Airey Middleton Sheffield Neave, British army officer, barrister, and politician, is killed in a car-bomb attack at the House of Commons on March 30, 1979. During World War II, Neave is the first British officer to successfully escape from the German prisoner-of-war camp Oflag IV-C at Colditz Castle. He later becomes Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) for Abingdon.
Neave is killed when a magnetic car-bomb fitted with a ball bearing tilt switch explodes under his Vauxhall Cavalier just before 3:00 PM as he drives out of the Palace of Westminster car park. He loses his right leg below the knee and his left is hanging on by a flap of skin. Neave dies without regaining consciousness at the hospital an hour after being freed from the wreckage. The Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), an illegal Irish republican paramilitary group, claims responsibility for the killing.
Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher leads tributes, saying, “He was one of freedom’s warriors. No one knew of the great man he was, except those nearest to him. He was staunch, brave, true, strong; but he was very gentle and kind and loyal. It’s a rare combination of qualities. There’s no one else who can quite fill them. I, and so many other people, owe so much to him and now we must carry on for the things he fought for and not let the people who got him triumph.”
Labour Prime Minister James Callaghan says, “No effort will be spared to bring the murderers to justice and to rid the United Kingdom of the scourge of terrorism.”
The INLA issues a statement regarding the killing in the August 1979 edition of The Starry Plough, “In March, retired terrorist and supporter of capital punishment, Airey Neave, got a taste of his own medicine when an INLA unit pulled off the operation of the decade and blew him to bits inside the ‘impregnable’ Palace of Westminster. The nauseous Margaret Thatcher snivelled on television that he was an ‘incalculable loss’ — and so he was — to the British ruling class.”
Neave’s death comes just two days after the vote of no confidence which brings down Callaghan’s government and a few weeks before the 1979 general election, which brings about a Conservative victory and sees Thatcher come to power as Prime Minister. Neave’s wife Diana is subsequently elevated to the House of Lords as Baroness Airey of Abingdon.
Neave’s biographer Paul Routledge meets a member of the Irish Republican Socialist Party, the political wing of INLA, who was involved in the killing of Neave and who tells Routledge that Neave “would have been very successful at that job [Northern Ireland Secretary]. He would have brought the armed struggle to its knees.”