Shortly after noon on 15 September 1984, a young, smartly dressed man walked into the Grand hotel at Brighton and asked for a room facing the sea. The receptionist offered number 629, on the sixth floor. The guest paid £180 cash for three nights. On the registration card, he gave his nationality as English, his address as Braxfield Road, London, and his name as Roy Walsh. Thus was born one of the great riddles of the Troubles.
Nearly four weeks later, at 2.54am on 12 October, the guest’s purpose was revealed when a bomb in room 629 exploded. It obliterated adjoining rooms and unleashed a blast wave that shredded the roof. A five-tonne chimney stack crashed down into the rooms below, sweeping all away in its path.
The IRA had hoped to kill the prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, and to wipe out her cabinet on the last night of the Conservative party conference. She survived – the lethal avalanche just missed her suite. Five people died and 34 were injured, including Norman Tebbit and his wife, Margaret.
The most audacious attack on the British state since the 1605 gunpowder plot triggered a vast manhunt that led eight months later to the dramatic capture of the bomber, Patrick Magee. He was convicted and jailed for life.