The greatest enemy of the truth is very often not the lie - deliberate, contrived, and dishonest - but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy


October 1969

In every office of every newspaper in every country around the world, there is a desk with a telephone on it specially reserved for phone calls from the public. Everyone has a different name for it, but generally it is called the ‘crank phone’ because of all the crank calls received on it. Calls from mothers wanting to know whether we want to take a photograph of their daughter who has just won a prize in some competition. Calls from residents complaining about neighbours that are too noisy, or too quiet or just too different. Calls from people who think they have seen something but they are not sure what it was. Calls from the collection of proud, crazed, caring, hateful people called the public.

Most newspaper offices use the crank phone to test the resolve of cadet reporters. A week spent taking calls on the crank phone will break most trained professionals, let alone those just starting in the job. I know: I served my time on the same posting when I was a cadet reporter in my native New Zealand.

So when I walked past the crank phone in the offices of the Daily Chronicle and heard it ringing, my first reaction was to look for someone - anyone but myself - to answer the telephone. The cadet assigned to the desk for the day had done her best to disappear, the copy-boy was conspicuous by his absence and nobody lower down the newsroom pecking-order was within shouting distance. It was still mid-morning and the newsroom of a morning paper only comes alive after lunch when the hacks start to stumble in, recovering from the night before. Despite this, the daily fog of cigarette smoke was already beginning to form around the fluorescent lights set into the low ceiling. A few battered manual typewriters were being worked in a desultory manner down in the business section, but only a handful of general news reporters were visible. Worse still, the chief reporter was lurking at his desk, watching me to see what I would do.

Just three days previously he had posted a memorandum on the notice board above the assignment book, commanding all staff to make sure the crank phone was always answered within four rings. The week before the Chronicle had missed out on a major scoop when a regular reader had been unable to get any response on our Newstip Line (as we grandly called the crank phone in print) and had called one of our rivals with the story instead. I felt the chief reporter's eyes burning into my back as I glanced around quickly one more time for assistance, without luck. There was nothing for it, I would have to answer the damn telephone. I dumped the armful of manila clippings folders marked kennedy, john f. on the desk and picked up the heavy black receiver.

‘Hello, Daily Chronicle Newstip Line, James Stevens speaking. How may I help you?’ I said in my smoothest voice, all the while inwardly cursing the unknown caller.

‘Is that the Daily Chronicle?’ asked a male voice with a heavy Welsh accent.

‘Yes,’ I replied, trying not to let the grimace on my face communicate itself through my voice.

‘I understand you pay for stories,’ continued the caller.

‘Sometimes, if the stories are big enough. What's this about?’

‘My name's Mullins, see, and I'm a porter at the Ashbridge Cottage Hospital and there's something strange going on here,’ he replied nervously, before explaining. I quickly found myself scrambling for a pen and paper to scratch down the details before he rung off. Grasping the details in my hand, I ran to the chief reporter's desk.

‘I need a photographer and a news car now!’

The chief reporter arched an eyebrow at me. ‘Why?’ he asked, his voice heavy with disdain. A consummate professional, he lived, breathed and excreted his job 24 hours a day. Like most journalists he smoked far too much, liked a drink too often and had enough caffeine coursing through his system to keep entire countries awake for a week.

He was also a thorough-going bastard who delighted in torturing cadets, foreigners or anyone else he regarded with suspicion. I was convinced I was at the top of his hit-list, but nearly every reporter in the newsroom believed the same of themselves. When the chief reporter died of the inevitable heart attack, there would be a long line of journalists waiting to urinate on his grave.

‘We've just had a call, there's something strange going on in the Epping area. Last night there was a heatwave across the whole region and a shower of meteorites came down in Oxley Woods. Apparently the whole area was cordoned off by the authorities - no one allowed in or out.’ I explained as quickly as I could.

‘Hardly news, we've already had a report in from our stringer in Essex,’ smiled the chief reporter, picking up a sheet from one of the copy-typists. His face was pale and lined, with dark rings beneath his eyes from too many late night deadlines and not enough sleep. His greying, wavy black hair was combed back from his forehead. Like all former police reporters, he wore a regulation-blue police detective's shirt and dark blue tie to accompany his woollen suit. The jacket perpetually hung over the back of his swivel chair, from which he commanded his troops like a regimental sergeant major. He seemed to take a sadistic pleasure in trying to crush anyone who thought they knew something he did not. National Service had a lot to answer for, I thought.

The piece about the meteor shower had obviously been phoned in direct to the newsroom by the stringer. At this time many national newspapers still retained district offices in other parts of the country. But in areas where they had no office, the dailies relied on freelance journalists - stringers - to keep abreast of local news, and phone in reports of anything interesting or bizarre that happened in their area. Equally, papers expected their stringers to be available 24 hours a day to cover any story they might come up on their patch. Stringers got paid per story published, making for a precarious existence, so it was hardly surprising the Essex stringer had been quick off the mark.

‘But we just got a tip-off that the authorities found an injured man in the woods where the meteors fell. He's been taken to the Ashbridge Cottage Hospital,’ I ventured, reeling the chief reporter in.

‘Could be anything, some tramp or poacher - hardly big news,’ he sneered back, starting to turn away, as though dismissing my presence.

‘You're probably right,’ I agreed, before delivering the knockout. ‘But apparently there's something very strange about this injured man - he hasn't got human blood.’

That got the chief reporter's attention. Five minutes later I was inside one of the Chronicle's news cars, barrelling through the streets of London, heading east into Essex. The madman at the wheel was Ross ‘Tubbs' Tubberty, one of the paper's best lensmen. He was overweight, with blotchy pink skin and a penchant for wearing black berets, with striped white-and-blue shirts with brown suede shoes. It was obvious that he didn't spend his clothing allowance at fashion boutiques on the King's Road like I did.

Like all newspaper photographers, Tubbs was an aspiring grand prix racer whose main goal in life was trying to scare reporters with his white-knuckle driving. I did my best to look nonchalant as I navigated us to the Ashbridge Cottage Hospital.

The porter Mullins had told me about overhearing a phone conversation between two doctors at the hospital. One physician said the man found in the woods apparently did not have human blood and there was something very strange about his X-rays. If we got to the hospital quickly with sufficient cash, Mullins guarantied us first crack at Doctor Henderson who was treating the injured man. There might even be a photo opportunity of the mystery man himself.

As we sped through the dormitory suburbs of east of London, I looked disdainfully at the rabbit hutches being built either side of the road. Mortgage traps and false hopes of owning your own home - just another way of enslaving the population. You would not catch me living in one of these dumps with a wife and two point four brats to drag me down.

Soon suburbia was replaced with the green of Epping Forest and we arrived at Ashbridge Cottage Hospital to find it swarming with reporters, photographers and camera crews. ‘So much for our scoop,’ hissed Tubbs as he unloaded his camera bag from the back of the car. ‘You find that porter and I'll help you lynch him myself.’

‘Oh no you don't, he's all mine,’ I replied, pausing outside the hospital's old red-brick main building to look around. Amidst the sea of news cars sprawled across the beautifully manicured green lawns were several army jeeps. One had a peculiar insignia on its driver's door, a circle of black mesh with four letters running around it - u.n.i.t. Obviously an acronym of some sort, but for what?

Tubbs noticed my interest. ‘Something's up - UNIT's here.’

‘UNIT?’ I asked as we walked into the hospital.

‘Yeah, the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce. Some hush-hush military thing. It was formed after that nerve gas attack on the Tube a couple of years ago,’ said the photographer.

‘Before my time--’ I stopped speaking as we entered the lobby of the hospital and a dozen cameras turned to face us. Realising we were just another pair of journalists, the throng collectively groaned and turned away again. ‘Good grief.’

Tubbs already had his camera out of the bulky padded bag slung over his shoulder and was taking pictures of the chaotic scenes. Realising I would be hard pressed to claim an exclusive I decided to look around to see if I could add any colour to the piece I would have to write. Now we were inside, I realised the hospital was actually a converted manor house from some former country estate. Cottage hospital indeed! The oak-panelled walls and luxurious gold fittings were hardly the stuff of cottages, at least not from where I came.

After a few minutes of restive questioning of hospital staff, a soldier emerged from a set of double doors to address the media rabble. His uniform was a light shade of mushroom-brown and his insignia of rank marked him as a captain. The round UNIT logo was emblazoned around the badge on his beret. The soldier looked angry and harassed, as if he was having a very bad day. It was about to get worse.

The questions came in a torrent but the captain held up a hand for silence before answering any of them. ‘My name is Captain Munro and I am here to give you a short statement. There was a fall of space debris into Oxley Woods last night and the area has been sealed off to protect the public until we have determined it is safe. An unconscious adult male was found in the woods and was brought here for medical treatment. That is all I have to say.’

The questions came again, shouted and screamed by red-faced reporters desperate for more information, for something extra to justify their day trip into the countryside. After a minute the barrage settled down enough for individual questions to be heard.

‘Why can't we see him?’

‘He's under medical care,’ replied Munro.

‘Is that the real reason?’

‘What are your chaps doing here?’

The captain looked weary. ‘I'm sorry, I can't answer questions.’

‘Is there a security risk?’

‘Is it to do with the meteorites that came down last night?’

‘I'm sorry, there's simply nothing I can tell you,’ replied Munro before nodding to the hospital porter standing beside him. The porter began a feeble attempt to push the journalists and cameramen back towards the exit, before all attention turned to the entranceway.

A stiff-backed man in the uniform of a brigadier had entered the reception area to be confronted by the barrage of cameras and questions. Like Captain Munro, he was clad in a neatly pressed mushroom-brown uniform with UNIT insignia prominent on his beret and upper sleeves. The brigadier carried a chestnut wood swagger stick and his black moustache bristled with anger at this media ambush.

‘Can you tell us anything sir?’ asked one reporter.

‘What about?’

‘Is it true there's a man from space in there?’

The brigadier snorted disdainfully. ‘Nonsense. I don't know where you get these stories.’

‘Is there something odd about him?’

‘I know nothing about a man from space,’ he replied evenly.

I decided it was time I got a question in. ‘Then why are you here?’

The brigadier swivelled to size me up, hesitating just a moment before answering. ‘Training exercise.’ He shoved his way through the sea of hacks, followed by a young woman who slipped her way through the crowd almost unnoticed. She worn a brown and tan jacket with matching mini skirt, and her brown hair was pulled into a tight bun atop her head. An assistant, I wondered, or perhaps the brigadier's personal secretary? Yet her eyes were piercing and gleamed with intelligence - this was no mere office typist.

The brigadier dodged a few more questions before slipping through the double doors to go into the hospital itself. The assembled media were left scrabbling around in reception, trading ideas and trying to talk the story up into something significant. Favoured theory was that the mystery man had found one of the meteorites and either been injured by it or else was refusing to reveal its whereabouts to UNIT. Either way, the man with inhuman blood from outer space angle was going to be hard to back up without any solid proof.

Twenty minutes later I spotted the brigadier - identified by a fellow hack as somebody Lethbridge-Stewart - escaping our attentions via a side door and into his staff car, which quickly sped away. It was time to phone the office and report our progress, or lack of it. But the hospital lines were jammed with other reporters, so Tubbs drove me to the nearest pub to use their phone instead. There the bar was full of talk about lay-offs at the nearby plastics factory and how automation was killing British industry. I jammed a finger in my spare ear as I tried to get through to the Chronicle. The chief reporter called us back to the office - much of the story had already been splashed across the front of one of London's afternoon papers, the Evening Standard. Unless I could come up with a new angle, my piece was likely to be buried down the news pages.

A grimy old duffer smelling of liquor and game shuffled up to me in the pub as I finished my phone call. ‘Me name's Seeley, Sam Seeley. You after one of them thunderballs?’

‘You know something about the meteorites?’

‘Maybe, maybe not. I seen ‘em coming down in the woods. ‘Course there's soldiers all over now. I even saw two of ‘em guarding a police box in the middle of the woods, I did.’ He slurred his words, breathing cheap whiskey all over me.

‘Good for you, pops,’ I said, slipping a pound note into his big sweaty palm. ‘You see anything else interesting, you give me a call. My name's Stevens, at the Daily Chronicle.’

‘Right you are...’ he mumbled and headed for the bar. I grabbed my notebook and headed for the parking lot, where Tubbs was waiting impatiently. I persuaded him to try a quick drive to Oxley Woods but we were turned back by more UNIT soldiers. There was nothing more to be found here - it was time to head back to the office and file my copy.

With some careful massaging of what information was available and ‘beefing up’ a few facts from the clippings files to make them more spectacular, I managed to turn the story into a sexy eighteen-paragraph tale of deadly debris from space and sinister cover-up scare-mongering. All perfectly justified by my personal motto: ‘Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.’

The piece was finished by 7 p.m. and by rights I should have gone home, but I couldn't face the prospect of another night listening to Natasha complaining how we never went out any more, how I was working too hard, and how I cared more about the paper than I did about her. I went out drinking with some Chronicle hacks instead and stumbled in around midnight. An attempt at affection was firmly rebuffed so I spent the night alone on the couch.

Next morning I dragged myself into the office to admire my article on the front page, adorned with the headline mystery man maimed by meteors. As always, the subs had gone overboard in stretching the few facts contained in my story and blowing them up even further to create a more enticing story. Alas, Tubbs had not been able to come up with anything to excite the picture desk so my article was buried at the foot of the front page. Respectable but not outstanding, although it did still carry my by-line.

I quickly scanned through the copy and was surprised to find all mentions of UNIT has been excised and replaced with the phrase ‘the authorities’. I asked one of the day sub-editors who had been on the subs bench the night before, what had happened to my story. He said the copy had been rewritten by the Chronicle's editor after the first edition went to press. Apparently the editor had gone down to the compositing room and relaid the text himself, subbing it on the stone just after midnight. I was baffled by this unprecedented piece of senior editorial interference but shrugged it off.

The tabloids had a field day with the story, most picking up the official line that the ‘inhuman’ test results were the product of a junior medical prank gone wrong. ‘alien’ man meteor hoax screamed the Daily Mirror, and the other tabloids were no better. Several illustrated their articles with artists' impressions of what a man with inhuman blood could look like, just to add a surreal note to proceedings.

I was settling down to sort out the mess on my desk which I had abandoned the night before, when the phone rang. I picked it up to hear a rich, deep male voice, tinged with a vaguely European accent that just eluded identification.

‘Mr Stevens? Mr James Stevens?’ asked the voice.


‘I must congratulate you on your article in this morning's paper. Easily the best written, if a trifle liberal with its use of the facts,’ continued the voice smoothly.

‘Who's speaking?’

‘Such a pity you missed out on the whole story. After all the media left I understand there were shots fired at the hospital. Somebody tried to abduct the famous mystery man. I thought you might be interested.’

‘What? Who is this?’ I demanded, hastily scrawling a transcript of the conversation in the spider-like scrawl of my erratic shorthand.

‘Just a friend. We'll talk again very soon, I'm sure,’ replied the caller and hung up. I was already running for the chief reporter's desk. To my amazement, he refused to sign me out a news car.

‘I'm not sending you out for another day in the countryside. Most of the facts in your story you could have got by just using the telephone. Bring me something more and I might reconsider. Until then, use this,’ he smirked, extending a single finger up into the air at me.

Biting my tongue I returned to my desk and worked the phone for the next three hours, calling the Ashbridge Cottage Hospital, trying all the different departments, even calling some of the hospital staff at their homes using criss-cross street directories and electoral roles to track them down. By chance I caught a nurse as she was leaving for her shift. She had seen something but was not sure exactly what.

‘I was touring my ward when I heard some shots outside. I looked out the window to see two of those soldiers chasing an ambulance. I think they were the ones who fired the shots but I can't be sure. I know some other nurses saw something but they were told to keep quiet or else,’ she said nervously.

‘You couldn't tell me their names could you?’ I pleaded.

‘I'm sorry, I really shouldn't have said anything. I've got to go now,’ she replied and hung up abruptly.

A phone call to the nearby Ashbridge Police Station gave no reports of any shooting in the area. ‘Oh no, no shooting round here, sir. The odd poacher might let off a bang every now and then, but that's only natural, isn't it sir?’ said the local constable cheerfully. His voice conjured up the image of a burly but kind-faced bobby, all Dixon of Dock Green and no remission. I almost expected to hear ‘The Laughing Policeman’ playing in the background. ‘We did have a car stolen from the hospital, sir--’


‘But I'm sure it will turn up soon. Probably just some youngsters having a lark, sir.’

The only response - official or otherwise - I could get from the hospital itself was that the mystery patient had discharged himself the previous day and no, they did not have a forwarding address or even a name for him. I slammed the phone down in disgust just as Tubbs wandered up carrying a ten by eight black-and-white photograph.

‘No luck with the maimed meteor mystery man then I gather?’ he asked wryly and got a hard stare in return. ‘Sorry I asked. Anyway, here's one of the pictures I took yesterday. I particularly like the look of this dolly bird who was travelling with the brigadier...’


[View Photo]

I grabbed up the print Tubbs had placed on my desk and stared at it. Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart was pictured standing uncomfortably in the hospital reception area, surrounded by reporters and camera lenses, with his female assistant behind him.

I realised I had been approaching my follow-up story from the wrong angle. The story should not be about the mystery patient, it should be about UNIT. What was this shadowy organisation that everyone knew so little about doing investigating a meteor shower? What powers did UNIT have to cordon areas of public woodland? On whose authority was UNIT apparently able to detain individuals? I muttered my thanks to Tubbs and headed for the reference library to see if I could discover answers to some of these questions.

The reference library is an invaluable resource in any newspaper if run well. Its staff go through each day's papers cutting out stories for filing into manila folders, which are themselves then filed in towering metal cabinets. The same is done with each and every photograph ever published, gradually building up into a library of facts and pictures.

Reference libraries come into their own in stories involving deaths, disasters or famous people. When a famous actor dies, you just have to go to the clippings and pull the file on the dead person to obtain a complete background while hardly lifting a finger. New technology and the advent of the microfiche were slowly turning reference libraries into cold, stark places, but the reference library at the Daily Chronicle was still staffed by a half- dozen women who suffered fools badly.

My talent for ingratiating myself with people stood me in good stead with the librarians so I walked into their domain without the quaking fear many younger male reporters might feel upon entering such an utterly female-dominated section of the building.

I arrived to find the early morning cut and paste session still in progress, so I ventured into the stacks to find the files on UNIT and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart for myself. In the centre of the L-shaped room the librarians were conducting one of their terrifying bitching sessions, as they rated the male staff reporters' sexual magnetism on a scale of one to ten. The chief reporter was a man much loathed in this area and rated a minus two. I hoped I would not still be in the room when they got around to dissecting my sexuality.

After a few minutes searching I uncovered a manila folder marked unit, but discovered it was empty. Trying to avoid calling for assistance too soon, I went into the biog. files and pulled all the folders marked lethbridge-stewart. There were three in all, the first two relating to minor Scottish dignitaries.

The third folder was labelled lethbridge-stewart, alistair gordon, yet it contained nothing bar a hand-written note: ‘See picture files’. This was becoming too involved for me, so it was time to call in the experts. I emerged from the stacks and approached the librarians. They each sat at a large wooden desk turned in to face each other, which created a rectangle of empty space in the middle.

‘Catherine? Catherine, could you help me with something?’

‘Yes, James, what is it now?’ answered Catherine with mock weariness. There had always been an easy friendship between us because Catherine was also from New Zealand. But more than that, there was a spark of sexual tension there as well, as between two people who know they are attracted to each other but circumstances prevent any possibility of consummating that passion.

‘Sorry to be unduly stupid, but why would we have two properly labelled files with nothing actually in them?’ I asked.

‘Probably because we're currently pasting up something to go into those files. What are they called?’

‘"UNIT" and "Lethbridge-Stewart, Alistair Gordon".’

The librarians all made a quick check of the files they were working on that day, but none of them had either in their stacks. ‘Perhaps we haven't had any clippings about either of those topics?’ suggested Catherine hopefully.

‘Then why have the folders at all? There was this note in the Lethbridge-Stewart folder,’ I ventured, handing it to her. She read it and stood up with an exasperated huff. Catherine suffered from rheumatoid arthritis which made long periods of walking difficult, hence her mostly desk-bound job in the reference library.

‘Well, let's see what's in the picture files, shall we?’ she winced and led me into the darkest recesses of the library where tens of thousands of photographs were stored in ageing metal filing cabinets. With practised ease she quickly found the file in question and opened it to discover - nothing. It was just as empty as the other two folders. ‘Now that's just bizarre.’

Catherine consulted with the head librarian but none of the staff could offer a credible explanation, beyond someone having removed the contents of all three files from the archives and never returned them. ‘Tell you what, I'm having lunch today with some of the librarians from the Mirror at the Stab in the Back. Why don't I get them to check their files for you, maybe they can turn something up?’ offered Catherine. ‘The Stab in the Back’ was the hacks' nickname for the pub where all the neighbouring Daily Mirror staff congregated at lunchtime.

‘Thanks - I owe you a drink,’ I murmured and headed back to my desk in the newsroom. There were other stories to do today and wild-goose chases were getting me nowhere. I had almost forgotten all about the missing files when Catherine approached my desk the next morning.

‘Look, James, I'm sorry but I've tried nearly every reference library on the Street and nobody has anything on UNIT or this Lethbridge-Stewart you're after,’ she admitted ruefully.

‘What, nothing at all or empty files like we've got?’

‘Both. But nobody has got anything of any use on either item. Sorry.’ She shrugged. ‘And by the way, my drink is a double gin and tonic.’ It was all forgotten within 36 hours when one of the most infamous terrorist incidents of the 1960s took place.

Black Thursday began with a series of dawn raids by terrorists across Southern England: power supplies were cut to much of Central London; police stations and army barracks were attacked; radio and television networks partially disabled. The perpetrators operated in secret through a series of lightning-fast attacks on frankly unprepared targets.

Dozens of early-rising London citizens were killed or injured in the dawn attacks. Because of the sweeping nature of the raids and the blackout of all communications they brought, details available at the time were very sketchy. It was only days later that the full magnitude of what nearly happened really began to sink in to those in authority. If the attacks had not ceased only an hour after they began, the attempted coup d'état could have succeeded on the same day.

I awoke late on Black Thursday to discover the radio-alarm clock was not working and the power seemed to have been cut off. I managed a grab a shave in the insipid early light of an autumn morning and set off for work in my car. By the time I left the flat the emergency was effectively over, but the streets were still in chaos.

The army centre on the King's Road looked as if a bomb had hit it and as I drove past I could see what appeared to be the bodies of two dead soldiers beneath tarpaulins. Parliament Square was blocked off by armed soldiers toting sub-machine guns, standing behind barricades. I finally got into the office just in time to be sent back out again.

‘Stevens! Thank Christ you made it in at least!’ shouted the chief reporter, for once happy to see me. ‘You've got a car, haven't you? Good. Grab Tubbs and get out to Epping - you should know the way after your little trip in the countryside the other day. We've just heard they've nabbed the terrorists!’

‘What terrorists? What the hell's going on?’ I demanded. The chief reporter just threw me a walkie-talkie radio and pointed to the lift.

‘Get moving, we'll fill you in on the way!’ he barked. We were already five miles from the office when the call to come back crackled through on the walkie-talkie from the office. Apparently the terrorists behind the attacks had been holed up at a plastics factory in the Ashbridge area. But we were called back to the office when the authorities announced no media were being allowed within two miles of the plastics factory. I tried calling some of the local residents to get the inside story but phone lines were down in the area, as they were across much of Greater London. There had apparently been a shoot-out with a team of squaddies who stumbled across the terrorists. Several soldiers were killed, but they managed to rout the terrorists. It was believed the ringleader had managed to escape.

That was the official story, and D-notices were slapped on anyone who tried to publish anything to the contrary. A series of officially approved photographs of the dead terrorists were released and a BBC film crew was allowed to film in certain, carefully designated areas of the plastics factory. Heavy hints were dropped that the Irish Republican Army was thought to be involved, that the Troubles from Northern Ireland were crossing the Irish Sea, bringing a new campaign of terror to the streets of London.

As a cynical hack I never ceased to be amazed at the absolute belief which still existed that everything the Government said must be true. The officially sanctioned story about the terrorists did not hold water but nobody questioned it. Only a dozen bodies were brought out of the plastics factory yet nearly a hundred terrorist attacks had taken place across Southern England within minutes of each other. Where did the other terrorists go? How could such a large-scale operation be planned and carried out without the authorities having any warning?

The actions taken by the so-called terrorists were the classic objectives of any invasion force: cut the power supplies and lines of communications; disable or destroy all pockets of armed resistance in surprise dawn raids; spread fear and chaos in the shortest time possible. Who had tried to invade Britain and why? How was the invasion stopped so quickly?

None of these questions were ever answered or even asked. Instead the official version of events was swallowed whole by a population who did not want its cosy world-view shattered by the brutal realities of what had so nearly taken place.

Meanwhile the media sated the public with stories about plucky Brits bearing up under a crisis, the spirit of Dunkirk, and the Blitz revived quarter of a century on. The papers were filled with stirring human-interest tales of people coming together to help each other out in the time of trouble. Plus there were the usual quirky space fillers about strange happenings in the midst of the carnage. An entire display of mannequins disappeared overnight from Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum, while some patrons claimed they had seen one of the dummies come alive!

At the Chronicle we received at least twenty phone calls on the crank phone from people saying they had seen shop window dummies coming alive. At lease six people claimed to have been attacked by the dummies. We published these claims under the heading black thursday brings mass hysteria, dismissing what these people said as part of a group hallucination brought about by stress. Meanwhile, the leak that the IRA might be responsible was quietly dropped by the authorities and never mentioned again.

In Parliament the usual right-wing rent-a-quote MPs shouted long and hard from the backbenches about reinstating the death penalty for acts of terrorism. The police, the army, and the intelligence ministry C19 promised a full and thorough investigation into what had happened and how normal security systems had broken down. But it would be another eighteen months before anyone was arrested or charged in connection with Black Thursday.

[ Intro Preface | 1 2 3 4 5 | 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 | 22 23 24 | Epilogue April 1996 Postscript 25 August 1971 Afterword ]

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