The M62 coach bombing occurs on February 4, 1974 on the M62 motorway in Northern England, when a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) bomb explodes in a coach carrying off-duty British Armed Forces personnel and their family members. Twelve people, nine soldiers and three civilians, are killed by the bomb, which consists of 25 pounds of high explosive hidden in a luggage locker on the coach.
The coach has been specially commissioned to carry British Army and Royal Air Force personnel on leave with their families from and to the bases at Catterick and Darlington during a period of railway strike action. The vehicle departs from Manchester and is making good progress along the motorway. Shortly after midnight, when the bus is between junction 26 and 27, near Oakwell Hall, there is a large explosion on board. Most of those aboard are sleeping at the time. The blast, which can be heard several miles away, reduces the coach to a “tangle of twisted metal” and throws body parts up to 250 yards.
The explosion kills eleven people outright and wounds over fifty others, one of whom dies four days later. Amongst the dead are nine soldiers – two from the Royal Artillery, three from the Royal Corps of Signals, and four from the 2nd battalion Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. One of the latter is Corporal Clifford Haughton, whose entire family, consisting of his wife Linda and his sons Lee (5) and Robert (2), also die. Numerous others suffer severe injuries, including a six-year-old boy, who is badly burned.
The driver of the coach, Roland Handley, is injured by flying glass, but is hailed as a hero for bringing the coach safely to a halt. Handley dies at the age of 76 after a short illness in January 2011.
Suspicions immediately fall upon the IRA, which is in the midst of an armed campaign in Britain involving numerous operations, later including the Guildford pub bombing and the Birmingham pub bombings.
Reactions in Britain are furious, with senior politicians from all parties calling for immediate action against the perpetrators and the IRA in general. The British media are equally condemnatory. According to The Guardian, it is “the worst IRA outrage on the British mainland” at that time, whilst the BBC describes it as “one of the IRA’s worst mainland terror attacks.” The Irish newspaper The Sunday Business Post later describes it as the “worst” of the “awful atrocities perpetrated by the IRA” during this period.
IRA Army Council member Dáithí Ó Conaill is challenged over the bombing and the death of civilians during an interview, and replies that the coach had been bombed because IRA intelligence indicated that it was carrying military personnel only.
Following the explosion, the British public and politicians from all three major parties call for “swift justice.” The ensuing police investigation led by Detective Chief Superintendent George Oldfield is rushed, careless, and ultimately forged, resulting in the arrest of the mentally ill Judith Ward who claims to have conducted a string of bombings in Britain in 1973 and 1974 and to have married and had a baby with two separate IRA members. Despite her retraction of these claims, the lack of any corroborating evidence against her, and serious gaps in her testimony – which is frequently rambling, incoherent, and “improbable” – she is wrongfully convicted in November 1974.
The case against Ward is almost completely based on inaccurate scientific evidence using the Griess test and deliberate manipulation of her confession by some members of the investigating team. The case is similar to those of the Guildford Four, the Birmingham Six, and the Maguire Seven, which occur at the same time and involve similar forged confessions and inaccurate scientific analysis. Ward is finally released in 1992, when three Appeal Court judges hold unanimously that her conviction was “a grave miscarriage of justice,” and that it had been “secured by ambush.”