“People were screaming and shouting. They started running away from the scene. I looked around and saw two men lying in the road who couldn’t get up. There was blood running down the road. One guy had a whole side of his face missing and I saw other people running along with fingers blown off. They were hysterical.”
Another local resident, Jools Thomas, said: “It was quite horrifying – there was a flash and then this sonic boom which vibrated everything and then the smoke started billowing out from near the market.
“There was a bloke with a nail stuck in his head and another with a nail in his lung. Who could put a nail bomb there, where there is all those people just doing their shopping?”
I remember walking home through the warm Spring evening, from Stockwell tube station – “Brixton is closed” – no explanation. Into chaos. A bomb had gone off in Brixton market, a minute’s walk from my flat. 48 people were in hospital.
From the first it was a fair assumption this was some rightwing shit. We didn’t think there was more to come… but there was…
Neo-Nazi militant David Copeland embarked on a 13-day bombing campaign in April 1999 aimed at London’s black, South Asian and gay communities that killed three people and injured over a hundred. Copeland was a former member of two far-right political groups, the British National Party and then the National Socialist Movement.
Over three successive weekends between 17 and 30 April 1999, Copeland placed homemade nail bombs, each containing up to 1,500 four-inch nails, in holdalls that he left in public spaces around London. The first bomb was placed outside the Iceland supermarket in Electric Avenue, Brixton, an area of south London with a large black population. The second was in Brick Lane in the East End of London, which has a large Bangladeshi community. The third was inside the Admiral Duncan pub in Soho’s Old Compton Street, the heart of London’s gay community. The bombs killed three people, including a pregnant woman, and injured 140, four of whom lost limbs.
Arrested on 30th April after a work colleague recognised CCTV pictures circulated by the police, Copeland was diagnosed by five psychiatrists as having paranoid schizophrenia, while one diagnosed a personality disorder not serious enough to avoid a charge of murder. His plea of guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility was rejected by the prosecution or jury. He was convicted of murder on 30 June 2000, and sentenced to six concurrent life sentences. In 2007 the High Court ruled that he must serve at least 50 years. He appealed the ruling, but the Court of Appeal upheld the sentence in 2011.
He joined the far-right British National Party in May 1997, at the age of 21. He acted as a steward at a BNP meeting, in the course of which he came into contact with the BNP leadership and was photographed standing next to then leader John Tyndall. Around this time, Copeland read US nazi classic The Turner Diaries, and learned how to make bombs using fireworks with alarm clocks as timers, after downloading a so-called terrorists’ handbook from the Web. He left the BNP in 1998, regarding it as not hardline enough because it was not willing to engage in paramilitary action, and joined the smaller National Socialist Movement, becoming its regional leader for Hampshire just weeks before the start of his bombing campaign.
An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online
Part of past tense’s series of articles on Brixton; before, during and after the riots of 1981.
Part 1: Changing, Always Changing: Brixton’s Early Days
2: In the Shadow of the SPG: Racism, Policing and Resistance in 1970s Brixton
3: The Brixton Black Women’s Group
4: Brixton’s first Squatters 1969
5: Squatting in Brixton: The Brixton Plan and the 1970s
6. Squatted streets in Brixton: Villa Road
7: Squatting in Brixton: The South London Gay Centre
8: We Want to Riot, Not to Work: The April 1981 Uprising
9: After the April Uprising: From Offence to Defence to…
10: More Brixton Riots, July 1981
11: The Impossible Class
12: Impossible Classlessness: A response to ‘The Impossible Class’
13: Frontline: Evictions and resistance in Brixton, 1982
14: Squatting in Brixton: the eviction of Effra Parade
15: Brixton Through a Riot Shield: the 1985 Brixton Riot
16: Local Poll tax rioting in Brixton, March 1990
17: The October 1990 Poll Tax ‘riot’ outside Brixton Prison
18: The 121 Centre: A squatted centre 1973-1999
19: This is the Real Brixton Challenge: Brixton in the 1990s
20: Reclaim the Streets: Brixton Street Party 1998
21: A Nazi Nail Bomb in Brixton, 1999
22: Brixton police still killing people: The death of Ricky Bishop
23: Brixton, Riots and Memory, 2006/2021
24: Gentrification in Brixton 2015