M62 Bombing, West Yorkshire

 

Most drivers on the M62 motorway passing a raised small embankment between junctions 26 and 27 probably look to see if thereís a police car parked there. Few will know they've just driven over the point where an IRA bomb exploded in a coach killing twelve people and wiping out a family. Every time I drive up to Scarborough I try to take a decent photograph of the location where the coach stopped. Iíve finally taken a couple which aren't blurred. Iíd considered pulling onto the hard shoulder and doing a few of the usual saluting/pointing photographs but thereíre too many cameras watching motorways these days. The best I could do was park up further along at Hartshead Moor Services where a makeshift hospital was set up to treat the injured.

Just after midnight on Monday 4th February 1974 the private coach was carrying more than 60 people from Manchester to an army bases at RAF Catterick and RAF Leeming. It was also carrying an 11kg bomb with a timer taped to it which had been planted in the luggage section by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA.) Nearly everyone was asleep when the explosion happened. The boom could be heard for several miles around. When the police arrived they found eleven of the blackened and smouldering people were dead. Fifty others were burnt or injured. A six-year-old lad suffered horrific burns. Some bodies had been projected 230m from the coach. A family of four was decimated in seconds: Corporal Clifford Haughton, his wife and two sons died (aged 2 and 5.) The driver was injured by flying glass but later applauded for bringing the coach safely to a halt (he died in 2011.)

 

The entrance to Hartshead Moor Services is nearby and this became a hub for medics to treat people before they were driven to hospitals in Bradford, Wakefield and Batley. Even before the police had arrived they knew this was the IRAís evil-doing due to previous cowardly bombings (the Guildford and Birmingham pub bombings followed.) Three other coaches carrying military families to London, Liverpool and Leeds were stopped and searched.

 

The IRA had picked their target with precision knowing railway strikes meant more soldiers were using coaches. Under much pressure the police rushed their investigation and a mentally-ill woman called Judith Ward was imprisoned after she admitted to various bombings through 1973 and 1974. She said she'd also married and had a baby with two separate IRA members. The IRA revelled in this red herring that diverted attention away from them, especially when the woman was sent to prison and the case was closed. She was released 16 years later when judges found her conviction had been "secured by ambush". Due to the Good Friday Agreement the culprits - who never admitted responsibility - were never sought.

 

There's a memorial stone so I pulled into Hartshead Moor Services and had a coffee before going to take photos of it. I couldn't find it. I looked inside the cafes and around the car park perimeter without luck. As the coach was going eastbound this was definitely where a fleet of ambulances provided treatment. I walked out to the busy motorway where cars and trucks were coming in and looked down the long slope where the bombing had happened. I did a bit of a salute as I knew I was in close proximity. I realised the memorial stone was across the motorway on the other side (the wrong side really.) Two days later on the drive home I called in to find the stone saw it before I turned off the engine. You canít miss it as flags stand sentinel over it. Thereís a memorial service here each year where a wreath is laid and the Last Post is played. A memorial tree dedicated to the driver has been planted, too. I read the names of the dead folk and not one of them made old bones.

 

I wondered if the man who secreted the bomb in the coach's luggage section had passed this section of the M62, had he regretted his actions? Had his conscience plagued him? Probably a triple no. I did a salute under the flags and left.

 

 

 

The location now...

 

 

 

The bombing happened down there and brought there to Hartshead Moor Services...

 

 

 

The memorial is on the west-bound side of the motorway...