Fitting tribute to IRA coach bomb victims

A NEW memorial to those who lost their lives in a coach bomb in Birkenshaw is to be unveiled next year on the anniversary of the tragedy.

In 1974 the coach carrying servicemen and their families exploded on the M62, killing 12 people and injuring 14. Among those killed were eight soldiers and four civilians, including two boys aged just five and two.

During the aftermath of the explosion, the Hartshead Moor service station became a make-shift hospital and a temporary base for the police investigation and a plaque bearing the names of those who died was put up on an outside wall shortly after.

But over the years, the service station, which is operated by Welcome Break, has been extended and the plaque is now in the busy foyer making it difficult for the families of those who lost their lives to have a moment of quiet reflection.

Andy Jagger, the manager of the service station, said they had decided to create a more fitting memorial after the sister of Terry Griffin, a 24-year-old soldier from Bolton who died in the blast, said the treatment of the monument was disrespectful.

Maureen Norton, who visits Hartshead Moor twice a year, said she was horrified when she could not get near the plaque because the area around it was packed with customers.

After being contacted by Mrs Norton, who had asked if it would be possible for a shelf to be put around the plaque for relatives to leave cards or flowers, Mr Jagger said he made the decision to try to create a more fitting tribute.

He said: "There's no space there for anybody to reflect. It is in a place where we sell goods nearby, there's machine noise, and customer traffic noise. So we started the process of proposing that we have a new memorial or a re-siting of the old memorial to the exterior of the building on a lovely green area where we would have a monumental stone with the plaque and a memorial garden. It would be an area for reflection more than anything."

The plan is now to have a rededication ceremony at the new monument on February 4, 2009, the 35th anniversary of the tragedy.

Mr Jagger said the incident had cast a dark cloud over the service station and its staff for many years.

Initially it was thought that the IRA was responsible for the bomb although they never claimed responsibility.

Later, in 1974, Judith Ward, a 25-year-old Stockport woman, was convicted of murdering the 12 people who died in the coach bombing.

But she was released from prison in 1992 when the conviction was quashed on appeal.

No-one has been charged with the bombings since and, under the terms of the Good Friday peace agreement in Northern Ireland, it is thought unlikely that anyone every will be.

The coach had been specially commissioned to carry British Army and Royal Air Force personnel on leave with their families to several bases during a period of industrial action on the trains.