Tragedy on the M62

These days, Hartshead Moor service station is a welcome sight for tired and hungry motorists on the M62 looking for a place to stop. But back in 1974 it was the scene of tragedy as the IRA’s bombing campaign came to West Yorkshire with a vengeance…

It was February 4th 1974 when Hartshead Moor went from being just another rest-stop on the M62 to a makeshift hospital and temporary base for the investigation into one of the IRA’s worst mainland terror attacks.

Soldiers and their families had been heading back to Catterick Garrison from Manchester on a coach over the Pennines. Just after midnight, a bomb which had been hidden in the luggage compartment exploded near Hartshead Moor, tearing apart the back of the coach and killing twelve people. The explosion is said to have shaken buildings over half a mile away.

David Dendeck, a survivor of the M62 coach bombing, says his memories of that night over thirty years ago are still vivid: “I didn’t hear any bang, it just happened so quickly. I just thought it was a dream, I just thought I’d fallen asleep into a bad dream and I just kept on shaking my head and trying to come round. Then, I found out it was real. I was just under all this metal. There was blood coming in my eyes…It was dark and there were people screaming and running up the verge on the grass. I could hear my sister on the other side of the coach shouting for me.”

I just kept on shaking my head and trying to come round. Then, I found out it was real…

David Dendeck, M62 bombing survivor

One of the first people on the scene after the bomb had gone off was motorist John Clark. He says what he saw that night was never to be forgotten: “It was just absolutely unbelievable. The smell…was what upset me really. It was dark so you couldn’t see how bad the injuries really were, but it was the smell of it. It was absolutely total carnage.”

Just months into starting work at Hartshead Moor, Ronnie Neild was at the service station on the day after the bombing. He says the ordinary hustle and bustle there was replaced by shocking scenes: “The injured were brought to Hartshead as a place of first aid, to get them away from where the bombing had taken place. It was a holding station, really, treating them here till they could get them quickly to hospital. Everything seemed so dull and sombre. There was disbelief that it had happened. It was incredible. For the next few days you were cautious, you were looking at people sideways. It was a very uneasy feeling indeed.”

Over three decades on from the bombing, there’s still a reminder at Hartshead Moor of that terrible night. A memorial on the wall of the westbound service area remembers its victims. Jenny Berry, who has worked there since 1979, says one group of names on the plaque always catches her eye: “It looks as though there’s a whole family who lost their lives there, including two children. There’s one aged two and one aged five…Twenty nine is the oldest on there, going right down to the two children which is quite sad.”

A 25-year old Stockport woman, Judith Ward, was convicted of murdering the twelve people who died in the M62 coach bombing, but in 1992 the conviction was quashed. Judith Ward was released from prison and no one has been charged with the bombing since. Under the terms of the Good Friday peace agreement in Northern Ireland, it is thought unlikely that anyone ever will be.