Remembering the attack on the Admiral Duncan
David Morley – who was known as Cinders – was a manager of Soho’s Admiral Duncan pub, 20 years ago when the nail bomb exploded killing three and injuring 79, many seriously. Cinders was 33 at the time. The bomb was planted by a self-confessed Nazi, who terrorised London over a six-day period. As well as the attack on the Admiral Duncan, he had also detonated bombs in Brixton and Brick Lane – targeting the British Black, Bangladeshi and LGBTQ+ communities. His goal was to divide London.
Much-loved Cinders, originally from the West Midlands, survived the bombing of the Admiral Duncan only to be murdered a few years later by a gang of homophobic teenagers.
“Camp as tits, razor-sharp wit, and a loving and serious soul. As coordinator of the Disaster Appeal I once asked him if there’s anything he needs – ‘No,’ he said, ‘give the money to someone who really needs it.’ He paused, ‘unless you’ve got Brad Pitt’s number!’” remembers Dominic Brant.
Speaking to Gay Times after the 1999 bomb, Morley described how he thought he was dead following the blast. “Everything went yellow, and I thought – do I live or do I die?”
He suffered burns and was traumatised, yet he wanted to continue working at the pub, knowing perhaps it would become a community hub and he was a familiar face at a time of so much prejudice. It was also just when we were getting used to the fact that fewer people were dying of AIDS-related illnesses after the miracle drugs of 1996.
Gregory Woods, former Professor of gay and lesbian studies reminds us “Street cleaners working for Onyx, the cleaning contractors for Westminster Council, refused to clean up Old Compton Street after the explosion. The company complained that its protective clothing didn’t provide sufficient protection against HIV transmission”.
Cinders took it upon himself to visit those injured more than him, for weeks after the blast. A week after the bar reopened, he opened the door to a group of Asian teenagers who had brought a sympathy card from families in Brick Lane. He burst into tears. There was hope after all.
Gregory Woods continues: “One of the most shocking things about the Admiral Duncan bombing was the inability of the press to report it properly. They simply didn’t appear to have an adequate vocabulary. You would think that most British journalists had never heard of a ‘gay bar’ or of ‘homophobia’. Not until paragraph five of its report did the Mail on Sunday mention that the Admiral Duncan was ‘a favourite spot for gay people’ and not once did it mention that any gay man was even injured, let alone killed.”
In 2004, beaten so savagely that his spleen was ruptured and several ribs were fractured, David Morley, now just 37 years old, died hours after being set upon by a gang of teenagers – four boys and two girls. They had already carried out a spate of assaults near the Royal Festival Hall, on the Southbank in Central London, in the early hours of a Saturday morning.
In December 2005, four youths were found guilty of Morley’s manslaughter. Chelsea O’Mahoney (aged fourteen at the time of the incident) was sentenced to an 8-year custodial sentence. Her co-defendants Reece Sargeant (21), Darren Case (18) and David Blenman (17), all from Kennington South London were sentenced to 12 years each.
This sad and cruel loss reminds us all of the homophobia of the time and how much we have fought back. As a group of people who have had so much abuse thrown at us, we must remember our collective and often tragic past in order to understand where we are today.
Twenty years on and 15 since the murder of Cinders, we still cannot be complacent. We are again under threat of attack by the rise of the far right around the world as well as from extreme religious communities. There can be zero tolerance of homophobia in 2019 and beyond.