Full Transcript - Episode #5 The Bombing of the Admiral Duncan
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 self-professed neo-Nazi who was so fueled by bigotry, hatred and ignorance, attempted to divide the wonderfully diverse melting pot of London by bringing the city to its knees 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 fellow Murder Mile podcast followers will be very familiar with, as barely fifty paces to my left lies the blood soaked bed of the illusive Soho prostitute known as “Dutch Leah” (as witnessed in episode four), fifty paces to my right is the very gutter where the infamously cruel West End gangster Tony Mella (as witnessed in episode two) got his comeuppance for a lifetime of cruelty, and one street to the north is the hunting ground of Soho’s very own Jack the Ripper style slasher, The Blackout Ripper (a maniac that we shall discuss in weeks to come).
And yet, if you were to walk down Old Compton Street today, having listened with twitching ears and baited breath to our earlier episodes, you’d probably be half expecting the street to be strewn with half-dissected whores, swamped with drooling dead-eyed stranglers and chock-full of two-bit hoods decorating every wall with a funky new colour called “blood, skin and hint of brain”. But you won’t.
Old Compton Street is actually 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, pubs and clubs 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 of love, acceptance and safety, where two men can hold hands, where women can kiss and regardless of what gender a person is, was or wishes to be, here they can truly be themselves, away from the bigoted sneers, the judgmental eyes and the disapproving looks of the uneducated. And although everyone, whether homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual or transsexual is welcome… sadly, not everyone has come here with love in their heart, as one man brought only hatred.
For more than three 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 in Temple, 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 prefer to 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 & 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 eminated from The Caravan, London’s first gay-friendly member’s club in Endell Street, Billie’s on Little Denmark Street, an openly gay cabaret, and the controversial (for its era) Shim Sham Club at 7 Wardour Street, a bar especially for white women who liked to be entertained by black men, as well as being a fantastic cultural focal point for artists, musicians and writers, such as Oscar Wilde, Quentin Crisp and Francis Bacon, to name but a few.
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, a four-storey, red-bricked, blue fronted, 180 year old pub which sits at 54 Old Compton Street, looks exactly 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, 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.
Therefore this episode is dedicated to those who died in the bombing of the Admiral Duncan. By the late 20th century, terrorism in London had become common place, as with the Irish Republican Army undertaking 160 bombings over 40 years in the city alone, at one point there were as many as three-per-week, as well as a further 16 attacks during this period connected to Middle Eastern politics, 26 to anarchist groups and a handful to lone nut-jobs with an axe to grind. The last IRA attack occurred on 29 April 1997 as the UK and the IRA worked towards the Belfast Agreement, three years before the bombing of the Admiral Duncan, and therefore (having become accustomed to peace) many Londoners had become complacent about their own 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 other lone nut-jobs, this bomb was not a one-off attack… because (as the saying goes) bad news always comes in threes.
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 multicultural (but predominantly West Indian) neighbourhood, which was sheathed in the rich aroma of international foods, fruits and spices, but being so tightly packed full of stalls, pallets, boxes and shoppers, it was a nightmare to navigate, especially being barely 100 feet from the busy Brixton tube, and at that time of the evening, the street was jam-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 astutely 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 five hundred 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 prior 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, cafes and South Asian restaurants, within the centre of a predominately Bengali community, as many Muslims had gathered at the East London Mosque for prayers. Thankfully, having failed to properly research his intended target, the bomber was unaware that the market took place on Sundays, so instead of being bustling with shoppers, the street was ominously quiet. And as before, being on high alert since the Brixton bombing, 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 at the junction of Brick Lane and Chicksand Street, 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 & Brick Lane bombings, codenamed “Operation Marathon”, as 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 amidst a sea of strangers many of whom were carrying bags, as across London, the city’s ethnic minority enclaves (whether Jewish areas such as Golders Green or Asian districts such as Southall) 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 of instantly releasing the grainy CCTV footage of this unknown man to the press, in the hope that - being a non-descript slim white male, 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, he pointed at the grainy CCTV image on the front page and said “doesn’t that look like Dave?” Being uncertain, and not wanting to get anyone into trouble, 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-Terrorist Squad hotline.
The name he gave 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 with a black sports holdall casually slung over his shoulder.
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 (roughly 15 feet wide by 60 feet long), 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 (hoping to grab a space for the night’s entertainment) or around the long thin bar that covered half of the right-hand side of the room.
Serving that night were 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.
But for one group of friends, it had already been a great day which was about to get even better, 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’ with their friends; John Light, who was best man at their wedding and soon-to-be 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 cliental in the Admiral Duncan that night, as it didn’t matter whether you were married or single, gay or straight, old friends or new, here anyone was welcome, and everyone was out to have a good time. And so with the musical not starting till 8pm, and the doors of the Prince’s Theatre not open till 7:30, Andrea, Julian, John, Nik and Gary headed into Soho for a celebratory drink.
As the pub slowly filled, sat at the bar and blending in with the Friday night crowd was a young smooth-skinned man calmly drinking a cold pint, perched at his feet was a black sports holdall. He later stated that he felt no emotion, no sadness and no joy, seeing those he was about to maim or kill, and as he sat amongst 70-80 smiling faces, pretending he was short on cash and needing a bank, a kindly customer offered to watch his drink for him, as the bomber left the Admiral Duncan, walked out of Old Compton Street 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 man’s abandoned bag in the middle of the bar, manager Mark Taylor’s instant gut reaction was “this is not funny”, as seeing the familiar black sports holdall with a green “Head” logo, which he recognised from the newspapers, he thought this was a practical joke, but the dead-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 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. Followed by an intense orange flash which was initially blinding until it plunged the whole room into pitch blackness, 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, as the first signs of life was the sound of choking… and then the 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 amidst 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 took the full force of the blast, and as he lay in the street, struggling to remain conscious, he convinced himself that he wasn’t going to die from his injuries, he 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". He even managed to a quip to keep his spirits up, he joked “I can't believe this, I've just paid £30 for a facial”.
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, 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 went on to 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. Along with John’s former partner, Nik Moore who having taken the full force of the blast, died at the scene, he was also 32 years old.
Owing to the severity of his injuries, suffering third degree burns to his body and with shrapnel embedded 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 Dykes (and their unborn son, who they’d already named Jordan) on 15th July 1999 at St Mary's Church in Wivenhoe (Essex), where two years earlier, Andrea & Julian were married. To the flowers he’d placed on her coffin, he 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, many of whom were dressed in the colours of the rainbow, signifying happiness, love and unity. 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.
# 1 - A Gay History of Soho by QX Magazine - link
#2 - Panorama - programme transcript - link
#3 - BBC News article of David Morely - link
#4 - Article on the Admiral Duncan bombing by Pink News - link
#5 - National Archives - Sexuality in 1930's Soho - link
As well as National Archives at Kew, National Newspapers Online, Westminster Coroner's Court, Ancestry.com and The Old Bailey Archive, as well as James Avery, Don Lacey and J P Fields.
With additional sounds used under the Freesound.Org Creative Commons agreement:
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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