Bomber who tried to kill Thatcher faces Parliament

Jo Berry, left, sits next to Patrick Magee at a Forgiveness talk in Parliament on Tuesday in London.
The man jailed for trying to kill British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in a hotel bombing in 1984 appeared in Parliament Tuesday with the daughter of one of his victims.

Patrick Magee, a former Irish Republican Army activist, held a public discussion with Jo Berry, whose father died in the bombing in Brighton, southern England 25 years ago Monday. Magee told members of Parliament it is “always a challenge to share a platform with Jo. … The challenge is, I’m sharing a platform with someone whose father I killed.” “I’m sorry that I killed Jo’s father,” he said, “and I wish there had been another way.” He denied responsibility when he was tried for the blast, which happened on the eve of Thatcher’s speech to the Conservative Party conference. She was in the hotel when the bomb went off, but was not hurt. Berry’s father, Anthony Berry, a Member of Parliament, was among five people killed. Jo Berry has been meeting Magee regularly — and appearing in public with him — since he was freed from prison under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement in 1999. “It’s an unusual friendship,” she told CNN on Tuesday before her scheduled appearance with the former IRA activist. “We don’t really have the words in the English language for it. He’s someone who I actually admire for his ability to engage with me even when it’s difficult, and (for) his commitment to working for peace now,” she said. “And yet I don’t forget that he did kill my father, so it’s a mixture.”

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Magee was scheduled to speak to CNN on Tuesday but canceled at the last minute. Their discussion — which took place on Thatcher’s 84th birthday — was organized by The Forgiveness Project, a British charity dedicated to conflict resolution. They are appearing under the auspices of the all-party parliamentary group on conflict issues. The director of The Forgiveness Project said she understood that the event would draw mixed responses. “I am not surprised that some have branded this a provocative stunt that will serve only to draw attention to a former IRA activist who received eight life sentences for the bombing and who has shown little remorse,” Marina Cantacuzino wrote in the Times Monday. “Of all those who reside in the two chambers (of Parliament), it is Lord (Norman) Tebbit, whose wife was paralyzed in the attack, and Lord (John) Wakeham, whose wife was killed, who are likely to be the most affronted, particularly as Lord Tebbit has confessed to feeling ‘some personal ill towards Mr. Magee and all of his murderous friends and employers.'” Both Tebbit and Wakeham were members of Thatcher’s Cabinet. Tebbit was trapped under rubble for several hours before firefighters were able to free him. “Firemen say many lives were probably saved because the well-constructed Victorian (Brighton Grand Hotel) remained standing, despite the central section of eight floors collapsing into the basement,” the BBC reported. “The IRA has issued a statement claiming it had placed a 100-pound bomb in the hotel,” the broadcaster said. “The statement read: ‘Today we were unlucky, but remember, we only have to be lucky once; you will have to be lucky always. Give Ireland peace and there will be no war.'” The IRA waged an often violent campaign against British rule of Northern Ireland for decades before the Good Friday Agreement. About 3,600 people died in The Troubles, as the violence was known in the province. “To his critics Magee appears to be unrepentant, and headlines over the years, such as ‘Brighton Bomber: I would do it again,’ paint a picture of a man at best deluded and at worst dangerous,” Cantacuzino of the Forgiveness Project wrote. “Magee has a problem with this premise,” she said, quoting him: “It’s perfectly possible to regret something deeply, every day of your life, and yet still stand over your actions,” he says. “At the end of the day it’s about legitimacy and who is allowed to use force. If everything is examined through the prism of legitimacy you can break it down to different gradations. Why should it just be the prerogative of those in power” Berry shied away from saying she had forgiven the man who killed her father. “Forgiveness is a word I find very difficult to use. I prefer to use the word understanding,” she said. “I have understood his life and his choices and everything that’s happened to him,” she said. “I know that if I’d lived his life, I don’t know whether I’d make those same choices or not. And in that moment there is nothing to forgive, there is understanding and there is empathy.” But she still remembers the shock of seeing him walk free. “When I first saw him come out of prison, I had an initial response. … I wasn’t expecting to turn on the telly and see Pat coming out of prison, and there was an initial response of: ‘Ah, he’s out. My father can never come back.'”