News Letter
20 March 2012

NEWS Letter employees have been recalling the shocking moment a massive car bomb exploded outside the newspaper’s former offices 40 years ago today, killing seven people and injuring another 150.

It had been the start of the lunchtime rush in Belfast city centre on March 20, 1972 when an IRA bomb hidden in a car suddenly exploded.

Six people, including two RUC officers Ernest McAllister and Bernard O’Neill, van driver Sydney Bell and three refuse collectors – Ernest Dougan, Samuel Trainor and James Macklin – were killed instantly. Pensioner Henry Millar died of his injuries in hospital two weeks later.

Several warnings had been issued, but they were for nearby Church Street and not Donegall Street where the bomb eventually went off.

The confusion led to more people than usual being on Donegall Street because of the evacuation of Church Street.

News Letter engineer John Gray had just stepped out on to the street when the bomb exploded.

He was injured and lost several toes, but said he felt very fortunate compared to the carnage he saw around him.

At the time the News Letter had offices on both sides of Donegall Street. Following the false alert, Mr Gray and director Neil Alexander had been to the other office to warn workers.

The pair had just stepped out on to the street to return to the main office when the bomb exploded.

Mr Gray described how he looked down and saw the top of his shoe missing.

He said: “I remember pain and I thought all my hair had been blown off. I looked down at my feet and it looked like a Stanley knife had cut off the top of my shoe. I lost three and a half toes.

“I stumbled over into the News Letter. People had been hurt there. A girl behind the front desk was badly hurt.

“It was bedlam. You wouldn’t believe the injuries. I can’t even describe it. I was very fortunate.

“I hope I never have another experience like that in my life.”

Mr Gray also said he has forgiven those behind the bomb in the 40 years since.

News Letter sub-editor Robert Scott was a young trainee compositor at the time. He recalled the blast as being just before lunchtime.

He said: “There was a loud explosion. We were used to distant explosions in Belfast at the time, but this was so loud we knew it was on the street.

“I remember things dropping from the ceiling and people coming into the office from reception bleeding.

“We went out on to the street to see what we could do to help, but most people were beyond help. All we could do was comfort them.”

The bomb also caused serious damage to the News Letter library, destroying many irreplaceable archived documents and photographs.

The Provisional IRA claimed responsibility for the attack.