The London Nail Bomber: One man’s attempt to bring racial conflict to the UK
Over a period of three weeks in April 1999, London was left under siege by a spate of nail bomb attacks targeting minority communities. The first bomb, aimed at the Black British community, exploded on 17 April in Brixton Market. 48 were injured in the blast, including a two-year-old child who had a nail embedded in their head. A week later, a second bomb exploded. In a miraculous twist of fate, a man had spotted the bag and placed it in his car to take to a police station. However, before he had arrived there the bomb detonated in his car. Being in the boot meant the explosion was mostly muted and only six people suffered minor injuries. Once again, an ethnic minority community had been targeted, with the bomb being placed in the heart of London’s Bengali community in the east end. Had the bomb exploded in the right place at the right time, the casualties could have been enormous.
By this point, police knew they were looking for a loner, a far right extremist, who was clearly trying to cause maximum carnage. They had already ruled out other possibilities – Irish and Islamic terrorism, a gang dispute or even a link to the ongoing conflict in Kosovo. After the second bomb, police released CCTV footage of a suspected male in a nationwide appeal. The public appeal caused that very same man to bring forward his next bombing by a day, knowing he was rapidly running out of time.
On 30 April, the Admiral Duncan in the West End – a popular gay club – was the target. Three people were killed and over 70 injured. The three who died had all been in a group: Andrea Dykes, four months pregnant with her first child, was killed along with John Light, the best man at her wedding, and their friend Nik Moore. Julian Dykes, Andrea’s husband, suffered severe
shrapnel and burn injuries in the blast. Many others lost limbs in the attack. Such was the devastation caused by the blast, one paramedic said that the scene could have been a “hardware store” with the amount of nails present.
Just hours after the bombing, the police had their man. Receiving a tip off, officers travelled to a home in Hampshire. There they found David Copeland, aged 22. He was a paranoid schizophrenic who said that his motives were purely political and that he had hoped to start a race war in the country, believing that it was destiny. Claiming that the idea had initially started as a personal joke, he found himself contemplating the idea more and more each day until he finally decided that it was something that he had to do. Eric Rudolph, the perpetrator of the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta and who was behind a series of anti-gay bombings, was a possible inspiration for Copeland.
Arresting officers found a large swastika flag hanging from his wall, along with dozens of newspaper clippings of the bombings. There was also a loaded crossbow and a container in which explosives had been stored. Fireworks stashed under his bed were the source of the bombs he had produced. Despite the arsenal of deadly weaponry, Copeland immediately confessed and surrendered when the officers had knocked at his bedroom door.
Dyslexic and suffering from anxiety, the diminutive Copeland had been bullied at school for his size and had begun associating with far right groups. Copeland had left school at sixteen with few qualifications and had been from job to job before securing work as an engineer’s assistant. When police mentioned the Admiral Duncan attack and gay people during his questioning, he would close his eyes in disgust. “I just don’t like them”, he told the interviewing officers. Copeland had long believed his family thought him to be gay, something which he despised and left him alienated from them. When asked why he had chosen to put nails in his bombs, Copeland told how he wanted to cause the most amount of damage possible. “They’d smash windows out, stick into people, maim people and kill people” he said.
Sentenced to six life sentences at the Old Bailey in 2000 – one for each murder and bomb – Copeland has time to ponder his terrible attacks. He had hoped to start a race war and failed miserably, his twisted mind underestimating the solidarity of the London community that he had so desperately wanted to divide.
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