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The gas works bombing - 20 years on
12:00pm Tuesday 26th February 2013 in News
WHEN two IRA bombs went off within the space of a month in Warrington 20 years ago, it sparked a series of events which have left a lasting mark on the town.
Tim Parry and Johnathan Ball, two children, were killed in the second bombing in Bridge Street in March 1993.
Today, Tuesday, however marks the anniversary of the first bombing of the town, an attack on the former Gas Works on Winwick Road.
It came hours after the late night shooting of PC Mark Toker in Warrington town centre.
A dramatic car chase followed with motorway arrests of the main suspects.
Today we take a look at the events of that night which also saw hundreds of residents of Orford evacuated due to the threat of more bombs.
THE chief fire officer at the time of the gasworks bombings believes the incident may have helped encourage British Gas change the way gas is stored.
The explosion on Winwick Road caused a huge fire ball with many homes in the area evacuated while crews battled to get the flames under control and prevent them spreading to surrounding properties.
But fire officer Dennis Davis said the incident could have been much worse for the first crews on the scene if another device, which was found later, had also detonated.
Mr Davis, who was based in Chester at the time, said: “The station was just across the road and nobody knew it was anything to do with terrorism at the time.
“The rumble of the fire ball would have woken up quite a lot of residents and it must have been quite shocking to see.
“Crews were on the ground when it went up but fortunately nobody was hurt.
“We only found out afterwards police had disturbed something that night and one officer had been shot which was when we thought there might have been a connection.”
The 65-year-old, who came out of uniform in 2004, had to wait until sunrise to search the site with a bomb disposal officer.
The pair found there had been another attempt on horizontal gas storage vessels, close to the road and opposite homes, which had not detonated.
The experienced officer, who joined the service in 1965, said it was clear the bombers’ intentions were to destroy the whole of the gasworks.
He added: “You’re a professional so you don’t feel anger, you just want to try and sort it out and help bring it to a safe conclusion as soon as you can.
“I’m responsible for looking after the crews which was one of the reasons I walked the site first and afterwards you sit back and think it was a terrible thing for someone to do and could have killed people.
“You go through that like any other human being but at the time you don’t feel that.
“Particularly for the arriving crew, it could have been awful and I assume they wanted the bombs to go off at the same time so there was maximum damage.”
Mr Davis, who is now an advisor, said the fire service had the support of Warrington members of the Fire Authority after the incident and a study took place which found just how serious it could have been.
He added: “We had a long discussion with British Gas and from that point the way gas was stored was changed and above ground gas storage virtually disappeared.
“Everybody worked together to remove a serious risk.”
11.45pm: The drama begins shortly before midnight at PC Mark Toker, aged 25, stops a Mazda van on Sankey Street in the toen centre.
As he was questioning three men, he was shot twice in the leg and small of the back.
12.50am The three men stop a car in Lymm.
Hijacking the car, an Escort, at gunpoint, they push him in the boot before driving towards Manchester.
1am: Police spot the car in Manchester and chase it in the direction of Liverpool.
Shots were fired during the high-speed chase and two police vehicles were hit. Two men were arrested on the M62 near Croft and one ran off and has never been caught. The owner was released from the boot.
4.10am Several explosions rock the gas works site on Winwick Road.
A fireball erupted in the sky with flames rising 1000 ft into the air.
4.30am: One hundred residents from the surrounding area in Orford are evacuated into St Ann’s School hall on Latham Avenue.
It is described as a miracle that nobody was injured in the blast.
8am Commuters found their journey to work was taking far longer than expected. Many were stuck in their cars form 90 minutes for short journeys as road blocks are put up around town.
Meanwhile mainline trains were diverted away from Warrington and no services were running from the town.
1994: Pairic MacFhloinn, aged 40, and Denis Kinsella, aged 25, were jailed for 35 years and 25 years respectively for their part in the bombing mission and John Kinsella, aged 49, was sentenced to 20 years for possessing Semtex explosives that he hid for the IRA cell.
The third man in the car, Michael Timmins, was never caught.