Samantha Thompson has told of the horrific moment her world was shattered by an IRA bomb that killed a little boy she was looking after.
The babysitter was just 13 when cowardly terrorists attacked a crowded Warrington shopping street with twin blasts in an atrocity 25 years ago that no one has been charged over.
And Samantha revealed how she and her “nosy” pals innocently headed towards the second explosion after hearing the first – believing it was something heavy falling off a lorry.
She was looking after three-year-old Johnathan Ball and holding his hand when a bomb in a cast-iron bin they were standing next to in Bridge Street went off, killing the boy and leaving her body riddled with shrapnel.
Despite her own horrendous injuries, Samantha bravely dragged Johnathan from the scene to a doorway for shelter – but nothing could be done to save him.
For 25 years she has kept her horrific experiences bottled up in a bid to blot out her painful memories, but she finally spoke out after an anniversary service to mark the blast that also killed Tim Parry, 12, and injured 54 others.
The mum of two also pleaded with police to reinvestigate the bombing in an effort to bring the murderers to justice.
Speaking of how the shopping trip in Bridge Street for her mum on March 20, 1993, turned to disaster, the 38-year-old said: “It is as clear as ever. As if it was yesterday.
“I was with my friend with her little sister. Her little sister’s shoe fell off so she stopped, otherwise she would have been with us. Me and Johnathan continued to run into Bridge Street.
“I did not know what it was. I can’t remember anyone running away.
“I thought it [the explosion] sounded like a big piece of sheet metal, falling from a lorry. We stood alongside the bin, just looking up the street, and it went off. Johnathan was still holding my hand.
“I will never forget the smell. It was like lighting a match, a burning smell. I can’t remember hearing anything, other than the blast. My instinct took over, I just got my hands under his armpits and dragged him into a shop doorway.
“I did not have a clue I was hurt. A man appeared and he was a godsend. He just kept saying, ‘What’s your home number?’ We did not have mobiles.
“He rolled Johnathan over and I remember him saying, ‘He is gone.’ His little eyes were half shut. And I passed out. That is the last time I saw him.”
Samantha was taken to hospital where she had a string of operations to remove chunks of shrapnel from her stomach and legs and woke days later, surrounded by her family.
She added: “I asked my mum where Johnathan was and although I knew, she said, ‘Don’t worry, he is just down the corridor.’ But I knew in my heart of hearts he had died.”
Samantha is disappointed no one has ever been held to account for the bombings and hopes speaking out may prompt people to come forward with information police can follow up.
She said: “Yes, I do feel strongly about that. I don’t think I am angry. It is just very sad no one has ever been brought to justice and all these years have passed.
“Hopefully, one day they will get somebody for it, I would like to think so.”
Warrington North Labour MP Helen Jones has backed Samantha’s call for the criminal investigation, which closed in 1995, to be reopened.
She said: “I would certainly support the police looking at this again with a view to establishing whether there are further lines of enquiry that might be pursued.”
Samantha, who was given a child of courage award for her bravery, was left psychologically damaged by the blasts, and would not talk about her experience.
But after a 25th anniversary memorial service for the victims last month – which she attended with fiance Peter Walsh, 37 – she broke down and decided it was time to tell all. Samantha said of the months after the attack and added: “I was just really quiet and I found it hard to communicate with anyone.
“I had to do a statement for the police in hospital, it must have been five or six days later. I was just a young girl, it was very overwhelming and scary. I did not want to see anybody. I could not face it.
“I missed 12 months of school and I became a little recluse.
“All I wanted was my mum and dad. I could not face speaking to anyone or dealing with anyone. Counselling was suggested but I couldn’t.
“I could not talk about it to my family. I just needed their love. My mum and dad never tried to speak about it either.
“In a way I just wanted to feel as though it hadn’t happened. I just totally put it in a box. I did not want to open it.” Samantha, who was a family friend of Johnathan’s parents Wilf Ball and Marie Comerford before becoming his babysitter, also at times blamed herself for the youngster’s death.
She added: “I was Johnathan’s security and had taken him into town that day.” But Wilf and Marie, who have since both died, assured her she was not responsible and the only people to blame were the heartless terrorists who planted the bombs.
The IRA admitted responsibility for the attack but it has since been suggested it may have been the work of an unauthorised “rogue” unit.
Brian Baister, former Assistant Chief Constable of Cheshire Police who led the investigation into the bombings, revealed the only CCTV image officers have is of one of the bomber’s hands placing a device in a bin.
A force spokesman said of the call to reopen the case: “Cheshire Police carried out a comprehensive, thorough and professional investigation into the Bridge Street bombings of 1993.
“A dedicated team of detectives followed hundreds of lines of enquiry over a considerable period.
“No one has been convicted in relation to the Bridge Street bombings. Cheshire Police has not currently got any active lines of enquiry.
“The case remains unsolved and if any information is received then we would follow the same process as with any other unsolved case and this information would be reviewed.”
Samantha, who has a son Taylor, 18, and daughter Beatrice, four, and still lives in Warrington, will clearly never forget little Johnathan. She paid tribute to the tragic youngster, who would now be in his late 20s.
She said: “He was lovely. He was really good, he did as he was told, he would hold my hand, he was just a lovely happy boy. A little bit cheeky, but aren’t they all?”
And Samantha told how she felt a “guardian angel” pin badge she bought her mum as a Mother’s Day gift on that fateful day, helped her survive, despite being so close to the bomb.
She added: “It was my angel that day. It saved my life.”
- Samantha has not been paid for this article but the Mirror has agreed to make a donation to the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Peace Foundation in Warrington.
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