Detective Chief Superintendent
Head of C.I.D.
Sadly Jack no longer enjoys the best of health but very kindly and bravely agreed to talk with us and share some of his thoughts on the events of 30 years ago.
For Jack the bombing of the Grand Hotel in Brighton in 1984 was not a political statement or a tragedy of war but a murder investigation. Five people were murdered in their beds and many more were injured in what was perhaps the most audacious attempt to destroy a sitting government in British history.
The eyes of the world were watching to see how the emergency services would cope with the aftermath of the explosion; the politicians and the public were screaming for results and they were looking to the Sussex Police and particularly Jack Reece and his team of detectives to provide them.
As Jack looked up at the hotel,
‘it appeared as if a huge gaping lift shaft had opened up with all the debris and evidence sinking to the bottom.’
‘When I stood there on the first morning looking up at the rooms that had been and the general devastation I began to think, Lord this is a big investigation.’
Obviously you don’t want bad things to happen but when they do on your ground you become excited by the challenge. Sorting out this lot was going to be a real challenge.
We’d successfully dealt with several major investigations the most recent being the kidnapping of Lady Devonport, so you think, how are we going to crack this?
We didn’t want this to happen but it had. Once we had recovered form the initial shock, we were excited by the challenge and desperate for results.’
Gathering the evidence
Every piece of evidence had to be collected and sorted and this work was carried out by the ‘Flour Sifters’. All the registration cards had to be found, checked for clues and the people, wherever in the world they might be, contacted. Even the potted shrubs along the beach front had to be saved from the incoming tide before possible evidence was irrevocably lost.
‘As a fisherman I knew the tide timetables and ordered the tubs collected before the tide washed the evidence away.’
For the detectives this was a murder investigation. The important thing was to keep their eyes on the prize.
‘A lot of important stuff goes through the system you have to be careful of falling into traps.’
As with any murder investigation the detectives are close to the victims and the grieving relatives. They see disturbing things and witness the distress of the bereaved up close, so it’s important for the senior officers to be aware of the effects on their staff and support and encourage them.
‘You’ve got to look after your staff.’
Once the team had studied the evidence and arrested their suspect they still had to endure the ordeal of the trial and cross examination by the defendant’s defence team. Jack’s cross examination was particularly vigorous.
‘I put it to you that that you planted those fingerprints and palm prints?’
‘That’s a preposterous suggestion.’
‘Preposterous or not answer the question.’
‘I looked towards the judge and he said, answer the question.’
When we met Jack he said, ‘You’re asking me questions about something I’ve been trying 30 years to forget.’ We were a little bemused, after all this investigation must have been the highlight of his career. His team had solved the case and the murderer was successfully prosecuted.
‘I’ll never forget finding the bodies, and talking to the relatives. I don’t know how they cope after something like this. You get very close to the relatives. I don’t think it helps them to have the whole thing continually raked over.’
For Jack this wasn’t the horrendous event that reverberated around the world changing policing and the way we view public events in ways unimaginable at the time. It was a tragedy that devastated the lives of the victims and their families from which some would never fully recover. Many are still living with the horror of that night, their lives changed forever. Mention the Grand Bombing and it’s those people Jack thinks of.
Five people were killed, although none of them were government ministers. Those killed were Conservative MP Sir Anthony Berry, Eric Taylor (North-West Area Chairman of the Conservative Party), Lady (Jeanne) Shattock (wife of Sir Gordon Shattock, Western Area Chairman of the Conservative Party), Lady (Muriel) Maclean (wife of Sir Donald Maclean, President of the Scottish Conservatives), and Roberta Wakeham (wife of Parliamentary Treasury Secretary John Wakeham. Donald and Muriel Maclean were in the room in which the bomb exploded.
Several more, including Margaret Tebbit, were left permanently disabled.
Thirty-four people were taken to hospital and recovered from their injuries.
It was a real privilege talking with Jack. Many thanks
Copyright Ian Collington and Paul Beaken