In this episode, we reveal how the IRA bomber who almost wiped out Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative cabinet in 1984 was caught by officers in Glasgow. Listen to Glasgow crime Stories on Spotify or Apple Podcasts now. 



Govanhill is one of the most cosmopolitan and vibrant communities in Glasgow.

A popular area over the decades for people settling in the city for the first time.

However, 37 years ago the neighbourhood was the scene of Britain's biggest-ever police anti-terrorist operation.

Their target was 34-year-old Patrick Magee, then the prime suspect for the Grand Hotel bombing in Brighton which had almost claimed the life of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher the previous year.

For several weeks he had been secretly living in a safehouse above a pub in Langside Road, in the heart of Govanhill - supported by IRA sympathisers in the city.

Five prominent members of the Conservative party died and several others were seriously injured after the bomb went off on the final day of the Conservative Party conference in October 1984.

Fatalities included Mrs Muriel McLean, aged 54, wife of the Chairman of the Scottish Conservatives, Sir Donald McLean.

At the time of the explosion, Mrs Thatcher had been preparing her conference speech for later that day.

Following three months of painstaking detective work, Magee had been identified as the man who planted the bomb.

But by this time, he was well away from the scene of his crime, and nobody knew where he could be found.

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It would be five months later when a chance encounter at a railway station would lead police to his Glasgow hideout.

At the time, police were under enormous pressure to find the people responsible for the Brighton bombing.

It was one of the biggest crimes ever committed in Britain - the attempted assassination of a Prime Minister and her entire cabinet.

The bomb had been rigged to a timer and triggered remotely by an electronic device - but when had it been planted?

The longest timer the IRA normally used was three months.

So, the decision was made to check back through hotel records for that period.

Detectives also had to establish if the bomber had been a hotel guest or simply visited a guest's room.

That means they had to trace everyone who'd been inside the hotel during the three-month window.

It was a formidable task.

There was no CCTV footage and not everyone had paid by credit card making guests harder to trace.

Instead, police had to rely on handwritten registration cards, phone records, cash receipts and other documents.

Every guest and member of staff was traced and interviewed

Scores of officers carried out a fingertip search of the wreckage.

It was painstaking work which took them three weeks and was particularly dangerous with the remaining structure threatening to fall at any time.

Coaches carrying police search teams to and from the Grand took a different route every day, in case of another attack.

The first breakthrough came a fortnight into the search when a detective inspected the toilet in one of the rooms – 629.

It was blocked with debris, dust and water and the remnants of a 24-day timer.

The housekeeper responsible for Room 629 had noticed that the bath panel had been moved, because of grease marks around it.

Here was the first evidence of where the bomb had been planted.

A waiter also recalled delivering a bottle of vodka to the same room.

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Detectives knew that the Russian spirit could also be used to wash off traces of explosives from hands.

Fingerprint experts examined the hotel registration cards one by one focusing on cards from Room 629.

By early November police had a suspect - an Englishman Roy Walsh with an address in London.

No one who lived there had ever heard of Walsh, nor had any of the neighbours.

The mystery guest had stayed at the Grand four weeks earlier - for three nights - around the same time the bomb was planted.

The hunt was on for 'Roy Walsh', whose name was released to the public in case they recognised it.

In fact, Roy Walsh was Patrick Magee, a known active member of the IRA.

Fingerprint experts uncovered two prints on one of the registration cards that matched Magee's.

However, his whereabouts were still a mystery.

As far as the police were concerned, he had gone completely off the radar.

On this occasion, his name wasn't released to the public but instead confined to a small group of senior police officers.

In June 1985, eight months after the bombing, a police surveillance team purely by chance, spotted Magee at Carlisle station with another IRA man they had been tailing.

They asked their bosses if they should make an arrest but were told to follow the pair after they boarded a train to Glasgow.

The surveillance team - who hadn't been told Magee was a suspect for the Brighton Bombing - were waiting for him when he arrived in the city.

They followed him and the other IRA suspect to the south side and the tenement in Langside Road.

The problem was that the surveillance team had no idea which of the eight flats in the block the pair had gone into.

They kept observation outside, while senior officers decided what to do.

Firearms were issued, just in case. But sending in an armed team was deemed too risky because of the possibility of a major shoot-out which could affect families in the block.

A softly-softly approach was decided on.

The area was surrounded by firearms experts brought in from all over Glasgow, and an officer was stationed outside each flat.

On a given signal, each one rapped on the door and called out: "Pizza delivery!"

To their astonishment, one was answered by the unsuspecting Magee himself.

He was grabbed there and then taken into police custody as heavily armed officers burst into the flat.

Four other IRA suspects inside were arrested. They offered no resistance as they were also taken into custody.

After months of meticulous investigation, the police had their man for the Brighton bombing.

They had also averted other terrorist attacks which could have devastated Britain. Inside the Langside Road flat, they found evidence of a second plot to plant bombs in London and various seaside resorts during the summer.

Investigations showed that Magee and another woman had been previously staying in a room in a tenement on James Gray Street in Shawlands about a mile away. That address was also raided and the owner there was arrested.

Police then discovered that weapons and explosives had been kept in the flat and a cellar downstairs.

After his arrest on June 22, 1985, Magee was taken to Stewart Street Police Office in Glasgow before being transferred to Paddington Green, the specialist anti-terrorist police station in London.

There, detectives could finally meet and interview the man they'd been after for the last nine months.

During the lengthy interrogations, Magee said nothing looking right past the interviewing officers

One of them later said: "He just sat there. Didn't say a dickie bird. He didn't even look at us."

At the Old Bailey in London in 1986, Patrick Magee pleaded not guilty to five charges of murder, connected to the Grand Hotel bombing.

On June 10, 1986, he was convicted of all seven including the attempt to assassinate the Prime Minister and her Cabinet.

The court heard it was one of the worst acts of terrorism in this country and came within an inch of being the IRA's most devastating attack.

The jury of six men and six women took five hours and 15 minutes to reach their verdict on Magee on what was the fifth week of the trial.

At one stage during their deliberations, Mr Justice Boreham sent them to a hotel where they could be guarded overnight.

They had been told that 800 people from 50 countries, who had stayed at the Grand in the month before the attack, had been traced and eliminated.

Lead prosecutor Roy Amlot, QC, said Magee had planted the time bomb in Room 629, about 24 days before the explosion.

The jury was also told that Mrs Thatcher and members of the Cabinet had been staying nearby.

Magee had booked into Room 629 and concealed a bomb of between 20 and 30 pounds of gelignite behind the panels of a bath.

He had been born in Belfast but moved with his family to Norwich when he was two.

He returned to Belfast at the age of 18 in 1969 and joined the Provisional IRA soon afterwards.

It meant his upbringing had given him an English rather than an Irish accent.

The court heard that the bomb plot had been devised in 1981 because of Mrs Thatcher's attitude towards the death of republican hunger striker and MP Bobby Sands.

The Grand Hotel had been guarded for the conference week by plainclothes and uniformed Sussex police officers, members of the Metropolitan Police Close Protection Unit, and 24-hour security cameras.

A police operations room in the hotel monitored the building during the conference week.

But Magee had circumvented all those security measures by planting the bomb on September 17, 1984, setting its timing mechanism for a time 24 days, six hours and 35 minutes later.

The prosecution said he had committed a blunder by leaving his fingerprints on the registration card.

Magee's defence team claimed the police planted Magee's print on the registration card in an effort to frame him and restore their credibility after the explosion.

All the hotel receptionist could recall of Magee was that he had paid £180 in cash in advance for a three-night stay.

She had allocated him Room 629 'because it was a nice room facing the sea. '

On the final day of his stay, a waiter had delivered tea and turkey sandwiches.

The door was opened by a taller man than Magee, but the waiter recalled there appeared to be someone else in the bathroom.

The timer was set that evening after the occupants of the room had ordered a bottle of vodka and three cokes.

On September 19 Magee left the hotel with the bomb ticking away as unsuspecting guests came and went.

Sir Donald McLean and his wife Muriel booked into Room 629 on October 9, at the start of the conference week.

He told the jury that he and his wife had entertained guests until 1.45 am on the night the bomb went off.

Mrs McLean died from her injuries on November 13 - almost five weeks after the bombing.

Another party official Sir Gordon Shattock, who was in the neighbouring room, had a miraculous escape.

He fell from the sixth floor to the basement with huge chunks of debris tumbling with him.

He managed to crawl out of the rubble in the basement with another woman, who had also fallen from the sixth floor.

Mrs Shattock was blown out of her room, across a corridor, and into Room 638. She died instantly from the blast.

But her injuries which included tile fragments indicated the direction of the explosion and also its origin - Room 629.

It was this information that led the police to trace everyone who had stayed in the room.

The registration card Magee had allegedly signed was examined by Scotland Yard experts using the latest chemical and laser techniques.

These were compared with the police fingerprints record taken from Magee when he was convicted of three offences as a juvenile.

The 'Roy Walsh' signature and address were examined by handwriting experts who concluded that they were Magee's handwriting.

There were two outstanding characteristics - the figure '2' had a long base, and the capital 'E 'was written with the pen not leaving the paper when the upper horizontal strokes were made.

Magee had also been charged and convicted of conspiracy to cause 16 explosions - four in London and 12 in seaside towns - which were due to go off on consecutive days in July and August 1985.

At the end of the trial the judge Mr Justice Boreham recommended that he serve a minimum of 35 years.

He branded Magee "a man of exceptional cruelty and inhumanity" who enjoyed terrorist activities.

In total, he received eight life sentences. Seven of them were for offences relating to the Brighton bombing

The eighth was for the separate conspiracy to bomb the 16 targets in London and resorts around Britain.

Four members of an IRA "active service unit" who worked with him on that project were also jailed.

When he sentenced Magee, Mr Justice Boreham also voiced his satisfaction at the length of time he would serve.

He said: "You intended to wipe out a large part of the government and you nearly did.

"I must be grateful that in recent years legislators have raised the maximum sentence from a mere 20 years to life imprisonment for explosive offences."

It also emerged during the trial that Magee had honed his bomb-making skills at Libyan terrorist training camps.

As he was led from court to begin the multiple life terms Magee gave a clenched fist salute.

He hadn't given evidence in his own defence, as was his right, or called any witnesses.

In 1999, he walked free from jail under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement after serving 14 years.

The then Home Secretary Jack Straw attempted to block Magee's release, but this attempt was overturned by the High Court.

The following year the Brighton Bomber admitted in a newspaper interview that he carried out the attack but claimed he hadn't left a fingerprint on the registration card, saying: "If that was my fingerprint, I did not put it there.”

Over the years he has defended his role in the blast, but also expressed remorse for the loss of innocent lives.

Magee, who completed two university degrees in prison, has since become actively involved in conciliation groups with victims. He also published his own life story last year.

Jo Berry, the daughter of one of the victims of the bombing Sir Anthony Berry, met Magee in November 2000 in an effort at achieving reconciliation.

Harvey Thomas, a senior adviser to Thatcher who survived the bombing, forgave Magee in 1998 and cited his Christian faith as the reason.

One of the best-remembered images of the night was that of the former Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Norman Tebbit, who had to be rescued from the rubble. in his pyjamas.

His wife was paralysed in the blast.

Norman Tebbit has said he would only forgive Magee if he went to the police and provided them with the names of anyone else who was responsible for the bombing.

Magee responded by saying: "Why should he have the obligation to forgive? If I was in his position and someone had hurt my relative, I don't know if I could forgive."

The bombing attack was the worst attack ever inflicted on a UK government, almost wiping out the entire Tory cabinet including Margaret Thatcher.

However, with the loss of life had come the realisation that no one could consider themselves beyond the reach of the terrorists.

In a statement claiming responsibility in the aftermath, the IRA chillingly warned that worse was still to come. "Today we were unlucky, but remember we only have to be lucky once.

 "You will have to be lucky always."

It's not known if Magee ever returned to Glasgow or any of his former haunts in Govanhill and Shawlands.

However, his time in the city was an unwelcome if timely reminder that the Troubles in Northern Ireland were never far from its' doorstep.