Twenty-five years ago two boys, aged three and 12, were tragically killed when two bombs planted in bins exploded in Warrington town centre.
The deaths of Jonathan Ball and Tim Parry on one of the darkest days in the town’s history – 20 March 1993 – is to be commemorated at a civic event attended by Princess Anne.
Representatives of Cheshire Constabulary and Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service, who were deployed to Bridge Street that day to deal with the aftermath of the bombings, will attend the 25th anniversary event from noon on Tuesday 20 March.
Steve Faulkner, a Police Constable at Cheshire Constabulary, will be among those in attendance on Bridge Street having been the first member of the emergency services to arrive there after the bombs went off at midday.
The 49-year-old says the horrors of that day, which saw more than 50 people injured, are forever etched on his mind.
He said: “I was parked up doing paperwork when a call came in about a large bang on Bridge Street. I answered it and set off towards Bridge Street.
“The penny soon dropped as more and more calls were coming in saying there had been two loud explosions on Bridge Street and there had been a big bombing incident in Warrington just a few weeks earlier.
“When I reached Market Gate it was like a football terrace. There was a mass of people gathered who had fled Bridge Street and it was clear that something bad had happened.
“In those days only advance police response cars had sirens so I had to beep my horn and flash my lights to get through the crowds.
“I parked by Midland Bank and walked down Bridge Street where I was greeted with a scene I will never forget.
“It was absolute carnage with casualties everywhere and people in sheer panic. It was horrendous.
“I could clearly see that bombs had gone off in two bins and I remembering worrying that more bombs may go off as there were quite a lot of other bins along Bridge Street, yet a lot of members of the public were tending to the causalities.
“Looking back that was an amazing example of human kindness shown en masse. Anyone would have forgiven those people for thinking of themselves and trying to get to safety, but they put the injured first and did everything they could to help them.
“I saw Jonathan Ball in the doorway of a shop with several people administering first aid to him, one of whom told me she was a nurse.
“I was in a daze and there were people shouting at me to get help. I radioed through to relay the severity of the situation and plead for as many ambulances and police patrols to get to Bridge Street as possible and I spoke to all of the groups of casualties and their helpers and told them that paramedics were on their way.
“Another PC soon turned up – though it seemed like I was the only member of the emergency services there for an eternity – and he was quickly followed by a police inspector, ambulances and fire engines.
“I was so relieved to see them and I was then posted to the bottom of Bridge Street to contain it and stop people from going up the street.
“I was later moved elsewhere in the town centre to deal with crowd control and I and my colleagues did all that we could that day to help the victims and deal with the incident in very difficult circumstances.
“Having been on duty since 6am I eventually got home at 7pm. I was living on my own then and I went to my mum’s house straight from work. She asked if I was okay and I then completely broke down.
“I had only been in the force for two-and-a-half years and I had never seen anything like it before.
“Seeing the two boys killed like that and others suffer life-changing injuries was indescribably upsetting.
“The next day I and all the other officers who had been directly involved with the incident spoke with the liaison people at Cheshire Constabulary about what we had seen and whether or not we needed counselling.
“I went on to deal with numerous fatal road traffic collisions while working in the motorway unit for nine years, but what happened on Bridge Street on 20 March 1993 is undoubtedly the biggest and most traumatic incident I have experienced.
“I have never broken down like I did after the Bridge Street bombings and still to this day I always think about that day whenever I hear the word Warrington or are in the town or passing by it.”
John Garner was heavily involved in Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service’s response to both the Bridge Street bombings and the other bombing incident in Warrington in 1993.
Less than a month before the bins exploded on Bridge Street, three devices were detonated at a gas storage facility on Winwick Road.
John, a former station officer in charge of Green Watch at Warrington Fire Station, was one of three firefighters who came agonisingly close to being killed by the third explosion soon after 4am on 26 February.
The now retired 64-year-old said: “I was working nights when the gas storage facility bombs went off.
“At around 4am there was a loud bang and the Warrington station’s surrounds were inspected.
“Then whilst looking out of an upstairs window at 4.02am I saw and heard an explosion at the gas storage plant opposite the station. We responded immediately, with four fire engines and 13 men.
“In the minute it took to arrive at the gate I sent a major incident message for 10 pumps to our control.
“The gate locks were cut off with bolt croppers and I told the drivers to park up and set into hydrants.
“Two other firefighters and I then proceeded on foot across the open area towards the gasholder, which had flames coming out the top of it.
“As we got to within 30 metres of it the entire structure detonated and three million cubic feet of gas exploded.
“We turned and ran, and to be honest I expected to be engulfed in flames.
“Luckily the explosion went upwards like a mushroom of flames and missed us, and it then self-extinguished.
“We regrouped and I ordered ground monitor jets be laid out for the remaining gasholders which were on fire.
“A further message was sent to say ‘an entire gas holder has exploded and the situation is now considered safer’, and searches were made for other bombs.
“The initial explosion that we heard was an incendiary device on one of the high pressure gas storage bullets adjacent to the gate.
“This is the gate I told all the fire engines to park at.
“We were lucky that night – if the gas storage plant had fully exploded the residential area opposite would have been devastated.
“While the consequences of the gas works bombs could have been far worse than they were, the Bridge Street incident was obviously one of the biggest catastrophes in Warrington’s history with two boys losing their lives.
“The bombs went off at midday but I was on duty at 6pm when I took charge of the Warrington fire engines and firefighters on Bridge Street.
“Red Watch had heard the explosions from the station and three fire engines had been sent directly to the scene.
“On arrival they found numerous casualties and one ambulance crew.
“Working in pairs, the firefighters rendered first aid to casualties and comforted those suffering from shock.
“When the station officer arrived casualties were prioritised, a forward control was established and other emergency services were liaised with.
“When I got there I saw the body of one of the boys who died. Seeing him was particularly upsetting for me as at the time I had a son of a similar age. A few tears were shed.
“I was involved in the clean-up operation using our high pressure hose jets that weekend so that Bridge Street could be opened back up to shoppers on the Monday morning.
“I was in the fire service for 29 years and the Warrington bombings are the most memorable jobs I was involved in.
“What happened on Bridge Street was a tragedy for those involved and their loved ones as well as for Warrington as a whole, and it also had repercussions nationally and internationally.
“I will never forget the days of the bombings and I am proud of the jobs that Cheshire firefighters did at both incidents.
“Both Red Watch and Green Watch from Warrington Fire Station were awarded with a Chief Fire Officer Commendation.
“You train for massive incidents like that but nothing can totally prepare you for real life incidents on that scale.
“The firefighters and the fire service handled both jobs professionally, respectfully and with little thought for their own safety.”