At about 7:01 PM on February 9, the Provisional Irish Republican Army detonates a large bomb in a small lorry about 80 yards from South Quay Station on the Docklands Light Railway in the Canary Wharf financial district of London. The bomb, containing 500 kg of ammonium nitrate fertilizer and sugar and a detonating cord made of semtex, PETN, and RDX high explosives, is placed directly under the point where the tracks cross Marsh Wall.
The IRA sends telephone warnings 90 minutes prior to the detonation and the area is evacuated. However, two men working in the newsagents shop directly opposite the explosion, Inam Bashir and John Jeffries, are not evacuated in time and are killed in the explosion. Thirty-nine people require hospital treatment as a result of the blast and falling glass. A portion of the South Quay Plaza is destroyed and the explosion leaves a crater ten metres wide and three metres deep. The shockwave from the blast causes windows to rattle five miles away.
Approximately £100 million worth of damage is done by the blast. The Midland Bank building is damaged beyond economic repair and is demolished. South Quay Plaza I and II are severely damaged and require complete rebuilding. The station itself is extensively damaged, but both it and the bridge under which the bomb is exploded are reopened within weeks.
The bombing marks the end of a 17-month IRA ceasefire during which Irish, British, and American leaders work for a political solution to the troubles in Northern Ireland. IRA member James McArdle is convicted of conspiracy to cause explosions and sentenced to 25 years in prison, but murder charges are dropped. McArdle is released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement in June 2000 with a royal prerogative of mercy from Queen Elizabeth II.
The IRA describes the deaths and injuries as a result of the bomb as “regrettable,” but says that they could have been avoided if police had responded promptly to “clear and specific warnings.” Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Sir Paul Condon says, “It would be unfair to describe this as a failure of security. It was a failure of humanity.”
Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Féin, the political wing of the IRA, speaks of the need to continue the peace process. British Prime Minister John Major says there is now “a dark shadow of doubt” where optimism has existed.
On February 28, Prime Minister Major and Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland John Bruton, announce that all-party talks will be resumed in June. Major’s decision to drop the demand for IRA decommissioning of weapons before Sinn Fein is allowed into talks leads to criticism from the press, which accuse him of being “bombed to the table.”