Bomb Threat Cancels Top British Horse Race

From Associated Press

Bomb threats canceled Britain’s premier horse race Saturday, chasing 60,000 people from the Grand National grounds and leaving police and soldiers to pick through cars and abandoned bags for signs of explosives.

Princess Anne and actor Gregory Peck, who was celebrating his 81st birthday, were among the crowd at Aintree racetrack, site of the world’s most famous steeplechase. Queen Elizabeth II’s only daughter was quickly ushered to safety.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but Prime Minister John Major and others blamed the Irish Republican Army, which set off two bombs last week and planted two others found Thursday.


Fans had to leave their vehicles behind, stranding many for the night while police checked the 20,000 cars and hundreds of buses at the racetrack for hidden explosives.

A single stableboy was left in charge of the prized horses.

The Grand National was expected to attract a worldwide television audience of 400 million. About $120 million had been wagered on the 38 horses. No new date was set for the 4 1/2-mile race, which has a $400,000 purse.

The evacuation, which began half an hour before the race was to start, went smoothly and there were no injuries. Many fans abandoned tote bags in haste. The race itself was canceled just as it was about to begin.

Police said there were two coded telephone warnings, typical of IRA operations. Once the stands were vacated, they carried out controlled explosions of suspicious packages. No explosives were immediately found.

Security already was tight because of the two bombings last week, which were also near Liverpool. For the first time in the race’s 158-year history, armed police were on duty.

With thousands of vehicles being held for searches, taxi companies were inundated with calls and extra buses were marshaled to take people the six miles into Liverpool. Makeshift accommodations were set up in schools, sports centers and parish halls.


Major said the threats demonstrate the IRA’s “disregard for the lives and interests of ordinary people. The IRA’s campaign is cynical and detestable.”

In Dublin, Irish Prime Minister John Bruton said: “Have the leaders of the republican movement stopped to think how their actions at Aintree will make Irish people all over the world feel this evening?”

The IRA resumed hostilities against British rule of Northern Ireland in February 1996 by detonating a bomb in London that killed two men, and it resumed attacks in the province in October.