The Road To Balcombe Street

by msecadm4921

Author: Dr Steven P Moysey


Review date: 28/11/2023

No of pages: 0

Publisher: Haworth Press

Publisher URL:

Year of publication: 11/09/2012


While it’s a page-turner as gripping as any thriller novel, what’s striking about a telling of the run-up to a IRA hostage drama in London is how much ofthe story is absolutely relevant to a security man’s work today.

The book’s title is justified because a good first half or more of the book is given over to the ASU (Activve Service Unit) in London, and the run-up (literally) to the siege in the flat at 22 Balcombe Street, Marylebone. Some sides of the story do seem almost, in Moysey’s words, ‘quaintly old-fashioned’. Two intriguing threads are the Met’s use of the media, to get messages across to the hostage-takers; and the negotiation tactics of Chief Supt Jim Nevil and Det Supt (now Lord) Peter Imbert who took shifts to talk to the terrorists by field telephone or loud-hailer. While Moysey cannot say – there isn’t the terrorists’ side of the story – the media, carefully used by the Met, may have convinced the terrorists to give in. The six-day siege saw an emotional TV interview with one of the hostage’s relatives, and another TV interview with a senior police officer that in effect warned the terrorists that the SAS might go in. Incidentally one significant part of the negotiation was use of words – for instance negotiators avoided using the word ‘surrender’, to avoid angering the hostage-takers. Moysey reports: “The siege had been a new experience for the Met, who at times found themselves improvising tactics and strategy as events unfolded … They had learned valuable lessons in hostage situation containment, and negotiation, and would begin to formally integrate these nuggets of information into training for negotiators and first responders …” Indeed, in many ways – a psychiatrist advising the negotiators in the background, use of audio and video surveillance devices, the intense media interest – the 1975 siege feels very modern, even if the characters’ clothes are not. And counter-terrorism talk since 9-11 has been to contrast the ‘old days’ of the IRA limiting casualties with al-Qeada not caring how many innocents die. The 1974-5 IRA terror in London simply doesn’t read that way, with the ‘wrong’ people (that is, not those intended) being killed by car bombs, and targets including pubs, clubs and hotels, shops and offices, besides specific high-profile targets such as politicians and indeed police.

Instead of IRA terrorists who, while tough killers, were in the end reasonable enough to come out with their hands up, 21st century suicide bombers blow themselves up or fly hostages and themselves into skyscrapers; and cut-throats put footage of the people they kill on the internet. More proof that it was a bygone era: the Balcombe Street terrorists were let free in 1999 as part of the Good Friday Agreement. A final chapter titled ‘Observations’ covers principles of containing, controlling and collecting information about the scene, and giving and taking concessions. Each scenario is different, whether a thief after a bungled robbery or a political fanatic. The stakes though are always life and death. It is, in the end, a human story, of patience and bravery. Lord Imbert and the then Insp John Purnell (now retired from Tesco, and deputy lord lieutenant of London, and one of those who received the George Medal from the Queen for bravery) are thanked by author for showing the locale and talking over the events in London.

About the author: Dr Steven P Moysey is a UK-born pyshologist who lives in the United States.


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