Anti-terror officer dies 31 years on after being exposed to Brighton bombing asbestos

A former anti-terror officer who was one of the first on the scene of the Brighton bombing in 1984 has died from cancer after inhaling asbestos while sifting through wreckage at the site 31 years ago. Jonathan Woods, a former Metropolitan Police detective, was exposed to asbestos after arriving at the Grand Hotel on October 12, 1984, after a deadly IRA explosion tore the building apart.

Five people died and 39 people were injured when the bomb, planted by the IRA’s Patrick Magee, detonated on the sixth floor – in an attempt to kill the then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Mr Woods was among the first to arrive at the scene and was part of a team of officers who sifted through rubble and debris at the site in a bid to locate any missing persons. After retiring from the police force in 2002, he moved to France with his wife Sharon but was diagnosed with mesothelioma – an incurable lung cancer caused by inhaling asbestos fibres.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral that became a popular building material in the 1950s. Widely used as insulation and a fire-deterrent, it also found its way into products such as ceiling tiles, pipe insulation, boilers, sprayed coatings and garage roof tiles.

Mesothelioma has a very strong association with exposure to asbestos and the disease affects the lining of the lungs. It is almost always fatal, with survival from the point of diagnosis usually just 18 months. Mr Woods, who was in his late 60s, died in a French hospital at the weekend as a result of the incurable lung cancer, according to The Sun.

Prior to his death, he had issued a writ against both the Metropolitan Police and Sussex Police, in which he claimed he was not given sufficient protection when he worked at the bomb blast site.

His family are now understood to be pursuing the case, which could be the first civil suit of its kind. According to research, twice as many people die from asbestos exposure in Britain as are killed on the roads – with men accounting for 80 per cent of cases.

Mesothelioma incidence is also still rising due to the long ‘time lag’ between exposure and the development of the disease – which is typically between 30 and 40 years. Dr John Moore-Gillon, an Honorary Medical Adviser at the British Lung Foundation, said: ‘Asbestos fibres seem to alter the way in which cells multiply and divide.

‘Even a small amount of asbestos exposure – from clothes, for example – is enough.’

A total of five people were killed and 39 were injured when the IRA detonated the deadly bomb at Brighton’s Grand Hotel in 1984 on the eve of the Conservative Party conference.

Sir Anthony Berry, Eric Taylor, 54, chairman of the Conservative party’s north west area, Anne Wakeham, 45, wife of the government chief whip, Jeanne Shattock, 52, wife of the chairman of the party’s western area, and Muriel McLean, 54, wife of the Chairman of the Scottish Conservatives, were killed.

While Mrs Thatcher and her husband Denis were the intended targets, they narrowly escaped injury. Former Tory minister Lord Tebbit, the then trade and industry secretary, was severely injured in the blast and his wife Margaret was left paralysed from the neck down and needing 24-hour care.

Bomber Patrick Magee was given eight life sentences in 1986 for the terror attack but was released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement in 1999 after serving just 13 years.

Fellow IRA members Gerard McDonnell, Peter Sherry, Martina Anderson and Ella O’Dwyer were also sentenced to life for conspiracy to cause explosions.

They were also released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.