hotel horror | 

IRA bomber involved in La Mon Hotel atrocity says he is consumed with guilt

Seven women and five men died when a huge fireball swept through a function suite in 1978

Aftermath of the 1978 bombing

Sign outside the hotel

Robert 'Spud' Murphy

Firemen fight the blaze at La Mon Hotel.

Reporter Hugh Jordon, pictured at the La Mon house hotel

Hugh JordanSunday World

A Provo bomber involved in the La Mon Hotel atrocity has told the Sunday World he bitterly regrets the loss of innocent life.

Seven women and five men – all guests at the Irish Collie Club annual dinner – died when a huge fireball swept through a function suite as they prepared to eat dessert.

The shocking terror attack made headline news around the world when it emerged several victims had been incinerated.

The charred remains of one female fatality was identified only because there was no one left.

Another 30 casualties received varying burn injuries in the no- warning bomb at the La Mon House Hotel at Gransha, on the outskirts of south east Belfast.

The IRA slaughter of innocents happened on February 17, 1978. And it remains one of the worst atrocities of the entire Troubles.

Sign outside the hotel

But this week – 44 years after the event – a former IRA volunteer, who played a lead role in the La Mon House Hotel bombing, contacted the Sunday World to express regret.

And he told of the mental anguish and guilt he endures on a daily basis.

“I’m going through a very bad time and I can’t get La Mon out of my mind. It just shouldn’t have happened.

“I wanted to speak out now, to let people know the full story.

“The loss of innocent life was wrong and it should never have happened,” he said.

But the one-time IRA man – who is now in his 60s – insists an IRA unit from the Markets area of Belfast was to blame for the huge loss of life.

“People need to know what really happened at La Mon.

“The place was supposed to have been evacuated. No one should have died at La Mon. It was selected as a target because it was a well known unionist establishment.

“I placed an incendiary bomb on a window grill. Two other bombs were also set and petrol was used to provide a fire boost.

"I personally added two pounds of sugar to each bomb.

Robert 'Spud' Murphy

“It was this mix which turned it into the fireball. The sugar gave it the same effect as napalm, but the hotel was supposed to be empty.”

The Sunday World has learned that earlier that same evening, another IRA man Edward Manning Brophy – a former British soldier - handed over the main device to the bomb team outside a block of maisonette flats in Turf Lodge.

And from there it was transported in a hijacked yellow Fiat car to the hotel at Gransha, near Roselawn Cemetery.

The bombers were accompanied in another car by two IRA men from the Market area. And it was their job to safely scout the bombers to and from the La Mon House Hotel.

As the car ferrying the bomb, slipped unnoticed into the car park, the Markets men positioned their vehicle outside on the road.

“We safely transported the bombs 10 miles from west Belfast. They were set with a 30 minute timer.

Firemen fight the blaze at La Mon Hotel.

“On the way back, we intended to make a series of emergency warning calls to the RUC. The police could then evacuate the premises before the bombs went off.

“The Markets men were brought in simply because they had greater knowledge of the location. They were told to wait in the car just outside the entrance to the hotel.

“We quickly got the bombs into position using a butcher’s hook to hang them on a window grill.

“But when we drove out again around 8.30pm, the scouts from the Markets were gone,” he said.

This week, republican sources in the Markets area named the fleeing IRA scouts as Brian Davison and Hugh ‘Horser’ Berry. Both men died many years ago from natural causes.

The La Mon bomber continued: “We hadn’t a clue where we were. There were no street lights or signposts and we didn’t even know whether to turn left or right.

“We seemed to be driving for ages. And all the time, we knew the timer was ticking towards the explosion,” he said.

After travelling for seven or eight miles, the bombers saw the street lights of a village appear in the distance.

“We realised we were in Saintfield. We had driven in the opposite direction, but we still desperately wanted to telephone a warning.

Reporter Hugh Jordon, pictured at the La Mon house hotel

“But there was only one phone box in the village and it was broken,” said the former IRA man.

He added: “We had no option, but to head back towards west Belfast.”

When the IRA men reached Finaghy – just nine minutes before the bombs were due to go off – they stopped at a call box to telephone a warning. Another warning was telephoned a few minutes later, but by that time the bombs at La Mon had detonated.

The escaping bombers ran into a vehicle checkpoint on the Glen Road. It was manned by members of the parachute regiment. Unbelievably, the La Mon bombers’ car was waved through.

Back in Gransha, a scene of utter devastation greeted police officers and fire and ambulance crews who all struggled to make sense of the slaughter.

Diners sitting nearest the window were the worst affected. Several were completely incinerated, when the huge fire bomb swept through the function room.

News reporters had difficulty finding the words to describe what they were witnessing.

Within hours of the attack, 30 suspected IRA men were rounded up, including Turf Lodge IRA boss Eddie Brophy.

He was released without charge. However, two years later, he was arrested again.

And after days of interrogation in Castlereagh Holding Centre, he was charged with a total of 49 terrorist charges, including involvement in the La Mon Hotel atrocity.

Brophy denied the charges, claiming he only signed statements admitting responsibility, because he had been badly beaten by RUC detectives.

At the end of an 11-week trial, the judge – a former unionist MP and Orangeman – agreed Brophy’s admissions had been forced and the case was dismissed. He was convicted of IRA membership, but after an appeal the conviction was quashed.

Eddie Brophy’s plans to live out the rest of his life under the radar failed badly. In 1991, he came to the attention of Johnny Adair’s notorious ‘C coy’ section of the UFF.

Adair’s mob discovered Brophy was working in an industrial clothing shop off Corporation Street near Belfast city centre.

Unknown to the rest of the UDA, a two-man hit team stayed overnight in east Belfast, before heading to Brophy’s workplace.

A lone gunman entered the premises as a getaway driver waited outside. Brophy was shot several times including once in the neck.

The would-be assassins escaped unnoticed back to their secret base in east Belfast.

Brophy survived when a nurse who witnessed the murder bid applied a tourniquet to his wound.

In a remarkable twist of fate, a few years before, the Good Samaritan medic had lost her son in IRA bomb explosion.

Eddie Brophy died of natural causes in 1997.

In September 1981, Robert ‘Spud’ Murphy from Norglen Parade, Turf Lodge, was handed 12 life sentences when he admitted the manslaughter of those who died at La Mon.

Following the La Mon atrocity, IRA leaders in Dublin called for a full investigation. And later they booted out all of those involved branding them sectarian bigots.

The La Mon bomber who spoke to the Sunday World this week said: “We were dismissed from the IRA for bringing the organisation into disrepute. That was wrong. The blame lay with the Markets men who left us to find our way back from La Mon.”

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