, during the height of The Blitz, there was a strong desire to reward the many acts of civilian courage...

 for his bravery Several other police officers were also decorated.

The siege

The four men ended up in a flat at 22b Balcombe Street in Marylebone
Marylebone is an affluent inner-city area of central London, located within the City of Westminster. It is sometimes written as St. Marylebone or Mary-le-bone....

, taking its two residents, John and Sheila Matthews, hostage. The men declared that they were members of the IRA and demanded a plane to fly both them and their hostages to Ireland
Republic of Ireland
Ireland , described as the Republic of Ireland , is a sovereign state in Europe occupying approximately five-sixths of the island of the same name. Its capital is Dublin. Ireland, which had a population of 4.58 million in 2011, is a constitutional republic governed as a parliamentary democracy,...

. Scotland Yard
Scotland Yard
Scotland Yard is a metonym for the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police Service of London, UK. It derives from the location of the original Metropolitan Police headquarters at 4 Whitehall Place, which had a rear entrance on a street called Great Scotland Yard. The Scotland Yard entrance became...

 refused, creating a six-day standoff between the men and the police. Peter Imbert
Peter Imbert, Baron Imbert
Peter Michael Imbert, Baron Imbert CVO QPM was Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service from 1987 to 1993, and prior to that appointment Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police from 1979 to 1985....

, later Commissioner
Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis
The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis is the head of London's Metropolitan Police Service, classing the holder as a chief police officer...

 of the Metropolitan Police
Metropolitan Police Service
The Metropolitan Police Service is the territorial police force responsible for Greater London, excluding the "square mile" of the City of London which is the responsibility of the City of London Police...

, was the chief police negotiator.

The men surrendered after several days of intense negotiations between Metropolitan Police Bomb squad officers Detective Superintendent Peter Imbert and Detective Chief Superintendent Jim Nevill, and the ASU’s leader Joe O’Connell, who went by the name of “Tom”. The other members of the ASU were named “Mick” and “Paddy”, thereby avoiding revealing to the negotiators precisely how many of them were in the living room of the flat. The resolution of the siege was a result of the combined psychological pressure exerted on the ASU by Imbert and the deprivation tactics used on the four men. The officers also used carefully crafted misinformation, through the BBC radio news—the police knew the ASU had a radio—to further destabilize the ASU into surrender


The four were found guilty at their Old Bailey
Old Bailey
The Central Criminal Court in England and Wales, commonly known as the Old Bailey from the street in which it stands, is a court building in central London, one of a number of buildings housing the Crown Court...

 trial in 1977 of seven murder
Murder is the unlawful killing, with malice aforethought, of another human being, and generally this state of mind distinguishes murder from other forms of unlawful homicide...

s, conspiring to cause explosions, and falsely imprisoning John and Sheila Matthews during the siege. O’Connell, Butler and Duggan each received twelve life sentences, and Doherty eleven. Each of the men was later given a whole life tariff
Whole life tariff
This is a list of prisoners who have received a whole life tariff through some mechanism in jurisdictions of the United Kingdom.Eight of these prisoners have since died in prison, while three of them have had their sentences reduced on appeal, meaning that there are currently at least 48 prisoners...

, the only IRA prisoners to receive this tariff.

During their trial they instructed their lawyers to "draw attention to the fact that four totally innocent people were serving massive sentences" for three bombings in Woolwich
Kings Arms, Woolwich
The Kings Arms is a public house in Woolwich, London that was bombed in 1974 and is now a landmark on the route of the London Marathon.Standing at 1 Frances Street by Woolwich Dockyard, it was built in the nineteenth century...

 and Guildford
Guildford pub bombing
The Guildford pub bombings occurred on 5 October 1974. The Provisional Irish Republican Army detonated two 6-pound gelignite bombs at two pubs in Guildford, England. The pubs were targeted because they were popular with British Army personnel...

. Despite claiming to the police that they were responsible, they were never charged with these offences and the Guildford Four
Guildford Four
The Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven were two sets of people whose convictions in English courts for the Guildford pub bombings in the 1970s were eventually quashed...

 and Maguire Seven remained in prison for fifteen more years, until it was determined that their convictions were unsafe.


After serving 23 years in UK jails the four men were transferred to the high security
Supermax is the name used to describe "control-unit" prisons, or units within prisons, which represent the most secure levels of custody in the prison systems of certain countries...

 wing of Portlaoise Prison
Portlaoise Prison
Portlaoise Prison is the Republic of Ireland's only high security prison. It is located in Portlaoise, County Laois. It should not be confused with the Midlands Prison, which is a newer, medium security prison situated directly beside it....

, 50 miles (80 km) west of Dublin in early 1998. They were presented by Gerry Adams
Gerry Adams
Gerry Adams is an Irish republican politician and Teachta Dála for the constituency of Louth. From 1983 to 1992 and from 1997 to 2011, he was an abstentionist Westminster Member of Parliament for Belfast West. He is the president of Sinn Féin, the second largest political party in Northern...

 to the 1998 Sinn Féin
Sinn Féin
Sinn Féin is a left wing, Irish republican political party in Ireland. The name is Irish for "ourselves" or "we ourselves", although it is frequently mistranslated as "ourselves alone". Originating in the Sinn Féin organisation founded in 1905 by Arthur Griffith, it took its current form in 1970...

 Ard Fheis as ‘our Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999, and was the first South African president to be elected in a fully representative democratic election. Before his presidency, Mandela was an anti-apartheid activist, and the leader of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing...

s’, and were released together with Brendan Dowd and Liam Quinn
Liam Quinn
William Joseph Quinn, known as Liam Quinn, is a former volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army who shot dead PC Stephen Tibble in London on 26 February 1975....

 in 1999 as part of the Good Friday Agreement
Belfast Agreement
The Good Friday Agreement or Belfast Agreement , sometimes called the Stormont Agreement, was a major political development in the Northern Ireland peace process...


See also

  • Stephen Tibble
    Stephen Tibble
    PC Stephen Andrew Tibble, QPM, was a police officer in London's Metropolitan Police Service. During a chase through central London, Tibble was fatally shot by Liam Quinn, a member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army....

  • Roger Philip Goad
    Roger Philip Goad
    Captain Roger Philip Goad, GC, BEM, was an explosives officer with London's Metropolitan Police Service who was posthumously awarded the George Cross for the heroism he displayed on 29 August 1975...

  • Gordon Hamilton-Fairley
    Gordon Hamilton-Fairley
    Gordon Hamilton Fairley DM, FRCP was a professor of medical oncology. Born and raised in Australia, he moved to the United Kingdom where he studied and worked. He was killed by an IRA bomb intended to kill Sir Hugh Fraser....

  • List of hostage crises
  • List of terrorist incidents in London
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