Nuclear base under siege

Clashes at Greenham Common

April 1: Anti-nuclear campaigners formed a 14-mile human chain around the American cruise-missile base at Greenham Common. The base had become a focus for protest ever since the United States and the Thatcher government agreed to station the missiles in the UK.

Cruise was deployed in the bitterest days of the Cold War in response to the Soviet Union siting a new generation of highly accurate medium-range nuclear missiles in East Germany.

As both sides raised the nuclear stakes, Whitehall reissued the civil defence document, Protect and Survive. In the event of nuclear war, householders were urged to create a "refuge" deep inside their homes and cover the windows with silver foil to reflect the H-bomb blast.

At Greenham a women-only peace camp sprang up and remained even after 1988 when the Americans announced that agreement had been reached with Moscow and the missiles would be withdrawn.

Cruise missiles, guided at low level by a satellite-guided computer which could "read" the terrain, were accurate to a matter of feet over a range of hundreds of miles. Withdrawn from Greenham, they were stripped of their nuclear warheads, fitted with high-explosives and went straight into the front line of America's war machine. In 1991 the cruise missiles that had caused such a furore in Britain dealt the first blows against Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War.

September 1. A Boeing 747 carrying 269 passengers and crew from New York strayed into Soviet air space off Sakhalin Island and was shot down by a Soviet fighter. There were no survivors. As the Cold War world watched in disbelief, Russia claimed that the airliner had been on a spying mission. President Reagan condemned the incident as "a barbaric act."

October 25. Britain's "special relationship" with the United States was put under strain when US Marines invaded the Commonwealth island of Grenada. Britain had been given no advance warning of the invasion which followed a Cuban-backed coup on October 12 in which the prime minister, Maurice Bishop, and his Cabinet were slaughtered.

The fighting was one-sided. A US airborne division, allegedly acting to protect US civilians on the island, quickly overcame resistance from armed irregulars. Despite media protests, the US forces kept all press and television out of Grenada until the operation was completed. Even so, the folks back home learned that 47 patients in a mental hospital had died in a mistaken US attack. Seventeen Americans died in the invasion.

October 4. Following in a fine British tradition, Richard Noble claimed a new world land-speed record for the UK. His jet-powered car hit 633mph in Black Rock Desert, Nevada. In the year ahead Noble would gradually refine his machines until, in 1998, his design smashed the sound barrier, leaving rivals from America, and the rest of the world, far behind.

February 9. Shergar, the champion racehorse and winner of the 1981 Derby event was kidnapped by armed intruders at his stables in Ireland. A £2 million ransom was demanded but despite a massive police search, the horse was never seen again.


In brief

January 17. The wearing of seatbelts became compulsory in Britain after a long "clunk-click" campaign.

May 16. London police began using a new device to deter illegal parking. The wheel clamp had arrived.

June 9. The Conservatives won the General Election with a landslide majority, taking 397 seats to Labour's 209.

September 3. Widespread flooding in the West Midlands as Britain was battered by storms.

September 30. Seven men and youths were convicted in the Wolverhampton "Subway Army" trial following a big gang fight in the town.

October 2. Neil Kinnock was elected leader of the Labour Party.

October 25. Without a word to Britain. US forces invaded the Commonwealth country of Grenada.

November 2. Furious theatregoers complained that free tickets for an Andy Williams concert at the Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton were "snapped up" by local councillors and businessmen.

November 16. West Midlands Chief Constable Sir Philip Knights was condemned by his own police committee for failing to act against Special Branch officers who wrongly investigated a local peace campaigner.

November 29. Families in Horseley Fields, Wolverhampton, complained that prostitutes were turning the area into "a den of vice."

December 17. Six are killed in a huge IRA bomb blast outside Harrods in London.

December 25. The IRA mark Christmas Day with a bomb in Oxford Street.