Docklands Bomb: IRA bombed its way to talks table with Canary Wharf, claims former US Congressman Bruce Morrison
A former US Congressman has said the British Government effectively buckled after the IRA bombing of Canary Wharf, freeing the way for republicans to take their place at the negotiating table.
The revelation by Bruce Morrison comes in a new documentary to be shown on BBC One on Monday.
In The Docklands Bomb: Executing Peace, the authorities also tell of the "very, very good teamwork" that led to the capture of the bombers, who were also part of a notorious Provo sniper unit in south Armagh.
Two people - Inam Bashir and John Jeffries - were killed and 250 injured on February 9, 1996 when the IRA exploded the massive lorry bomb in London's Docklands.
It spectacularly ended the ceasefire, but Mr Morrison said it also sparked the negotiations which led to the Good Friday Agreement.
He said: "The great irony to me was that Canary Wharf got republicans to the table... the actions (of the British) said: 'Yes, you can bomb your way to the conference table'.
"That's really what Canary Wharf was. It was a moment of truth; it was the moment that sent the message peace and war are both options, and neither one is a given."
And John Grieve, who led the Metropolitan Police investigation, said the successful prosecution of the bombers was down to a collaborative effort between his force, RUC, MI5, Royal Navy and RAF.
Mr Grieve detailed tracing the terrorists' tracks back to River Road in London where the bomb was primed, a truck stop in Carlisle and the ferry.
Officers obtained three thumbprints from the locations, but these did not match any in police records. Retired RUC detective Alan Mains, who led the local effort to find the bombers, revealed that as soon as news broke he "instinctively knew" it had a south Armagh link.
The RUC was also hunting for a sniper who had killed six soldiers, including Lance Bombardier Stephen Restorick (23), the last soldier to be killed by the IRA. In 1997 it had a breakthrough.
The programme reveals the security forces had loosened the nuts on a sheep trailer the sniper hid in, which came off the road and was unable to transport the IRA team across the border.
When the terrorists returned to retrieve it the next morning, they were arrested.
One of the men - James McArdle - had a thumbprint matching one found by the Met, and was charged with the bombing.
Mr Mains added that catching McArdle was "in the policing world, like winning the Lottery".
Mr Grieve said: "It was very, very good teamwork, and it includes the RUC, MI5, the intelligence people, it includes the British Army, not to mention elements of the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. This was the United Kingdom anti-terrorism plc."
However, despite McArdle, along with the remaining three - Martin Mines, Michael Caraher and Bernard McGinn - each receiving long sentences over the sniper shootings, and McGinn also for the bomb, they served between just 16 months and two years before being released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
The programme also explores the political context and reveals that even as US President Bill Clinton made his historic visit to Belfast in 1995 to encourage the peace process, the IRA was planning to devastate London.
Also, Sinn Fein was frustrated that decommissioning had been added as a precondition for talks.
The Docklands Bomb: Executing Peace will be shown on BBC One Northern Ireland, Monday, February 8, at 9pm