Death of an Expressman

My friend was murdered by my boss’s mates in the IRA
Philip Geddes was killed in the Harrods bombing in 1983; now I learn that Roy Greenslade was an active supporter of the terrorist group

From the Daily Telegraph, 6th March, 2021


I can still picture the anguish on my grandmother’s face as she recounted the pain suffered by Mike Geddes and his wife at the loss of their only child, Philip.

It was 1983. I was back home in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, for Christmas. The Harrods bomb had exploded on December 17, killing six people, including Philip Geddes, 24, a journalist on The Daily Express. He’d been doing his Christmas shopping with Jane, his girlfriend, while a police unit examined a car parked in neighbouring Hans Crescent. A confused warning had been delivered to the Press Association 37 minutes previously.

The keen, inquisitive journalist that he was, Philip wanted to see what the police were doing.

The second-hand car had earlier been pushed into a pre-booked parking bay by members of the IRA.

My gran knew his dad well and with tears rolling down her face she told me: “Mike said they found part of Philip’s body on the roof.” He’d died along with the three police officers inspecting the vehicle, an American tourist, and a young mother. In all, 90 people were injured.

Ours was a small town. Philip and I went to the local state grammar. He was gentle and funny and always looked smart; his jackets and trousers specially made for him by his dad, a gregarious character known locally as Mike the Tailor.

When the police came to the shop with the dreadful news, Mike was making two suits for him, for Christmas. Philip’s parents never recovered. If it’s possible to die of a broken heart, Mike did just that.

I too became a journalist, joining the Sunday Times, where one of my bosses was Roy Greenslade. I was on the Insight team, the paper’s investigations unit. He was head of news. He knew everything that was going on.

Now I learn from Greenslade that he was an active supporter of the IRA. A few years before I started answering to Roy, my pal’s life was ended by his mates. And not just Philip’s, but effectively his parents’ too, and all those murdered down the decades and their stricken relatives.

Greenslade was goading on the IRA when I was working for him, make no mistake. He first became involved in Republican causes in 1972 after the Bloody Sunday shootings. By his own account, published at the weekend: “I continued to keep my views on the IRA to myself. However much I believed its tactics to be valid, I could not hope to convince colleagues that the killing of civilians, albeit by accident, was justifiable.”

My boss believed the killing of my school friend was justifiable. But I’m also struggling with Greenslade’s use of the word “accident”. If you park a car filled with explosives outside a department store crowded with Christmas shoppers, and you give a vague warning and not enough time for the building and side streets to be emptied, and it detonates, the likelihood is that you will kill civilians. Is that an accident, Roy?

I counted Greenslade as a friend. For a period, I even employed him as a weekly columnist when I was editor of the Evening Standard’s City pages.

I also assisted with the awarding of the annual Philip Geddes Memorial Prize at Philip’s university at Oxford, to encourage budding journalists. I would always recommend they went on to City University’s graduate journalism course. They would do well, I said, to learn from my former colleague there, Roy Greenslade, the professor of journalism.

What puzzles me, apart from how could he, is what did Greenslade get up to? I went on to become editor of The Independent and I am aware that with the post of national newspaper editor comes briefings from government, from the heads of the security services. Greenslade would have been party to those. He would have been across, too, what his reporters were doing, what leads they were chasing.

I’ve no doubt that Philip Geddes would have gone on to be an outstanding journalist, but for the fact he was killed “by accident”. I used to regard Roy Greenslade as an outstanding journalist, but not any longer.

ASHLEY WALTON writes: Chris was right, Philip Geddes would have gone on to be an outstanding journalist.  He was a delightful man and good friend when I worked a brief spell In Hickey.  A small group of us went to Philip's funeral in Cumbria, a day none of us would ever forget.  

© 2005-2022 Alastair McIntyre