Tag Archives: Airey Neave

Ian Gow : Assassinated by the IRA 3oth July 1990

Ian Reginald Edward Gow

Ian Reginald Edward Gow TD 11 February 1937 – 30 July 1990) was a British Conservative politician and solicitor. While serving as Member of Parliament (MP) for Eastbourne, he was assassinated by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), who exploded a bomb under his car outside his home in East Sussex.

Early life

Ian Gow was born at 3 Upper Harley Street, London, the son of Alexander Edward Gow, a London doctor attached to St Bartholomew’s Hospital who died in 1952. Ian Gow was educated at Winchester College, where he was president of the debating society. During a period of national service from 1955 to 1958 he was commissioned in the 15th/19th Hussars and served in Northern Ireland, Germany and Malaya. He subsequently served in the territorial army until 1976, attaining the rank of Major.

After completing national service he took up a career in the law and qualified as a solicitor in 1962. He eventually became a partner in the London practice of Joynson-Hicks and Co.

 He also became a Conservative Party activist. He stood for Parliament in the Coventry East constituency for the 1964 general election, but lost to Richard Crossman. He then stood for the Clapham constituency, a Labour-held London marginal seat, in the 1966 general election. An account in The Times of his candidature described him in the following terms:

“He is a bachelor solicitor, aged 29, wearing his public school manner as prominently as his rosette. Words such as ‘overpowering’, ‘arrogant’, and ‘bellicose’ are used to describe him.”

After failing to take Clapham,  he continued his quest to find a seat. He eventually succeeded at Eastbourne in 1972 after the local Party de-selected its sitting member, Sir Charles Taylor. Sir Charles had represented Eastbourne since 1935 and did not take kindly to Gow.

Parliamentary career

Gow entered Parliament as the member for Eastbourne in the general election of February 1974. For a home in his constituency, Gow acquired a 16th-century manor house known as The Doghouse in the village of Hankham. Eastbourne was then a safe Conservative seat, and Gow always had a majority share of the vote during his time as the constituency’s MP. In the general election of October 1974, he secured a 10% swing from Liberal to Conservative, doubling his majority.

In the 1975 Conservative leadership election, Gow voted for Margaret Thatcher in the first round ballot. Once Thatcher had forced Edward Heath out of the contest, several new candidates appeared and Gow switched his support to Geoffrey Howe in the second round, which Thatcher won. Gow was brought onto the Conservative front bench in 1978 to share the duties of opposition spokesman on Northern Ireland with Airey Neave.

Ian Gow First Televised Speech In Commons

The two men developed a Conservative policy on Northern Ireland which favoured integration of the province with Great Britain. This approach appeared to avoid compromise with the province’s nationalist minority and with the government of the Republic of Ireland. Both Neave and Gow were killed by car bomb attacks in 1979 and 1990 respectively. Irish republican paramilitaries claimed responsibility in both cases, but nobody was ever charged with causing the deaths and claims were made concerning possible involvement of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and intelligence community.

See: Airey Neave- The Assasination of Airey Neave

Through his association with Neave, Gow was introduced to the inner circles of the Conservative Party. He was appointed parliamentary private secretary to Margaret Thatcher in May 1979 at the time she became Prime Minister. While serving in this capacity between 1979 and 1983, Gow became a close friend and confidant of the Prime Minister. He was deeply involved in the workings of Thatcher’s private office until his departure in June 1983.

Though elevated to junior ministerial office as Minister for Housing and Construction before moving later to the Treasury, Gow was known to be disappointed by his loss of influence with the Prime Minister in his new role. In late 1983 he developed plans with Alan Clark to reinvigorate Thatcher’s private office by expanding it and its influence over policy, thereby creating a new role for himself, but these came to nothing.

Although later identified with the right-wing of the Party, he took a liberal position on some issues. He visited Rhodesia at the time of its Unilateral Declaration of Independence and was subsequently critical of the country’s white minority regime. As an MP, Gow consistently voted against the restoration of the death penalty.

 As Minister of State for Housing and Construction (from 1983 to June 1985) he showed a willingness to commit public funds to housing projects that alarmed some on the right-wing of the Conservative party.

“After taking what was perhaps too principled a stand in a complex dispute over Housing Improvement Grants, he was moved sideways to the post of minister of state at the Treasury”.

From 1982, Conservative policy began to move towards a more flexible position on Northern Ireland. In November 1985, Gow was persuaded by the speeches his cousin Nicholas Budgen made to resign as Minister of State in HM Treasury over the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

Despite his disagreement with government policy, he used his resignation speech to underline his personal devotion to Thatcher, describing her as:

“the finest chief, the most resolute leader, the kindest friend that any member of this House could hope to serve.” 

The Anglo-Irish Agreement would ultimately lead to devolved government for Northern Ireland, power sharing in the province and engagement with the Republic. After his resignation from the government, Gow became chairman of the parliamentary Conservative backbench committee on Northern Ireland. He was a leading opponent of any compromise with republicans and his tactics in this regard caused concern to the Northern Ireland Secretary Jim Prior and other MPs –

“He [Gow] co-ordinated the Tory backbench opposition to Mr Prior’s Northern Ireland Assembly bill in the early 1980s. His activities were said to have startled other Tory MPs and led to a complaint from an enraged Mr Prior to Mrs Thatcher.” 

Although he was opposed to the broadcasting of Parliamentary debates, on 21 November 1989, he nevertheless delivered the first televised speech in the House of Commons. Until 1989, television cameras did not show proceedings in the House of Commons, although it had been discussed eight times between 1964 and 1989. In 1988 MPs backed an experiment with cameras in the chamber, and 1989 Commons proceedings were televised for the first time on 21 November. Technically, Gow was not the first MP to appear on camera in the chamber, as Bob Cryer, the MP for Bradford South raised a point of order before Gow presented the Loyal Address at the opening of Parliament.

In his speech, Gow referred to a letter he had received from a firm of consultants who had offered to improve his personal appearance and television image, making a few self-deprecating jokes about his baldness. MPs agreed in 1990 to make the experiment permanent.

In spite of his disagreement with the direction in which Government policy on Northern Ireland was moving, Gow remained on close terms with Thatcher. In November 1989, he worked in Thatcher’s leadership election campaign against the stalking horse candidate, Sir Anthony Meyer. But it was reported that by the time of his death he believed Thatcher’s premiership had reached a logical end and that she should retire. Gow enjoyed friendships with people of various political persuasions, including left-wing Labour MP Tony Banks. Alan Clark described him as “my closest friend by far in politics”.

Personal life

Gow married Jane Elizabeth Packe (born 1944) in Yorkshire on 10 September 1966. They had two sons, Charles Edward (born 1968) and James Alexander (born 1970).

See: Wife of MP Ian Gow breaks her silence after British soldiers face prosecution for their actions in Northern Ireland while her husband’s IRA killers remain free


Although aware that he was a potential IRA assassination target, unlike most British MPs of that era, he left his telephone number and home address in the local telephone directory. In the early hours of 30 July 1990, a bomb was planted under Gow’s Austin Montego car, which was parked in the driveway of his house in Hankham, near Pevensey in East Sussex.

The 4.5 lb (2.0 kg) Semtex bomb detonated at 08:39 as Gow reversed out of his driveway, leaving him with severe wounds to his lower body.

He died ten minutes later.

Ian Gow Murder 1990 BBC News Report

On hearing of Gow’s death, Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock commented:

“This is a terrible atrocity against a man whose only offence was to speak his mind…. I had great disagreement with Ian Gow and he with me, but no one can doubt his sincerity or his courage, and it is appalling that he should lose his life because of these qualities.”

In her autobiography, The Downing Street Years, Margaret Thatcher described his murder as an “irreplaceable loss”.

The Assassination of MP Ian Gow | Thames News Archive Footage

The IRA claimed responsibility for killing Gow, stating that he was targeted because he was a “close personal associate” of Thatcher and because of his role in developing British policy on Northern Ireland.


Evaluations of Gow’s political career by obituarists were mixed in tone. All commented on his personal charm and his skills in public speaking and political manoeuvre. But his obituary in The Times stated,

“It could not be said that his resignation in 1985 cut short a brilliant ministerial career”.

A tendency toward political intrigue (for example, trying to covertly undermine Jim Prior’s Northern Ireland initiative after 1982) made him enemies.

Nicholas Budgen commented that Gow’s personal devotion to Thatcher may not have been good for Thatcher or her government.

Gow’s widow Jane was appointed a DBE in 1990 and thus became Dame Jane Gow. On 4 February 1994, she remarried in West Somerset to Lt-Col. Michael Whiteley, and became known as Dame Jane Whiteley. She continues to promote the life and work of her first husband.

When the Eastbourne by-election for his seat in the House of Commons was won by the Liberal Democrat David Bellotti, the Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe sent a message to voters saying:

“Bellotti is the innocent beneficiary of murder. I suspect that last night as the Liberal Democrats were toasting their success, in its hideouts the IRA were doing the same thing”.

See 30th July

See: Before Jo Cox the last MP to be murdered was Ian Gow who was killed in an IRA explosion

Margaret Thatcher’s Memorable Remarks: A Video Mash-up | The New York Times

My book is now availble online see below for more details


30th March – Deaths & Events in Northern Ireland Troubles

Key Events & Deaths on this day in Northern Ireland Troubles

30th March


Sunday 30 March 1969 Loyalist Bombs

There were a number of explosions at an electricity substation at Castlereagh, east Belfast. The explosions resulted in a blackout in a large area of Belfast and did damage estimated at £500,000.

[It was later established that the bombs were planted by Loyalists who were members of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and the Ulster Protestant Volunteers (UPV). This incident was initially blamed on the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and was part of a campaign by Loyalist groups to destabilise Terence O’Neill, then Northern Ireland Prime Minister, and bring an end to reforms. Other bombs were planted by Loyalists on 4 April 1969, 20 Arpil 1969, 24 April 1969, 26 April 1969, and 19 October 1969.]

Thursday 30 March 1972

Direct Rule Introduced

William Faulkner announces his resignation, heralding the beginning of direct rule

The legislation which introduced direct rule, the Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act, was passed at the House of Commons at Westminster.

[With the exception of a brief period in 1974, Northern Ireland was to be ruled from Westminster until 1999.]

Friday 30 March 1973

William Craig, and some other former members of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), formed a new political party the Vanguard Unionist Progressive Party (VUPP). The VUPP was formed with the support of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA).

[In addition to having close links with Loyalist paramilitary groups the VUPP also was prepared to accept an independent Northern Ireland because of the inevitable Unionist domination of any new government. Indeed the VUPP had one Loyalist paramilitary grouping, the Vanguard Service Corps (VSC) directly linked with the party.]

Saturday 30 March 1974

Two Protestant civilians were killed in a bomb attack on the Crescent Bar, Sandy Row, Belfast. No group claimed responsibility for the attack.

Tuesday 30 March 1976

The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) called off its ‘rent and rates strike’ which had originally started as a campaign of civil disobedience against the introduction of Internment. [Many of those who had taken part in the protest were left with arrears and in many cases money was deducted from welfare benefit payments to recoup the amounts owing.]

Wednesday 30 March 1977

Shankill Butchers.

Francis Cassidy (43), a Catholic civilian, was found shot with his throat cut in the Highfield area of Belfast.

Members of he Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) gang known as the ‘Shankill Butchers’ were responsible for the killing.

See Shankill Butchers

Friday 30 March 1979

Airey Neave Killed

Airey-Neave 2 resized

Airey Neave, then Conservative Party spokesperson on Northern Ireland, was killed by a booby-trap bomb attached to his car as he left the car park at the House of Commons. The Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) claimed responsibility for the killing.

[If he had lived Neave would have been highly likely to have become the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in the new Conservative government. Neave had been an advocate of a strong security response to counter Republican paramilitaries. Neave had also advocated the setting up of one or more regional councils to take responsibility for local services.]

See Airey Neave

Monday 30 March 1981

Noel Maguire decided to withdraw his nomination in the forthcoming by-election in Fermanagh / South Tyrone.

[This decision meant that voters were faced with a straight choice between Bobby Sands and Harry West, the Unionist candidate.] [ 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Friday 30 March 1990

It was announced that the report of the Stevens Inquiry would not be published.

Tuesday 30 March 1993

Radio Telefis Éireann (RTE) lost its appeal against a High Court decision that its blanket ban on broadcasting interviews with members of Sinn Féin (SF) was wrong and that Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act was being misinterpreted by the station. The five-judge Supreme Court unanimously upheld the High Court decision.

[In the High Court in July 1992, Mr. Justice O’Hanlon found that RTE, in deciding that no SF member should be permitted by reason of that membership to broadcast on any matter or topic, had misinterpreted the provisions of the ministerial order. In its appeal, RTE argued that the purpose of the order was to prevent its broadcasting system being used for the purpose of subverting or undermining the authority of the state.]

Wednesday 30 March 1994

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) announced that there would be a three day ceasefire from 6 April to 8 April 1994.

During a visit to Northern Ireland John Major, then British Prime Minister, said that what people wanted was a “permanent end to violence”.

lee glegg

The appeal by Lee Clegg, a private in the Parachute Regiment, against his murder conviction was dismissed by Brian Hutton (Sir), then Lord Chief Justice.

[However, Clegg was released from prison on 3 July 1995 having served two years of a life sentence for the murder of Karen Reilly (16) on 30 September 1990.]

See Lee Clegg

Thursday 30 March 1995

The annual report of the Fair Employment Commission (FEC) noted that 62.7 per cent of the workforce was Protestant and 37.3 per cent Catholic. [Based on the 1991 Census, the estimated Catholic population was 41.5 per cent.]

Saturday 30 March 1996

Jim McDonnell (36), then a prisoner at Maghaberry Prison, was found dead of a ‘heart attack’.

[It was later revealed that he had a series of injuries, including 11 broken ribs, which the Prison Service said was a result of a fall or the attempts at resuscitation.]

Sunday 30 March 1997

A Loyalist paramilitary group planted a car bomb outside the offices of Sinn Féin (SF) in the New Lodge area of north Belfast. The bomb was defused.

easter rising

Various Republican groups held commemorations of the Easter Rising, which took place in Dublin in 1916, at locations across Northern Ireland. The groups involved were: SF, Republican SF, the Workers’ Party, and the Official Republican Movement.

See Easter Rising

Tuesday 30 March 1999

Talks between Tony Blair, then British Prime Minister, and Bertie Ahern, then Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister), continued at Hillsborough Castle in County Down. Efforts were being made to incorporate guarantees from Seamus Mallon, then Deputy First Minister Designate, that the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) would co-operate in excluding Sinn Féin (SF) from government if decommissioning failed to take place by a specific date.

Seven hours of talks adjourned at midnight without agreement. There were protests by Republicans and anti-Agreement Loyalists at Stormont, Belfast.


The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) together with the Independent Commission on Police Complaints (ICPC) issued a ‘review’ of a report based on an inquiry into the killing of Rosemary Nelson on 15 March 1999 and the allegations of death threats against Nelson made by members of the RUC.

The report had been prepared by Niall Mulvihill, then Commander of the Metropolitan Police in London, and had been submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions. Nationalists criticised the ‘review’ and claimed it was an “exercise in damage limitation

See Rosemary Nelson


Remembering all innocent victims of the Troubles

Today is the anniversary of the death of the following people killed as a results of the conflict in Northern Ireland

“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die

– Thomas Campbell

To the innocent on the list – Your memory will live forever

– To the Paramilitaries –

There are many things worth living for, a few things worth dying for, but nothing worth killing for.

8  People lost their lives on the 30th March between 1972– 1987


30 March 1972
Martha Crawford,   (39)

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Shot during gun battle between British Army (BA) and Irish Republican Army (IRA), Rossnareen Avenue, Andersonstown, Belfast.


30 March 1974

William Thompson,  (43)

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: non-specific Republican group (REP)
Killed in bomb attack on Crescent Bar, Sandy Row, Belfast.


30 March 1974

Howard Mercer,  (39)

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: non-specific Republican group (REP)
Killed in bomb attack on Crescent Bar, Sandy Row, Belfast.


30 March 1976
Donald Traynor,   (28)

Status: British Army (BA),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Killed by booby trap bomb at Orange Hall, Ballygargan, near Portadown, County Armagh.


30 March 1977
Francis Cassidy,   (43)

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Abducted while walking along New Lodge Road, Belfast. Found stabbed and shot a short time later, on grass verge, off Highfern Gardens, Highfield, Belfast.


30 March 1979

Airey Neave,  (63)

Status: Civilian Political Activist (CivPA),

Killed by: Irish National Liberation Army (INLA)
Member of Parliament and Conservative Party Spokesman on Northern Ireland. Killed by booby trap bomb attached to his car at House of Commons, Westminster, London.


30 March 1979

Martin McConville,  (25)

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: non-specific Loyalist group (LOY)
Beaten to death somewhere in Portadown, County Armagh. Body found in River Bann, beside Seagoe Industrial Estate, Portadown, County Armagh, on 22 April 1979.


30 March 1987
Ian O’Connor,  (23)

Status: British Army (BA),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Killed by grenade dropped on to stationary British Army (BA) vehicle from the balcony above, Divis Flats, Belfast.


If you would like more information on any of these events or deaths please visit the contact me page  and  me an email.


Airey Neave- The Assasination of Airey Neave

Airey Middleton Sheffield Neave

Airey Neave

23 January 1916 – 30 March 1979

Airey Middleton Sheffield Neave, DSO, OBE, MC, TD (23 January 1916 – 30 March 1979) was a British army officer, barrister and politician.

During World War II, Neave was the first British officer to successfully escape from the German prisoner-of-war camp Oflag IV-C at Colditz Castle. He later became Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) for Abingdon.

Neave was assassinated in 1979 in a car-bomb attack at the House of Commons. The Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) claimed responsibility.


The Assasination of Airey Neave


Early life

Neave was the son of Sheffield Airey Neave CMG, OBE (1879–1961), a well-known entomologist, and his wife Dorothy (d. 1943), the daughter of Arthur Thomson Middleton. His father was the grandson of Sheffield Neave, the third son of Sir Thomas Neave, 2nd Baronet (see Neave Baronets). Neave spent his early years in Knightsbridge in London, before he moved to Beaconsfield. Neave was sent to St. Ronan’s School, Worthing, and from there, in 1929, he went to Eton College.

He went on to study jurisprudence at Merton College, Oxford While at Eton, Neave composed a prize-winning essay in 1933 that examined the likely consequences of Adolf Hitler‘s rise to supreme power in Germany, and Neave predicted then that another widespread war would break out in Europe in the near future. Neave had earlier been on a visit to Germany, and he witnessed the Nazi German methods of grasping political and military power in their hands.

At Eton, Neave served in the school cadet corps as a cadet lance corporal, and received a territorial commission as a second lieutenant in the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry on 11 December 1935.]

When Neave went to Oxford University, he purchased and read the entire written works of the writer Carl von Clausewitz. When Neave was asked why, he answered:

“since war [is] coming, it [is] only sensible to learn as much as possible about the art of waging it”.

During 1938, Neave completed his third-class degree in the study of jurisprudence. By his own admission, while at Oxford University, Neave did only the minimal amount of academic work that was required of him by his tutors.

Wartime service

Neave transferred his territorial commission to the Royal Engineers on 2 May 1938  and following the outbreak of war he was mobilised. Sent to France in February 1940 as part of a searchlight regiment, he was wounded and captured by the Germans at Calais on 23 May 1940. He was imprisoned at Oflag IX-A/H near Spangenberg and in February 1941 moved to Stalag XX-A near Thorn in German-occupied western Poland. Meanwhile, Neave’s commission was transferred to the Royal Artillery on 1 August 1940.

In April 1941 he escaped from Thorn with Norman Forbes. They were captured near Ilow while trying to enter Soviet-controlled Poland and were briefly in the hands of the Gestapo. In May, they were both sent to Oflag IV-C (often referred to as Colditz Castle because of its location).

Image result for Colditz Castle

Neave made his first attempt to escape from Colditz on 28 August 1941 disguised as a German NCO. He did not get out of the castle as his hastily contrived German uniform (made from a Polish army tunic and cap painted with scenery paint) was rendered bright green under the prison searchlights.

Together with Dutch officer Anthony Luteyn he made a second attempt on 5 January 1942, again in disguise. Better uniforms and escape route (they made a quick exit from a theatrical production using the trap door beneath the stage) got them out of the prison and by train and on foot they travelled to Leipzig and Ulm and finally reached the border to Switzerland near Singen. Via France, Spain and Gibraltar, Neave returned to England in April 1942. Neave was the first British officer to escape from Colditz Castle.

On 12 May 1942, shortly after his return to England, he was decorated with the Military Cross. He was subsequently promoted to war substantive captain and to the permanent rank of captain on 11 April 1945. A temporary major at the war’s end, he was appointed an MBE (Military Division) on 30 August 1945, and awarded the DSO on 18 October.

As a result, the earlier award of the MBE was cancelled on 25 October.

He was later recruited as an intelligence agent for MI9. While at MI9, he was the immediate superior of Michael Bentine. He also served with the International Military Tribunal at the Nuremberg Trials, investigating Krupp. As a well-known war hero – as well as a qualified lawyer who spoke fluent German – he was honoured with the role of reading the indictments to the Nazi leaders on trial. He wrote several books about his war experiences including an account of the Trials.

A temporary lieutenant-colonel by 1947, he was appointed an OBE (Military Division) in that year’s Birthday Honours.[17] He was awarded the Bronze Star by the US government on 23 July 1948,  and was promoted to lieutenant-colonel on 1 April 1950, At the same time, his promotion to acting major was gazetted, with retroactive effect from 16 April 1948. He entered the reserves on 21 September 1951.

Political career

Neave stood for the Conservative Party at the 1950 election in Thurrock and at Ealing North in 1951. He was elected for Abingdon in a by-election in June 1953, but his career was held back by a heart attack he suffered in 1959.

He was a Governor of Imperial College between 1963 and 1971 and was a member of the House of Commons select committee on Science and Technology between 1965 and 1970.

Edward Heath, when Chief Whip, was alleged to have told Neave that after he suffered his heart attack his career was finished  but in his 1998 autobiography, Heath strongly denied ever making such a remark. He admitted that in December 1974 Neave had told him to stand down for the good of the party. During the final two months of 1974, Neave had asked Keith Joseph, William Whitelaw and Edward du Cann to stand against Heath, and said that in the case of any of them challenging for the party leadership, he would be their campaign manager.

When all three refused to stand, Neave agreed to be the campaign manager for Margaret Thatcher‘s attempt to become leader of the Conservative Party, that was eventually victorious.

When Thatcher was elected leader in February 1975, he was rewarded with the post of head of her private office. He was then appointed Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and was poised to attain the equivalent Cabinet position at the time of his death in the event of their party winning the general election of 1979. In opposition, Neave was a strong supporter of Roy Mason, who had extended the policy of Ulsterisation.

Neave was author of the new and radical Conservative policy of abandoning devolution in Northern Ireland if there was no early progress in that regard and concentrating on local government reform instead. This integrationist policy was hastily abandoned by Humphrey Atkins, who became Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the role Neave had shadowed.

Tony Benn2.jpg

Politician Tony Benn records in his diary (17 February 1981) that a journalist from the New Statesman, Duncan Campbell, told him that he had received information from an intelligence agent two years previously that Neave had planned to have Benn assassinated if a Labour government was elected, James Callaghan resigned and there was a possibility that Benn might be elected party leader in his place. Campbell claimed that the agent was ready to give his name and the New Statesman was going to print the story.

Benn, however, discounted the validity of the story and wrote in his diary:

“No one will believe for a moment that Airey Neave would have done such a thing”.

The magazine printed the story on 20 February 1981, naming the agent as Lee Tracey. Tracey claimed to have met Neave and was asked to join a team of intelligence and security specialists which would “make sure Benn was stopped”. Tracey planned a second meeting with Neave but Neave was killed before they could meet again.




Memorial plaque to Airey Neave at his alma mater, Merton College, Oxford


Airey Neave was killed on 30 March 1979, when a magnetic car bomb fitted with a ball bearing tilt switch exploded under his new Vauxhall Cavalier  at 14:58 as he drove out of the Palace of Westminster car park.

He lost his right leg below the knee and his left was hanging on by a flap of skin. Neave died in hospital an hour after being freed from the wreckage without regaining consciousness.

The Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), an illegal Irish republican paramilitary group, claimed responsibility for the killing.


Margaret Thatcher speaking to the press immediately after the assassination of Airey Neave


Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher led tributes, saying:

He was one of freedom’s warriors. No one knew of the great man he was, except those nearest to him. He was staunch, brave, true, strong; but he was very gentle and kind and loyal. It’s a rare combination of qualities. There’s no one else who can quite fill them. I, and so many other people, owe so much to him and now we must carry on for the things he fought for and not let the people who got him triumph.

Labour Prime Minister James Callaghan said:

James Callaghan.JPG

“No effort will be spared to bring the murderers to justice and to rid the United Kingdom of the scourge of terrorism.”

The INLA issued a statement regarding the killing in the August 1979 edition of The Starry Plough:

In March, retired terrorist and supporter of capital punishment, Airey Neave, got a taste of his own medicine when an INLA unit pulled off the operation of the decade and blew him to bits inside the ‘impregnable’ Palace of Westminster. The nauseous Margaret Thatcher snivelled on television that he was an ‘incalculable loss’—and so he was—to the British ruling class.

Neave’s death came just two days after the vote of no confidence which brought down Callaghan’s government and a few weeks before the 1979 general election, which brought about a Conservative victory and saw Thatcher come to power as Prime Minister. Neave’s wife Diana, whom he married on 29 December 1942, was subsequently elevated to the House of Lords as Baroness Airey of Abingdon.

Neave’s biographer Paul Routledge met a member of the Irish Republican Socialist Party (the political wing of INLA) who was involved in the killing of Neave and who told Routledge that Neave:

“would have been very successful at that job [Northern Ireland Secretary]. He would have brought the armed struggle to its knees”.

Conspiracy theories

Whilst working in the House of Commons as Paddy Ashdown‘s research assistant, Kevin Cahill claims to have had around six conversations with the security staff there. The most frequent remark was that “everyone knew” the story behind Neave’s death but that no one could talk about it in detail because it would have been too dangerous. Cahill claims they did not believe INLA killed Neave but that it was an “inside job”.

Cahill concluded that Neave was killed by MI6 agents working with the CIA because Neave sought to prosecute senior figures in the intelligence establishment for corruption.

Another person who did not accept the generally accepted version of events was Enoch Powell, the Ulster Unionist MP. Powell claimed in an interview with The Guardian on 9 January 1984 that the Americans had killed Neave, along with Lord Mountbatten and Robert Bradford MP. He claimed the evidence came from a member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary with whom he had a conversation.

On 18 October 1986 Powell returned to the subject of Neave’s death in a speech to Conservative students in Birmingham. He told them that INLA had not killed Neave, but that he had been assassinated by “MI6 and their friends”. Powell claimed Neave’s Northern Ireland policy had been one of integration with the rest of the UK and that the Americans feared that this process, if implemented by Neave, would have been irreversible.

His killing, alleged Powell, was intended to make the British Government adopt a policy more acceptable to America in her aim of a united Ireland within NATO.

In 2014, 35 years after Neave’s death, it was reported that a fictionalised account of Neave’s murder was to be used in a Channel 4 drama. The drama, Utopia, portrays Neave as a drinker who colluded with spies and portrays his assassination as perpetrated by MI5.

This led to condemnation of the broadcaster, with Norman Tebbit (a friend and colleague of Neave and survivor of the Brighton hotel bombing in 1984) saying:

“To attack a man like that who is dead and cannot defend himself is despicable”.

Neave’s family, who had not been consulted about the programme, announced their intention to take action to prevent the programme from being broadcast, claiming it had “fictionalised the atrocity ‘in the name of entertainment’ as well as falsely depicting him as a debauched and conniving figure.

Main source: https: wikipedia

See: Ian Gow 

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