On the 8th March 1973, a car bomb exploded outside the Old Bailey criminal court – part of a sustained campaign of violence on the British mainland by the provisional IRA. Around two hundred people were injured. Ten people were later arrested, among them three young women, two of whom, Marion and Delours Price, were sisters.
The group were moved to HMP Brixton – the remand prison for London – and soon became known as the ‘Belfast Ten’. Marion and Delours immediately went on hunger strike in a campaign to be moved to a prison in Northern Ireland.
The sisters later said they had been sustained by the hunger strike of Terence MacSwiney – the Lord Mayor of Cork – who had died in Brixton in 1920 after 74 days of refusing food. The authorities had no intention of allowing similar political deaths. In December 1973 the force-feeding of Marion and Delours began.
The hunger-strike by the Price sisters lasted over two hundred days and is detailed in the governor’s diary. Though traditionally a dispassionate document, the governor, Basil Wigginton, appears to show compassion for their suffering, and some respect, if not for their beliefs, then for their resolve. This against a backdrop of continual threats to the prison and his staff.
8 people were eventually convicted of the bombings, including Marion and Delours.
8/3/73 A bomb exploded from a car parked in the street outside the Old Bailey at about 15.05. Considerable damage was done to property and many people, perhaps as many as 200 were injured.
13/3/73 We received 7 “IRA Bombers”, all male and they were located on D Wing.
15/3/13 We received 3 females today; they are located on the top floor in D Wing, after considerable alterations to the fabric. Special locks, screens and flooring made the rooms quite separate from the men.
7/4/73 A group of about 30 people held a demonstration outside the prison in support of the prisoners held on charges concerning various bombing incidents in London. One of many similar placards read: Free the Belfast Ten! The situation was controlled by the police and there was no untoward incident.
14/4/73 There was about 20 people assembled at the end of Jebb Avenue in support of the ‘Belfast Ten’. The demonstration was without incident.
20/5/73 Demonstration held outside the side of the Prison in Lyham road by supporters of the so-called “Belfast Ten Defence Committee”. About 250 people attended, police provided cover, usual speeches, songs and chanting outside, no trouble inside, only a few cat-calls and some ribald humour.
3/12/73 Dolours Price was “force-fed” for the first time.
5/12/73 Marian Price was ‘force-fed’ for the first time.
18/12/73 The IRA had a day of bombing in London. Amongst other targets, Pentonville Officers’ Club was treated to a “car bomb”. Brixton was alerted and warned, but no incident followed here.
16/1/74 A bomb scare from an “Irish voice” over the telephone proved to be another hoax.
19/1/14 About 100 demonstrators held an occasion in Jebb Avenue. The IRA usual weekly celebration.
2/2/74 One of the “Price Sisters” – i.e. Marian celebrated her 20th Birthday. The supporters of the IRA held a demonstration in Jebb Avenue.
8/2/74 A small demonstration was held by women outside the prison. They were protesting against the forced feeding of the Price sisters.
9/2/74 The demonstration now comprising three women, continued.
10/2/74 The demonstration swelled to about 40 or 50 marched round the prison and then dispersed.
20/5/74 I informed P3 of the difficult situation in regard to the Price sisters. A series of difficult feeds had taken place and on Saturday Marian’s life was in some danger because of her resistance. They were not fed on Sunday. Staff are not happy about resuming even when the girls weaken. Following discussion with B. I have told P3 that it may be that forcible feeding is no longer a viable alternative and that some other solution will have to be found.
24/5/74 An estimated number of people (about 50 plus) demonstrated in Jebb Avenue about the condition of the Price sisters.
25/5/74 I met the POA today to discuss the possibility of escalating violence amongst the demonstrators on Jebb Avenue. The staff are anxious that these people may get out of hand due to the presence of insufficient police. They asked if they would be allowed to form a group amongst themselves, who were willing to protect their property. After seeking advice from Brixton Police Station I was able to inform the POA that under common law they could protect their property against intruders but warned them against using violence.
26/5/74 The Price sisters continue their hunger strike and seem determined to continue for some time yet.
28/5/74 The Minister of State, Dr Shirley Summerskill visited and talked to the Price sisters for 50 minutes. These girls are now in an appalling state. They are so weak they can hardly walk and, staying in bed as they are required to do, have much pain from their enforced lying down. An electric “pulse” blanket has been supplied to prevent the formation of bed sores. Members of staff and their families live in fear of being attacked and killed by IRA gangsters. No protection has been offered by police and our appeals for help have gone unheeded. Nobody wants to know.
1/6/74 At 3.50pm I handed the Price sisters a copy of a statement issued by the Home Secretary to the press. It had been delivered to the Prison by special messenger. I discussed its contents with the sisters. They said it contained nothing new and their position remained the same.
6/6/74 Lord Brockway, Mr Jock Stallard MP and Mr Devlin MP visited the Price Sisters in an effort to persuade them to give up their “hunger strike”. They brought a special message from the Home Secretary.
7/6/74 Following further discussion a visit from Mr and Mrs Price and a telephone conversation between the Price sisters and Kelly at Scrubs and Feeney at Gartree, the sisters ended their hunger strike at almost 18.10 hours and had coffee and biscuits.
22/11/74 Following the bombing of 2 pubs in Birmingham by the IRA, and the subsequent death of 19 people there, a great deal of feeling and emotion has been worked up in A Wing Security Unit. It was found necessary to separate the 12 men on charges of IRA violence there, and to ensure that they did not come into contact with our more normal criminals. It is possible the anti-IRA feeling will have died down by early next week, and normal routine can be resumed.
28/11/74 The Price Sisters were informed that the Secretary of State was not now in a position to return them to N. Ireland before the end of the year due to the great outbreak of violence and deterioration in the security situation. They were given the message at 3pm by the Governor – B D Wigginton. The girls immediately declared they were on “hunger-strike”.
29/11/74 On the instructions of the Regional Director, all the male Irish prisoners on remand were separated from other cat A prisoners and located on A3. This was done to avoid any possible confrontation.
30/11/74 Following a visit from their father the Price sisters terminated their hunger strike and took light refreshment.
15/12/74 The Price Sisters were despatched under heavy escort to Durham prison. they were most courteous on being told of the move and did everything possible to help.