Book Review: Terror Attack Brighton

This review was written for and first posted on the Army Rumour Service website, and appears here thanks to their kind permission.

Terror Attack Brighton is a book about the IRA attack on the Conservative party conference in1984, which killed five people but narrowly failed to kill Margaret Thatcher or to disrupt the conference programme.  It is written by Kieran Hughes, a former journalist with ITN and the BBC.  The book is an extension of his undergraduate dissertation which was part of his recent history degree. Unfortunately this shows.

The author did manage to interview Patrick Magee, who planted the bomb.  However Magee seems not to have revealed much about how the bomb planting operation was conducted.  Anyone hoping for an insight into a terrorist at work will be disappointed.  This leaves the author without much material and a lot of space to fill.  Of course, that is situation normal for a journalist, so Hughes goes to work.

We get a paragraph on the main participants in the story, and several oblique ones.  That fills ten pages.  A two page chapter with a list of the cabinet members.  Another two page chapter comprises a list of Northern Ireland secretaries.  Two five page chapters cover the historic background to the troubles are followed by another two pager outlining the peace process post bombing.  This is actually a list of bullet points; describing it as a chapter is flattering.  Just five pages cover the actual bombing, and then there are further chapters in which the author explores the effect (if any) of the bombing.  He also, for reasons unknown, starts weaving in aspects of the miners’ strike.

The prose is simplistic and Hughes seems to be trying desperately to create a theory which the evidence that he has does not support.  The editing is slack and there are many repeated points.  The text is punctuated by some dire photographs of buildings which do little to add to the story – most readers will know what the Houses of Parliament look like.

There are a couple of frustrating allusions to what the book could have been – Hughes states (with no supporting evidence) that attacking Margaret Thatcher was discussed at a IRA meeting above a pub in Carrickmore, Co Tyrone, which was bugged by the RUC.  There is no further discussion of this and the author seems not to have sought information from any of the security forces.

In summary this book is awful.  It was obviously sufficient to get the author a degree in history, (which he now teaches full time). It should now serve as a warning to other undergraduates of the challenges developing a dissertation into a worthwhile and readable book.  It also demonstrates that while a two hour interview with an infamous man may get you a degree it doesn’t make a book.

Zero stars.