Liverpool City Police

Grand National 1997 by John Edwards Retd.


The Grand National is the greatest race for horses in the world no doubt because of the danger and daring involved in the challenge of riding the famous Aintree course with its fearsome fences. Life is not free of risk. There is sadness when horses die after falling but if we abandon all activity that involves adventure, danger or risk we would never attempt anything.

It was after I retired from the Merseyside Police that I became a Blue Badge Tourist Guide. I also undertook the role of Coach Tour Manager and as such I went to a hotel in Manchester on a Saturday morning. I was to collect people from all over the country and to take them by coach to the Grand National at Aintree. At the hotel, a young English woman and her male companion, a foreigner, asked me for confirmation that in attending the race meeting they would be returned in the coach to reach Manchester by 4.30pm as they had a flight to catch. I told them that the itinerary for the day was that the coach would not leave the racecourse until after the last race and the coach would not return to Manchester until about 7.30pm. She became very irate and told me that the travel agents in Manchester had informed her that the coach would convey them back to Manchester by 4.30pm. She insisted that this should be done. She would not accept that neither the driver of the coach nor the passengers would agree to leave Aintree before the Grand National and the last race had taken place. Fortunately, the travel agents were near to the hotel and I advised her to go and cancel their booking and ask for a refund. She returned soon after stating that the travel agents had admitted their error about the timing and they would pay for a taxi to convey them from Liverpool to Manchester as soon as the Grand National race had taken place.
On arriving inside the racecourse my responsibility towards the coach and passengers ended. However, I learnt that the couple had a suitcase in the luggage compartment of the coach and the driver told them he would not be returning to the coach until 6.opm so they would have to take the suitcase with them.. The suitcase was large and heavy and lugging it around Aintree was quite burdensome. I went to them and told them to come with me and I took them to the Police Office in the racecourse. There I told the woman police officer of the couple‘s predicament and asked her could she accept the suitcase as “found property” until it was collected after the Grand National had run but she refused. It was then that a Police Inspector walked into the office that recognised me. He asked me what was the matter and when I told him he told the WPC to accept the suitcase.
The next task was to telephone a Liverpool taxi firm that the couple had been told to contact to get them back to Manchester. I accompanied them and waited for some time in a large queue at the telephone booths on the course. I arranged with the firm to have the taxi waiting on the road outside the main entrance of the racecourse at 4.30pm. So I bade farewell to the couple and expecting a word of thanks for going out of my way to help them all she said was “Well, at least, it was not your fault over the booking”. I then made my way to the stands and shortly afterwards it happened!.

It was at 3.18pm and the date was the 5th April 1997. An announcement was made over the racecourse public address system for everyone to vacate the area of the stands and go to the middle of the racecourse. There was no exception and the evacuation resulted in 100 horses being left without their carers. 60,000 race goers streamed from the stands and for a moment I saw the couple making their way to the centre then I lost sight of them in the milling crowd.
The cause of the evacuation was that the Provincial I.R.A., using the recognized code word, had phoned the police of a bomb threat within the racecourse. Two controlled explosions were carried out at the course but it was decided the phone call was a hoax. The Grand National meeting was abandoned. People were allowed to leave the course but coaches, cars and property were not allowed to be removed until the following day. 20,000 people were left without their transport and unable to get to their property. Numerous local residents opened their homes to those stranded and offered them a bed for the night.

There are a few unanswered questions regarding the events of the day. Did the couple get to Manchester that Saturday and in the taxi that had been arranged?. It is hardly likely as they exited on the other side of the racecourse and they would not be aware of their whereabouts. They may have telephoned the taxi firm if they had found a public telephone and which did not have a large queue that evening. Did they claim their suitcase from the police or was their suitcase subject to one of the two controlled explosions?. Whether it was or not did the receiving of the suitcase by the Police Inspector as “found property” cause him some embarrassment because of the bomb hoax. If so then I offer him my sincere apology.

John Edwards, August 2012

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