Murder Mile True-Crime Podcast #64: Ben & Freya Pedersen - the Last Victims of the Hyde Park bombing
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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.
On Tuesday 20th July 1982, an IRA bomb exploded in Hyde Park. Ben and Freya Pedersen were the last two victims of the Hyde Park bombing, and yet their faces don’t appear in any photos and their names aren’t etched on the memorial plaque, and although they died thirty years after this terrorist attack, their deaths are no less tragic.
As many photos of the case are copyright protected by greedy news organisations (and I don't want to be billed £300 for copyright infringement again), to view them, take a peek at my entirely legal social media accounts - Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
The location of the Hyde Park bombing on South Carriage Drive is marked with a red ! at the bottom. To use the map, simply click it. If you want to see the other murder maps, such as King's Cross and Soho, you access them by clicking here.
I've also posted some photos to aid your "enjoyment" of the episode. These photos were taken by myself (copyright Murder Mile) or granted under Government License 3.0, where applicable.
Ep64 – Ben & Freya Pedersen: The Last Victims of the Hyde Park Bombing
SCRIPT: Welcome to Murder Mile; a true-crime podcast and audio guided walk featuring many of London’s untold, unsolved and long-forgotten murders, all set within London’s West End.
Today’s episode is about Ben and Freya Pedersen, the last two victims of the Hyde Park bombing, and yet their faces don’t appear in any photos, their names aren’t etched on the memorial plaque, and although they died thirty years after this terrorist attack, their deaths are no less tragic.
Murder Mile is researched using original and authentic sources. It contains moments of satire, shock and grisly details, and as a dramatisation of the real events, it may also feature loud and realistic sounds, so that no matter where you listen 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 64: Ben & Freya Pedersen: the Last Victims of the Hyde Park bombing.
Today I’m standing on South Carriage Drive in Hyde Park, W2; a short walk south of Maison Lyonese where Evelyn Hamilton met The Blackout Ripper, a brisk dawdle east of the Milk Bar where Rita Nelson met Reg Christie, a quick canter from the Tyburn Tree – London’s infamous execution site, and a short saunter from the ice disaster on the Serpentine – coming soon to Murder Mile.
Situated west of Mayfair and book-ended by Bayswater and Kensington, Hyde Park is the largest of London’s four royal parks. Established in 1536, when fat bloated wife-shortener Henry VIII nabbed 350 acres of the Church’s land to turn a deer reserve into a shooting gallery, Hyde Park is a public park, open to everyone, for everything, from concerts to protests, sports to picnics, fairs to free-speech.
Hyde Park is a real blessing in a smoggy metropolis like London - as although it’s circled by belching buses, honking horns and speed-crazy psychopaths on scooters racing to get a cup of hot coffee to some arsehole with an app, too lazy to get it themselves in a city where there’s a Costa or Starbucks every ten feet – being full of grass, trees, birds and a lake, Hyde Park is a literal breath of fresh air.
Of course, its tranquillity is often sullied by halfwits in hammocks, yetis in yoga pants, joggers squatting with sweaty bum cracks, utter twats playing tinny tunes on iPhones, bag-handed bastards picking up their dog-plop only to hang it from a tree like it’s a fricking Christmas treat (also known as the “shit Santa”) and - of course - babies. Really, what is the point to them? All they do is cry and crap. Urgh!
Skirting the south side of Hyde Park, South Carriage Drive is a two-lane street between Exhibition Road and Park Lane. Lined with trees, a horse-track and Hyde Park Barracks, it’s always quiet, as cars cannot stop or park here… and for good reason. And although, a memorial commemorates the dead, with very few people knowing their story, there is no plaque for Ben & Freya Pedersen.
As it was here on Tuesday 20th July 1982, that one of Britain’s worst mainland bombings took place, and yet, thirty years later, Hyde Park would claim its last two victims. (Interstitial)
1982 was bad year…
…being at the tail end of a recession, with three million people unemployed (the highest figure since the 1930’s), inflation high, wages low and crime soaring, as Margaret Thatcher entered her fourth year as British Prime Minister, Britain was at war with Argentina over the disputed territory of the Falkland Islands and the 1979 ceasefire with the Provisional Irish Republican Army had collapsed.
Tensions were high and security was tight. Seeing itself as the successor to the original IRA, who sought to end British rule in Northern Ireland, the Provisional IRA was the most active republican paramilitary group of the conflict, killing more than eighteen hundred people in its thirty year campaign.
In the two years since the ceasefire’s collapse, in London alone, the IRA detonated seven bombs injuring sixty-five people and killing twelve. On 2nd December 1980, five died at a Territorial Army recruitment centre in Kensington. 8th January 1981, fifty musicians escaped an explosion at RAF Uxbridge. 17th October 1981, Lieutenant-General Sir Stuart Pringle lost a leg when a booby-trapped bomb blew up under his car. 26th Oct 1981, Kenneth Howarth was killed as he tried to defuse a bomb left in a Wimpy Bar on Oxford Street. And on 23rd November 1981, a soldier’s wife and her friend were injured when a bomb (disguised as a toy gun) exploded outside of the Royal Artillery Barracks, next to a school for the Army’s children.
Quoting Article 51 of the UN Statue that “nothing shall impair the right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a member of the United Nations”, the IRA stated “now it is our turn to invoke article 51 and quote all Thatcher’s fine phrases on the right to self-determination of a people. The Irish people have sovereign rights which no task or occupational force can put down”.
In a campaign which was both targeted and random, sometimes the IRA gave warnings, sometimes they didn’t, sometimes a blast was just a distraction to cause panicked people to run in the direction of a bigger bomb, and with devices left in bags, on buses or in bins near busy shopping districts, their victims were both servicemen and civilians, whether men, women or children.
And the next bomb was no exception…
With the sight of injured civilians splashed across the newspapers proving detrimental to their cause, the London-based Active Service Unit of the Provisional IRA sought out a strictly military target.
On Saturday 10th October 1981, at 12pm, having finished their shift at the Tower of London, as a small white coach carrying twenty-three soldiers from the British Army regiment of the Irish Guards turned onto St Barnabas Street; a quiet, calm side-street at the back of Chelsea Barracks, the bomb exploded.
Hidden in a parked laundry van, detonated by remote, packed full of eight kilos of highly explosive gelignite and being padded with bags of four inch nails, although the blast was strong enough to eviscerate the van, as the bus wasn’t close enough, the initial explosion missed its target. But as the blast wave turned these harmless steel nails into thousands of high-speed projectiles - which could penetrate metal, wood, bone and skin – forty people were injured, eight seriously and two were killed; 59 year old Nora Field and 18 year old John Breslin, two innocent civilians who happened to be passing.
…and yet, little would the British Security Services know that the bombing at the Chelsea Barracks was just a dress-rehearsal for the true horror that was still to come at Hyde Park. (Interstitial)
In a plain red-bricked but oddly shaped six storey building sat alone on South Carriage Drive, with ten foot high walls, a thick reinforced gate and a large Union Jack flag proudly flying, although it looks like a tacky 1980’s hotel - with a faint whiff of dung, a discrete whinny of horses and a military insignia – this is the garrison of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment, the Queen's official bodyguards.
Comprised of the British Army’s two most senior regiments - the Life Guards and the Blues & Royals - The Household Cavalry performs the ‘Changing of the Guard’; a ceremonial tradition dating back three hundred and sixty years, and on alternate days – with the Life Guards in red tunics, gold plumes and gold body armour, and the Blues & Royals in dark blue tunics, red plumes and silver body armour – they ride with absolute precision, on neat and unfazed horses, from Hyde Park Barracks, down South Carriage Drive and Constitution Hill, changing at Buckingham Palace and Horse Guards Parade.
Tuesday 20th July 1982 was an ordinary day, as being Britain, the summer sun was hidden by a blanket of grey cloud, a dirty wind and an interminable drizzle.
As a consummate soldier who was fastidiously neat, precise and professional, for 21 year old Michael Pedersen, being a Sargent in the Blues & Royals was an honour. Up early to black his boots, starch his creases and polish his body-armour to a mirror-shine, with his face clean shaven and his brown hair neatly trimmed to military regulation, Michael took pride in his duties.
Trained to tackle the unexpected in an unemotional way, showing no weakness or fear, although he had a fun and gregarious side, Michael was the perfect soldier; he was smart, loyal and serious about every single detail of his life, as in his eyes - everything had to be perfect – and that included his horse.
Bred as a cross between an Irish draught mare and a thoroughbred stallion, with silky black hair, a broad powerful body and standing sixteen hands high, Sefton was an impressive sight. Unlike Michael, Sefton had already served in the British Army for fifteen years, but just like Michael, although strong, sturdy and unshakable, off-duty he had a temperamental side, with Sefton disobeying commands and breaking rank, hence he was given the nickname “Sharky”, as to those he didn’t like, he would bite.
At exactly 10:30am on Tuesday 20th July 1982, as the double-gates of Hyde Park Barracks opened, in two-by-two formation, the Blues & Royals trotted out and turned right onto the South Carriage Drive.
Being mid-morning; the street was quiet, the park was empty and the traffic was light, so except for a handful of tourists and a few parked cars, the road was silent. As per usual, the route was routine, and as the troop passed a low depression in the road, rising up towards Hyde Park Corner, everything seemed ordinary; from the clip-clop of the horse’s hooves, to the faint rustle of leaves, to the distant click of cameras as a small excitable crowd gathered… unaware that they were trotting into a trap.
On the night prior, the Provisional IRA had stolen a plain-looking car which by the morning had yet to be reported missing. Parking it up on South Carriage Drive and having fed the meter with new 20p pieces, the rather ordinary blue Austin Morris Marina blended in with the other parked-up minis and VWs. The horses and riders thought nothing of it as they passed the little blue car, but hidden in its boot was a remote detonator, eleven kilos of gelignite and fourteen kilos of four-inch steel nails.
At 10:40am, the nail bomb exploded.
The flash was an intense yellow, burning bright but fading fast, as with the bulk of the blast insulated by its metal boot, the explosives tossed the Austin Marina into the air, flipping it onto the car behind, a ragged tangled mess of twisted smoking metal. With ears ringing, an eerie silence descended as the disorientated spectators stirred, their world enveloped by a cacophony of sounds; as the blast wave smashed windows streets away, sirens wailed and horses whinnied, as slowly, began the screams.
Thick with black caustic smoke, as the stench of chemicals and burning drifted from the fiery wreckage, although they could hear the fear, no-one could see what had happened as the street was shielded in a cloud of acrid dust and smouldering debris. But as a light wind blew, the dark clouds parted.
Both lanes of South Carriage Drive were a sea of blood as side-by-side soldiers and stallions lay dead or dying; the dull grey road littered with black shapeless lumps as injured horses oozed red slicks, and underneath these crippled beasts - with shiny armour oddly glinting - their bloodied riders lay trapped.
As before, it wasn’t the explosives which killed or injured, but with eighty nails per bag, the blast wave turned fourteen transparent bags of harmless pins into nine hundred lethal steel projectiles, which whizzed through the air like thin silver bullets, piercing skin, shredding muscle and embedding in bone.
Alerted by the blast, soldiers ran from the barracks to aid their bleeding comrades and disregarding the risk of a secondary explosion as they entered a scene of chaos and carnage.
As a strong and sturdy horse, Sergeant Pedersen later stated that Sefton reacted so professionally that even as the bomb exploded, he (as the rider) wasn’t thrown, and although Sefton bled profusely with four-inch nails having ruptured its left eye, jugular vein and embedded in thirty-four parts of its body, the injured horse galloped to the barracks, Sergeant Pedersen on top, taking its rider to safety.
Sergeant Pedersen was miraculously unharmed; the blast and shrapnel shielded by his horse and his vital organs protected by his body armour, but having witnessed a sight of absolute horror, so shocking it can’t be unseen, being too traumatised to even talk, Sergeant Pedersen remained in severe shock.
The nail bomb injured all sixteen of the horses; nine along with Sefton were wounded, as well as ‘Echo’ a grey mare of the Metropolitan Police who was escorting the troop, but with seven being so badly maimed they would never have survived, under several dark tarpaulins, the Regiment’s vet ended their suffering. They were Cedric, Epaulette, Falcon, Rochester, Waterford, Yeastvite and Zara.
Twenty-two people were admitted to hospital, eighteen soldiers, one policeman and three civilians, (one of whom was a mother and her baby) and although the standard bearer of the Blues & Royals fought on, three days later he died of his wounds and became the fourth human casualty of the Hyde Park bombing, the first three having been killed outright. Those we lost were Corporal Major Roy Bright, Lieutenant Anthony Daly, Trooper Simon Tipper and Lance Corporal Jeffrey Young,
Two hours later, at 12:55pm, two miles north in Regent’s Park, as thirty members of the Royal Green Jackets performed hits from Oliver, a second bomb exploded, injuring eight and killing seven.
The events of Tuesday 20th July 1982 brought a country to standstill. And although many servicemen survived, still living in an era of the British stiff-upper lip, where a trained soldier never shows fear and real men supposedly never show weakness, the worst injuries weren’t always physical or even visible.
As the beloved children of Sergeant Pedersen, thankfully Ben & Freya weren’t there that day, as being barely a young unmarried man himself, they wouldn’t be born for at least another two decades, but the horror of Hyde Park bombing - even thirty years later - would affect their lives forever.
With every newspaper carrying the same photo; the sight of seven dead horses strewn across the street sparked a furious fire under the British people, and with Margaret Thatcher condemning their actions as “callous and cowardly crimes committed by evil, brutal men who know nothing of democracy. We shall not rest until they are brought to justice", conversely, although Irish-Americans had openly supported the IRA, the bombing had backfired and their US funding began to cease.
That day, given only a 50/50 chance of survival, Sefton underwent an eight operation to save its life, and being a strong-willed stubborn horse, as donations flooded in, against the odds, Sefton survived.
And as an act of defiance against the cowardly terrorists who hid in the shadows, detonated bombs from a distance and indiscriminately killed and injured men, women and children; the next day, the Household Cavalry performed the Changing of the Guard, passing the same spot where their comrades fell. To this day, a memorial stands, and as they pass, they honour it with eyes-left and swords drawn.
A few months later, both Sergeant Pedersen and Sefton returned to the Hyde Park Barracks and back to active service, as although they were physically and mentally scarred, they were both soldiers.
As a symbol of courage, triumph and British pluck, having won the British people’s hearts - alongside his rider - Sefton was awarded the prestigious title of Horse of the Year and they both became national celebrities, receiving standing ovations wherever they went.
After two more years of service, in August 1984, Sefton retired. Owing to an incurable lameness in his legs caused by his injuries, on 9th July 1993, aged thirty, Sefton was put to sleep. He was buried with military honours at the Defence Animal Training Regiment in Melton Mowbray and a life-size statue of Sefton was unveiled at the Royal Veterinary College, with a medical wing in his name.
Sefton lived like a soldier, died like a fighter, was treated like a hero and was buried with honours. But serious injuries aren’t always obvious, and although physically Michael Pedersen had survived, mentally he was battle-scarred and bleeding, but he wasn’t the last casualty of the Hyde Park bombing.
One year later, Michael married his girlfriend Susan Day and they had two babies together. As a doting father, described as a “lovely man who would help anyone out if they had a problem”, after twenty-one years in the British Army, he completed his full military service and retired in 2001.
After nearly quarter of a century of strict rules, bellowed orders and starched shirts, life outside of the Army was difficult to adjust to; the world was too sloppy and disorganised for a neat, precise man who liked things done his way, or not at all. And sadly, that year, his marriage to Susan ended in divorce.
Taught to bottle his feelings, hide his anxiety and disguise his depression, battling endless nightmares and survivor’s guilt, in a rare moment of vulnerability, Michael admitted to his doctor that he thought he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, but being too proud, he didn’t get help.
In 2002, Michael married his second wife, Erica, he retrained as a lorry-driver, together they ran a successful haulage company called Highroad Logistics, and having moved into a lovely red-bricked cottage in Ashford (Kent), the couple had two lovely children who they named Ben & Freya.
Life was good… or so it seemed.
Seen by neighbours as a gentle giant who “loved his kids and wouldn’t do anything to harm them", although seven year old Ben and six year old Freya seemed neat, happy and polite, Michael could be very controlling, overbearing and a bully, and being jealous of his wife, the marriage was rocky.
The end began so innocently.
On Saturday 25th August 2012, Michael & Erica Pedersen were invited to an Army reunion; having both had one too many drinks, Michael saw Erica briefly being kissed by another man, the couple argued, they fought and (allegedly being pushed) Erica sustained a broken arm and shoulder.
A few days later, Michael posted on Facebook “the worst day of my life. Sadly have split with Erica, I am absolutely distraught. Still love her very much and would give anything to turn the clock back”, but the marriage was over, the assault was a step too far and as Erica began divorce proceedings, Michael was served an injunction banning him from the family home, where his wife and two children lived.
His very precise and regimented life was falling apart and (for the first time) he had no control.
On Sunday 30th September 2012, as part of a pre-arranged visit by his soon-to-be ex-wife, Michael took Ben & Freya to visit their grandfather in Andover (Hampshire); they had lunch, they played, they paddled in the lake, and – as promised – he would drop them back to the family home by 5pm.
By 7pm, with her calls going unanswered, no sign of Michael or the kids, her house having been ransacked and two chef’s knives missing from the kitchen, Erica called the Police… but it was too late.
At 6:15pm, in the nearby village of Newton Stacey, a local dog-walker strolled down a secluded country lane, thick with overgrown bushes. Seeing a blue Saab 900 convertible parked up and the car blocking the bridleway - with the engine off, the lights out and no-one inside – as the dog-walker skirted down its sides, navigating the nettles, at the back, by the boot, they found Ben, Freya and Michael.
As much as he loved his children, he could never be apart from them – and with no traces of drugs or alcohol in his system – in that lane, Michael had inflicted his final act of control against his wife.
The attack was frenzied, violent and terrifying, as (having been treated to a last day out) the two tiny children stood, their tears ignored, their screams unheard, as wielding two large silver knives, a six-foot soldier stabbed them one-by-one. Only this wasn’t a crazed stranger – this was their daddy.
Struggling to fight off their attacker, both children sustained deep slashes to their arms and hands, but being no match for a man five times their size, seven year old Ben was stabbed six times in the chest, the eight inch blade left sticking-out and bolt upright. With a second knife, he stabbed six year old Freya in the heart, severing a major artery which bled down her pretty pink top and leggings. And as both of his babies lay dead, Michael Pedersen plunged the knife three times into his own chest. (END)
Hundreds of mourners turned out for the service at St Saviour's Church. With the pews lined with pink and blue balloons, a sermon by the vicar who had baptised them both, a reading from Freya’s favourite book The Gruffalo and the hall ringing to the tune of The Circle of Life, a song from Disney's The Lion King, on a large screen beamed the smiling faces of Ben & Freya, a big brother and his baby sister hugging during happier times, with Ben dressed as a racing driver and Freya as a little fairy.
At the inquest, the coroner recorded a verdict of death by suicide and two counts of unlawful killing.
Being born almost a quarter of a century after the 1982 bombing which had traumatised their father, it is still uncertain today whether Michael’s actions were as a consequence of those events, or his need for precision and control, unable to cope in an undisciplined world away from the British Army.
Many people died that day in Hyde Park and Regent’s Park. Many were injured, both servicemen and civilian, humans and equine. And up until the 1997 ceasefire, which still holds today, in a bloody feud between the British Government and the Provisional IRA, many more fatalities were to come.
But the aftermath of such horrifying atrocities stretches beyond the incident itself, affecting friends and family, far and wide, and although some injuries aren’t always visible, unless help is sought to deal with the mental and emotional scars which linger underneath, other innocents may be hurt.
And although they didn’t die that day on South Carriage Drive, perhaps four more names should be added to the memorial – Michael, Erica, Ben and Freya, the last victims of the Hyde Park bombing.
OUTRO: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for listening to Murder Mile.
As per usual, if you’re a murky miler, to stay tuned for extra waffle after the break, but before that, here’s my recommended podcasts of the week; which are All Crime No Cattle and Simply Strange. (PROMO)
A huge thank you goes out to my new Patreon supporters, who are Vivian, Mette Kongsted and True-Crime Nana, who get a regular dose of crime scene photos, videos, a weekly ebook and shall be the lucky recipients of some rather delightful Murder Mile goodies, only available via Patreon. Sorry.
A special thank you to Christine from Jonny & Erik of Cult With No Name (the geniuses who do most of the music for Murder Mile) as Christine came to see Cult With No Name play when they were at Farncombe. Christine I’m glad you enjoyed them, they’re really great aren’t they. A comment which was backed-up by Phillip Grundy who – like myself – is hooked on their music. And rightly so.
This week, I wanted to draw your attention to a new true-crime book which has hit the bookstores (both online and in real life… ooh). It is a collection of fascinating and previously unheard true-crime tales written by Ben & Rosie of the fabulous They Walk Among Us podcast. If you love this podcast (and you should because it’s amazing) here they bring you ten new and previously untold true-crime tales, which (like the podcast) are intricately researched and expertly told, in a thrilling, emotional and unbiased way. There’s a reason why this is one of the best true-crime podcasts out there, and now they have a book. I’ve read it, I loved it and I devoured it in two days. It’s a cracking read and a must for all true-crime fans, and (even better, for short-sighted people like myself) the text is a decent size. And if reading isn’t your thing, you can also get it in audio version, as read by Benjamin.
If you fancy treating yourself, I’ve popped a handy link in the show-notes.
Murder Mile was researched, written & performed by myself, with the main musical themes written and performed by Erik Stein & Jon Boux of Cult With No Name.
Thank you for listening and sleep well.
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), and the music written and performed by Erik Stein & Jon Boux of Cult With No Name. Additional music was written and performed as used under the Creative Common Agreement 4.0.
The music featured in this episode include:
Sadly, most of the original sources at the National Archives are unobtainable so I've researched this story using as many firsthand accounts as I could get, as well as news articles.
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a writer, crime historian, podcaster and tour-guide who runs Murder Mile Walks, a guided tor of Soho’s most notorious murder cases, hailed as “one of the top ten curious, quirky, unusual and different things to do in London”, nominated "one of the best true-crime podcasts at the British podcast Awards 2018", 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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