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Welcome to the Murder Mile true-crime podcast and audio guided walk of London's most infamous and often forgotten murder cases, set within one square mile of the West End.
Episode Five: The Bombing of the Admiral Duncan is one of the West End’s deadliest terrorist attacks, instigated by a deluded neo-Nazi, who sought to drive London's many ethnic, religious and cultural communities apart with a series of three nail-bombs across the city.
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Ep5 - The Bombing of the Admiral Duncan
INTRO: Thank you for downloading episode five of the Murder Mile true-crime podcast. To fully appreciate this audio experience, each episode comes complete with its own dedicated webpage and an interactive murder map, available via my website murder mile tours.com / podcast. And if you are easily upset, please be aware that this episode contains graphic descriptions of murder and realistic sound effects, some of which you may find disturbing. Thank you. Enjoy the episode.
SCRIPT: Welcome to Murder Mile; a true-crime podcast and audio guided walk of London’s most notorious (and often forgotten) murder cases, all set within one square mile of the West End.
Today’s episode is a guided walk of Soho’s deadliest terror attack, it’s the true story of how a deeply deluded neo-Nazi, fuelled by hatred, bigotry and ignorance, tried to divide the wonderfully diverse melting pot of London with a series of terrifying bomb attacks… and yet he failed miserably. But this is not his story, and neither should it be, as this is a story about friendship, tolerance and love.
Murder Mile contains vivid descriptions which may not be suitable for those of a sensitive disposition, as well as photos, videos and maps which accompany this series, so that no matter where you’re listening to this podcast, you’ll feel like you’re actually there.
My name is Michael, I am your tour-guide and this is Murder Mile.
Episode 5: The Bombing of the Admiral Duncan.
Today, once again, I am standing on Old Compton Street, in Soho, W1, a place that avid Murder Mile listeners will be very familiar with, as fifty paces to my left is the blood soaked bed of the West End prostitute known as “Dutch Leah”, and fifty paces to my right is the gutter where the West End gangster Tony Mella met a sticky end after a lifetime of cruelty.
And yet, if you walk down Old Compton Street today, having listened to our earlier episodes, you’d probably expect the street to be strewn with half-dissected whores, drooling dead-eyed stranglers and two-bit hoods decorating every wall with a funky new colour called “hint of brain”. But you won’t.
Old Compton Street is quite a nice place; it’s warm, fun, flamboyant, but best of all – it’s welcoming. Here, difference is embraced, creativity can flourish and sexuality blossoms, as with a wealth of gay-friendly bars such as Comptons, G-A-Y, Molly Moggs and the Admiral Duncan, Old Compton Street is very much the homosexual hub of London’s West End. It’s a place where men can hold hands, women can kiss, and regardless of what gender a person is, was or wishes to be, here they can be themselves, away from the bigoted sneers, the judgmental eyes and the disapproving looks of the uneducated.
Sadly, not everyone has come here with love in their heart, as one man brought only hatred.
For more than two hundred years, London’s West End and especially Soho has had a rich cultural history of acceptance. As being one of Europe’s cultural centres, it was also a place of sanctuary where many foreigners fled to escape persecution (whether political, ideological, religious or sexual).
What supposedly started with such a seedy beginning when in 1806 Edward Baker was prosecuted for poking his penis through a bog-house cubical, London’s West End soon became the place where the uptight British (whether gay, straight, or undecided) could come to get their thrills and explore their repressed sexuality; whether at a “mollie shop” (a club for men who enjoy the company of female impersonators), in infamous male brothels like at 19 Cleveland Street (as allegedly visited by Prince Eddy), or in a gay-sex cruising ground such as Covent Garden, Lincolns Inn and St James’ Park.
Often dubbed “The Dirty Square”, owing to its association with massage parlours, mucky book shops, nudie booths, clip-joints and knocking-shops, but mostly for dirty old men seeking sex with young girls, Soho’s openness established it as a safe-haven for artistic expression, hence why during the pre-war drabness and oppression of the 1930’s, the West End was swathed in the exciting new sounds of jazz and swing which emanated from The Caravan, London’s first gay-friendly member’s club, Billie’s on Little Denmark Street, an openly gay cabaret, and the controversial Shim Sham Club at 7 Wardour Street, a bar expressly for white women who liked to be entertained by black men.
Since then, gay-friendly clubs and pubs have flourished in Soho, including many famous haunts such as The Marquis of Granby, Chez Victor, The Ham Bone Club, the Black Cat, Madame JoJo’s, Golden Lion, Stallions, Heaven, Running Horse, The Salisbury, A & B and – of course – The Admiral Duncan.
But Soho’s place as a gay-safe haven has not been without its struggle, its sacrifice and even sadness.
Today, the Admiral Duncan, the four-storey, red-bricked, 180 year old pub which sits at 54 Old Compton Street, looks as it did almost twenty years ago; the blue double doors are wide open, the 80’s pop hits are pumping, internationally acclaimed drag-act Baga Chipz is warming up, and in his usual seat sits an elderly regular dressed as Elvis. And yet, if you walk passed the pub today, you’d be oblivious to its hideous history that occurred on Friday 30th April 1999, except for the discrete tribute to those who died and the ominous hushed silence as those who know, peek in and then pass-by.
By the late 20th century, terrorism in London had become common place, as the Irish Republican Army had undertaken 160 bombings over 40 years in the city alone, as well as a further 16 attacks connected to Middle Eastern politics, 26 to anarchist groups and a handful to lone nut-jobs with an axe to grind. And so, with the last IRA bomb attack having occurred on 29th April 1997, three years before the bombing of the Admiral Duncan, many Londoners had become complacent about their safety.
But unlike the attacks by the IRA, this bomb came without warning. Unlike the attacks by anarchist groups, this bomb had no obvious target. And unlike the attacks by lone nut-jobs, this bomb was not a one-off attack.
The first bomb exploded on Saturday 17th April 1999 at 5:25pm on Electric Avenue in Brixton (South London); a bustling street-market in a mainly West Indian neighbourhood, which being so tightly packed full of stalls, pallets and boxes was a nightmare to navigate, especially at that time of the evening, when the street was packed full of shoppers, commuters and families.
Seeing a black sports holdall with a green “Head” logo lying by a bin on Electric Avenue, an alert market trader moved the suspicious bag to a less crowded part of the market, examined its contents and promptly called the Police. But as the Police arrived… the bomb exploded.
Although clearly a homemade device, the bag contained six pounds of an unsophisticated inorganic explosive (made from fireworks and fertiliser), a wind-up alarm clock in a transparent sandwich box as a crude timer, and as shrapnel the bomber had filled the bag full of over one thousand steel nails, so whoever the blast didn’t kill, these four-to-six inch high-speed projectiles would. Thankfully, owing to the quick-thinking trader who moved the bag, nobody died that day, but forty-eight people were injured (some seriously), including a 23 month old baby who had a six inch nail driven into his skull.
No-one claimed responsibility for the Brixton bombing and there was no Police intelligence of an anarchist attack. It came out of nowhere. No-one knew who had detonated the bomb, or – more importantly – why they’d picked here? But what they also didn’t knew was that this was just the start.
The second bomb exploded one week later on Saturday 24th April 1999 just before 6pm in Brick Lane (East London); a vibrant colourful street-market crammed full of stalls, shops and restaurants, in a largely Bengali community, as many Muslims gathered at the East London Mosque for prayers. Thankfully, having failed to properly research his intended target, the bomber was unaware that the market actually took place on Sundays, so instead of being bustling with shoppers, the street was ominously quiet. As before, being on high alert, a keen-eyed taxi-driver had spotted the abandoned black Reebok holdall on Hanbury Street, popped it in the boot of his maroon Ford Sierra and drove the device two streets away to the Brick Lane police station, where the bomb exploded.
Witnesses said they heard a loud bang, felt a large blast and saw a bright flash followed by flames and bits of flying debris, but with the car’s metal boot shielding the passers-by from the bulk of the six-inch steel shrapnel, only thirteen people were injured that day and luckily there were no fatalities.
DCI Maureen Doyle of Scotland Yard’s Special Operations Bureau headed up the investigation into the Brixton and Brick Lane bombings, codenamed “Operation Marathon”. And having received an anonymous 999 call allegedly from the bomber himself claiming both attacks on behalf of the neo-Nazi group Combat 18, she was now certain of four things.
He would attack again, possibly next weekend, in a densely populated and culturally sensitive area, and all without any warning. The clock was ticking. Teams of specialist officers worked in 24 hour shifts, trawling through 300 hours of grainy security footage to identify the bomber, as across London, the city’s ethnic minority enclaves were on high alert, as with the bank holiday weekend approaching, everyone lived in fear of a third and even deadlier attack.
By Thursday 29th April, with the Metropolitan Police’s Anti-Terrorism Branch having found footage of the Brixton bomber, DCI Maureen Doyle took the unprecedented step and released the grainy image of this unknown man to the press, in the hope that - being a non-descript white male, slim, in his early twenties, wearing a black leather jacket and a white baseball cap – she hoped that someone would see the image and come forward with a name.
Her bold strategy worked as on Friday 30th April, in a café opposite the construction site of the Jubilee Line Extension in Bermondsey (south London), engineer Paul Mifsud glanced down at the day’s paper and felt a chill down his spine, as he turned to his friend, pointed at the grainy CCTV image and said “doesn’t that look like Dave?” Being uncertain, he sat on this information, but at 5:15pm that day, having been coerced by his wife to do the right thing, he rang the Anti-Terrorism hotline.
The name he gave to the Police was David Copeland; a white, five-foot four, 22 year old engineer’s assistant with links to far-right groups like the British National Party, the National Socialist Movement and the neo-Nazi group Combat 18. Having identified the bomber, by 5:50pm, the Police were speeding towards the bomber’s rented flat at Sunnybank Road, in Cove (Hampshire)… but with his image splashed across every tabloid in the country, this mass-media attention caused him to bring forward his planned attack of the Admiral Duncan by one day, and so as the Police reached his house, the bomber was already walking into Soho, slung over his shoulder was a black sports holdall.
The evening of Friday 30th April 1999 was calm and warm, as many people began the bank holiday weekend in true British style with an evening pint. Outside the Admiral Duncan, standing by the blue double-doors, a few revellers were supping cold drinks and soaking up the last rays of the sun, as being a relatively small pub, it can quickly become hot and sweaty so the customers often spill out into Old Compton Street. Inside, the long thin room was slowly filling, as with the handful of bar-stools and tables already taken, most people mingled by the cabaret stage at the far end or around the bar on the right-hand side.
Serving that night was 31 year old Mark Taylor, who’d been bar manager of the Admiral Duncan for two years, and 32 year old barman David Morely, a popular face in the gay community who was affectionately nicknamed “Sinders”, and by all accounts, it was pretty regular night, as customers of all ages, races and sexual persuasions chatted, partied and drank.
For one group of friends, it had already been a great day, as having spent the day shopping for maternity dresses having recently discovered that she was four months pregnant, 27 year old Andrea Dykes and her husband of just two years, Julian Dykes, headed into the West End to watch the ABBA musical ‘Mamma Mia’, accompanied by three friends; John Light, who was best man at their wedding and soon-to-be the godfather to their unborn child; as well as Nik Moore, who was Andrea’s friend and John’s former partner, and Gary Partridge, who was John’s current partner.
As a group, they perfectly personified the attitude of Old Compton Street and the Admiral Duncan, as it didn’t matter whether you were gay or straight, old friends or new, here everyone was welcome and out to have a good time. And so with the musical not starting till 8pm, Andrea, Julian, John, Nik and Gary headed into Soho for a celebratory drink.
As the pub slowly filled, perched at the bar was a young man drinking a cold pint, dumped at his feet was a black sports holdall. He later stated “I felt no emotion, no sadness and no joy, seeing those I was about to maim or kill”. And as he stood there amongst 70-80 smiling faces, pretending he needed to find a cash machine, a kindly customer offered to watch his drink for him, but instead of returning, the bomber left the Admiral Duncan and disappeared into the bustling crowds on Shaftsbury Avenue.
At around 6:30pm, the kindly customer was getting worried for the young man’s safety, as with the nearest cash machine being barely three minutes away, he should have been back by now.
Alerted to the abandoned bag in the middle of the bar, manager Mark Taylor’s gut reaction was “this isn’t funny”. As seeing the familiar black sports holdall, which he’d recognised from the newspaper, he thought this was a practical joke, but the weight of the bag convinced him to investigate it further, and as he unzipped it, he was confronted by a sight he’d only read about just a few days before; a transparent sandwich box, a wind-up clock, a large bag of powder and hundreds of steel nails.
Andrea and John were the first of the group to walk through the double-doors of the Admiral Duncan, and seeing how busy it was, they headed deeper into the tightly packed pub to find seats, as Julian, Nik and Gary moved towards the bar to order drinks. The time was 6:37pm. (clock stops, bang).
An enormous rush of air filled the room, like a hot wall of fiery wind which blasted their faces and squeezed their lungs, as if an invisible suffocating force was strangling the very last breath out of the bodies. After that, was an intense orange flash which was initially blinding until it plunged the whole room into pitch blackness, followed by a sharp pop (that many described as sounding like a champagne cork), the quick fizz as shrapnel pierced the air, the crackle of breaking glass, the dull thud of nails embedding into walls, doors and soft flesh, and then suddenly, for a few seconds, everything was silent.
Amidst the inky blackness and the ominous quiet, a black acrid cloud filled the air, which slowly stirred those who’d survived. The first signs of life was the sound of choking… and then screaming.
With his trousers ripped, his shoe missing and his ears ringing, Julian Dykes stumbled to his feet and feeling the intense heat as fire enveloped his body, he ran out of the blown-out double-doors into Old Compton Street, desperately trying to extinguish the flames with his bare hands, unable to see his wife and friends amongst the carnage. Being badly burned, Gary Partridge crawled from the wreckage of the pub, hoping to see his friends, but they were nowhere to be seen, and seeing the injuries that many people had sustained in the explosion, he started to panic, fearing the worst.
Having bravely ushered customers to safety as the bomb exploded, both barman David Morely and bar manager Mark Taylor escaped with their lives. Although David was badly burned, he continued to assist the other victims with their injuries. Unfortunately Mark was badly injured in the blast, and as he lay in the street, struggling to remain conscious, he convinced himself that he wasn’t going to die, he later said “I stared death in the face and lived. It obviously wasn't my time to go. There was no words to describe that pain other than hell. My whole body felt like it was on fire".
Outside, Gary Partridge started to scream out the name of his partner, John Light, having seen him walk into the back of the bar with Andrea, and not emerge from the smoky hell. Suddenly, from the blackness, two men dragged John from the tangled mess of splintered wood, shattered glass and flames, his lower half was bleeding profusely and covered in burns, but there was no sign of Andrea.
Seventy-nine people were injured that day, sixty-five needed to be hospitalised, many suffered serious burns, breaks and lacerations, four lost limbs, and three people died.
Mark Taylor, the bar manager of the Admiral Duncan suffered second degree burns, as well as glass and shrapnel injuries, and although he was on the critical list, he went on to make a full recovery.
David Morely recovered from his injuries and would later work as barman in another gay-friendly pub (Brompton’s in Earls Court), but on the 30th October 2004, five years after he’d miraculously survived the bombing of the Admiral Duncan, David was savagely murdered by four teenagers in a homophobic attack near Waterloo Station. He was 37 years old.
Gary Partridge spent 13 days at Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford, a specialist burns unit where he was stabilised and was able to recover from his injuries, but sadly his partner, John Light, who was described as a “quiet but lovely man”, suffered 40 per cent burns and after four operations to save him, he died, aged 32, three days after his birthday. As well as John’s former partner, Nik Moore who having taken the full force of the blast, died at the scene, he was 32 years old.
Owing to the severity of his injuries, suffering third degree burns and with shrapnel in his chest, Julian Dykes fell into a coma at the Royal Free Hospital. When he regained consciousness three weeks later, it was then that he was informed that both his wife (Andrea) and their unborn son had died.
A service was held for Andrea (and their unborn son, who they’d named Jordan) on 15th July 1999 at St Mary's Church in Wivenhoe (Essex), where just two years earlier, Andrea & Julian were married. On the flowers he’d placed on his wife’s coffin, Julian attached a note which read "To my son, Jordan. You will never know just how much I could have loved you".
In Soho Square, just a few streets away, thousands of mourners laid flowers in memory of those who lost their lives at 54 Old Compton Street. In St Anne’s Churchyard, three maple trees were planted in memory of Andrea, John and Nik, along with a plaque emblazoned with the epitaph - “Goodness is stronger than evil”. And inside the Admiral Duncan, a chandelier hangs to this day which is decorated with brightly coloured lights and across it reads “we will always remember our friends”.
The deeply deluded bomber (whose name I have deliberately only mentioned once, as his cowardly actions don’t warrant the publicity he so desperately craved) claimed he suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and pleaded guilty of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility, but following a short stint in Broadmoor Psychiatric Hospital, neither the prosecution nor the jury accepted his plea, and on the 30th June 2000 he was found guilty of three counts of terrorism and three counts of murder, and was given six concurrent life sentences, meaning the earliest he can be considered for release is in 2049, when he will be 73 years old… or maybe, by then, he’ll be dead.
And even though his bombs murdered three people and injured a further one hundred and forty, his misguided aim to drive apart London’s diverse communities failed spectacularly. Beginning in 2003, the inaugural Soho Pride festival attracted almost 50000 people from a wealth of ages, races, genders and sexual orientations, who came together to stand-up against hatred, bigotry and ignorance.
By 2017, that number had swelled to over 1 million people. And as always, the Admiral Duncan pub, remains a vital and important focal point, which is embraced by everyone.
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Credits: The Murder Mile true-crime podcast was researched, written and recorded by Michael J Buchanan-Dunne, with the sounds recorded on location (where possible). The music was written and performed by Erik Stein & Jon Boux of Cult With No Name.
Next episode: The Deadliest Dentist in Soho (due Thursday 16th November 2017).
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a writer, crime historian, podcaster and tour-guide who runs Murder Mile Walks, a guided tour of Soho’s most notorious murder cases, hailed as “one of the top ten curious, quirky, unusual and different things to do in London” and featuring 12 murderers, including 3 serial killers, across 15 locations, totaling 75 deaths, over just a one mile walk.
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a crime writer, podcaster & tour guide of Murder Mile Walks, hailed as one of the best "quirky curious & unusual things to do in London".
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