On this day in history : 6th December 1975 – The Balcombe Street Siege in London begins – when the IRA take a couple hostage after a gun battle and car chase – and it unfolds live on TV and is watched by millions….

The 4 IRA gunmen, who were on the run from the police, forced their way into the flat of husband and wife John and Sheila Matthews in Central London…. Police sealed off the area around Balcombe Street and Dorset Square in Marylebone and a mobile police headquarters was brought in….

The gunmen had been cornered by police after they had attacked a Mayfair restaurant but had managed to make it to their Ford Cortina getaway car…. They opened fire on the police from the car and a chase followed through the busy West End traffic to Marylebone…. The gang abandoned their car and ran down Balcombe Street and burst into a five-storey block of flats…. Sheila Matthews opened her flat door to see what all the commotion was and it was then that the gunmen forced their way passed her and in….

‘Scott’s’ in 2005 – The Mayfair restaurant the gang had originally attacked – Image credit : Oast House Archive CC BY-SA 2.0

The siege lasted for six days; the gang demanded safe passage to Ireland but the police were adamant that there was no deal to be made…. Initially negotiations were carried out by telephone but the gunmen broke this link by throwing the phone out of a window…. The police had to resort to using a loudhailer – eventually the gang asked for the phone to be reinstated; it was the first sign that they were cracking…. Finally the gunmen, Martin O’Connell, Edward Butler, Harry Duggan and Hugh Doherty – who became known as The Balcombe Street Gang – surrendered…. They were all sentenced to life imprisonment – but later released as part of the Good Friday Agreement….

Balcombe Street. Marylebone as it is now – Image credit : Oxyman CC BY-SA 2.0

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