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Jonathan Ganesh: 'I kept saying please save me, please help me. Please God'

Published 08/02/2016

Jonathan Ganesh (far right) with (from left) Gavin Robinson MP, Ihsan Bashir and Protestant victims’ campaigner Willie Frazer prior to a Parliamentary committee meeting
Jonathan Ganesh (far right) with (from left) Gavin Robinson MP, Ihsan Bashir and Protestant victims’ campaigner Willie Frazer prior to a Parliamentary committee meeting
Former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi

On the eve of the 20th anniversary of the Docklands bombing, Adrian Rutherford talks to Jonathan Ganesh, who was seriously injured in the blast and who now leads the Docklands Victims Association.

Q. You were working as a security guard at the time the bomb went off. What do you remember about that night?

A. I always arrived for work at 6pm. I went to my control station, put on my uniform, and went out on patrol on my normal route.

I was making my way to South Quay Plaza, where the device had been left.

All of a sudden there was this flash of light.

A lot of people don't realise that when you are very close to a bomb you don't actually hear the noise. You see a flash of orange light going upwards.

I thought to myself: "What's that?"

The biggest thing was the sheer force of the explosion.

It seemed to last an eternity. Even though it was only a few seconds at most, it was like time had stopped. A second felt like a minute, a minute like an hour.

You were picking up every single emotion.

There was the flash of light, then this tremendous plume of smoke, and I realised I was being hit by debris and glass.

I was rolling on the floor, praying.

I really believed that I was going to die that night.

I remember praying, and I can still remember what I said to God. I kept saying: "Please save me, please help me. Please God."

Q. It must have been a very distressing experience.

A. I had been unconscious for a bit and when I woke up I remember that everything had gone - the shops, buildings.

People were lying in the road. Some were shaking and shivering, others were just covered in blood and shrapnel.

There was a lady I knew, Barbara, who was very badly injured. I didn't recognise her at first. It was only when I went to give her first aid and saw her ID card that I realised it was her.

Those images will haunt me to the day I die.

By this stage I realised it was a bomb, and I just kept thinking to myself: "How on Earth can a bomb be so powerful?"

It was so big it could be heard 25 miles away in Southend.

I never believed that a man or men could make a bomb like that.

Q. You were badly injured yourself. Tell me about that.

A. I was quite badly injured but I consider myself one of the lucky ones because I survived.

I am partially deaf in one ear and my body is quite badly scarred, but otherwise I'm okay.

When I was brought to hospital that night my greatest concern was my eyes - I couldn't see properly.

The doctors were telling me to calm down, but I kept saying I didn't want to be blind.

My eardrums had been perforated and that was affecting my sight.

But today I'm okay. Other people were much more severely injured, and are still struggling with terrible injuries.

One victim, Zaoui Berezag, was in a car nearby when the blast went off.

People thought he was dead. He survived, but now he is an amputee. He can't see - he is completely blind.

Q. Do the events of that night still traumatise you?

A. I'm okay, but certain things bring it all back. November is the worst time for me.

I used to love fireworks, but if I hear fireworks go off, or thunder, it does take me back and I think I'm being buried alive again.

You might be sleeping and you hear a bang and suddenly you wake up in fear.

A lot of people suffer from that. It's not that unusual.

But I will never forget what they did that night. Never.

Q. You lost two friends, Inam Bashir and John Jeffries, in the bombing. How hard was that?

A. It broke my heart. I was very close to both of them.

They worked in a shop and when I was on duty I would call with them, and they would always have kept my favourite chicken salad sandwich for me.

I can't tell you how much I miss the two of them. They were about four metres from the bomb, and it was so powerful it blew them five shops upwards.

They were left in bits and pieces.

For a time I wished it was me that had been killed. I was absolutely devastated that they never made it out.

They were two young men. They were the most innocent people you could imagine.

All JJ cared about was his guitar, and for Inam it was his motorbike.

They had no connection to Ireland, they wouldn't have had any inclination about the Troubles. How and why they ended up dead is a mystery to me.

Q. You actually spent your early childhood in the Republic of Ireland. Tell me about that.

A. My dad came from Sri Lanka but my mum was Irish.

I was born in Westminster but I grew up in Ireland, in Bruree in Co Limerick, and I am an Irish citizen.

Deep down my heart belongs to the Republic of Ireland.

We are actually related to Eamon de Valera, who lived in Bruree. Catherine Coll, who was de Valera's mother, was my grandmother's sister.

It shows the futility of the terrorists who plant bombs.

They try and say they represent this and that, but they don't. They end up killing their own innocent people.

Q. So you would always have had an interest in Irish affairs?

A. Growing up in Ireland, having connections in Ireland and having an Irish passport, I was always interested.

I was always concerned about the problems in Northern Ireland.

I could never understand it because almost all the Irish people I've met have been wonderful, kind, decent people.

I could never understand where this hatred stemmed from.

What happened at Docklands made it a lot more personal for me.

We all have agendas, and people have political views, but when you plant a bomb you don't know who you're killing.

Q. How did your group, the Docklands Victims Association, emerge?

A. It didn't start off as the DVA. It started as me, Mrs Bashir and a few other victims getting together.

We wanted to do something good to honour Inam and JJ's memory.

Although a terrible evil had happened, we realised we couldn't change it.

Over the past two decades we have worked throughout the world - in places like Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand.

We give what money we can to help others.

One of the most heartbreaking things we got involved in was trying to secure the release of Alan Henning, who was murdered by ISIS.

We poured all our resources into trying to secure his release. We approached many, many people. Sadly we couldn't save him, but we did everything we could.

Q. There has been much criticism of how victims have been treated in Northern Ireland. What is your experience?

A. I am very, very disappointed with the government.

The victims of terrorism on both sides - because it wasn't just the IRA who murdered and maimed people - have been treated disgracefully.

Over the last 10 years we have campaigned for equality for victims. There are IRA victims with American passports who were compensated with millions of pounds from Colonel Gaddafi, who helped the IRA kill countless citizens from the UK, Ireland and around the world.

Our government chose to do absolutely nothing.

Our group is funded by itself. We don't receive a single penny from the government.

We became victims not through choice.

We were caught up in a terrible situation.

We did nothing to encourage the IRA to kill and maim us for life.

We've had to campaign in the cold and rain. We took a petition of 3,000 signatures to Downing Street. If we had been well treated we wouldn't have done that.

I believe we have been treated very badly.

Sometimes I think the victims are an embarrassment to the government.

Q. You have been very critical of the fact a proposed pension for Troubles victims would not apply to victims in Britain.

A. We believe in equality and I'm at a complete loss to understand why British victims might miss out.

The IRA were extremely active on the mainland - take the Baltic Exchange, Bishopsgate, Manchester and others.

They tried to kill a serving Prime Minister at Brighton. They killed two children in Warrington.

Countless innocent people were killed or maimed for life.

We have members of the DVA who desperately need attention, and to actually forget about the mainland and say this pension scheme would only apply to Northern Ireland is absolutely appalling.

Anyone with an ounce of humanity must see what an injustice that is.

How can you ignore the mainland? It reinforces what I said about victims being forgotten about.

This would indicate that on the mainland they have been forgotten.

Q. And there has been no change on that to date?

A. Last year I had a meeting with Theresa Villiers, the Northern Ireland Secretary, and I was very grateful that she took the time to meet me.

It was down to the Justice Minister Michael Gove.

I wrote to him asking for a meeting, but never received a reply.

Q. You are also campaigning for compensation from Libya for Gaddafi-sponsored terrorism. This is also a big issue.

A. People need to be held accountable. The victims of Libyan-sponsored IRA terrorism have been treated appallingly. It is absolutely disgusting.

The IRA worked with Gaddafi to kill innocent people, and all those involved must be held accountable.

It is a terrible failure by our government, and we have to ask why.

By what they have done, in not pursuing Libya for compensation, they have devalued the life of every UK and Irish citizen.

I went to America and spoke to senators. The US government could not fight for us, they said our government should be fighting for us.

It is a terrible injustice.

I know of one American, Mark McDonald, who was injured in the Harrods bomb.

He received millions of pounds in compensation. He is entitled to it. He was badly injured.

But there were many people injured in that bombing - I know most of them.

Their families received nothing from Libya, but the American man in London received millions because his government fought for him.

How many poor people in Northern Ireland, on both sides of the community, and in the UK were injured too, and have received nothing? Are our lives worth nothing?

Q. Finally, Tuesday marks the 20th anniversary of the Docklands bombing. How will you mark the occasion?

A. We do something every year, but on special anniversaries like this we make an extra effort.

This year we are holding a multi-faith service.

Hindus will be there, a Jewish Rabbi will be there, a Catholic priest, a Muslim priest and so on.

A couple of people caught up in the recent Paris attacks are coming over as well.

It will be a very emotional occasion.

There will be prayers for everybody.

We will release 20 doves of peace, and we will make a special appeal to terrorists around the world in many different languages.

Global terrorism is the biggest threat to humanity.

It's our biggest fear.

It is on the increase. Look at 9/11, 7/7, Mumbai, Paris and so on.

There may be a peace process in Northern Ireland, but elsewhere it is getting worse, not better.

Belfast Telegraph

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