Two days after the bombing, the ‘Derry Journal’ of Friday, September 2, 1988 reported how Mr. Dalton and Mrs. Lewis had gone to check on a neighbour they had not seen for a few days when the tragic events unfolded.
The contemporary reports in the paper state that the bomb “virtually demolished the flat.”
Eyewitnesses at the scene told how they had heard a loud bang and then saw the roof of the flat collapse.
Local people had searched frantically through the rubble and began digging to reach those killed and injured.
Shocked neighbours described Mr. Dalton as a popular figure who was well known through his former job as a taxi driver, and also spoke of how the father-of-six’s wife had passed away five weeks earlier.
Mrs. Lewis, who was widowed, was also well liked in the area, the neighbours said, and was a very caring woman who was involved in voluntary work.
It transpired shortly after the explosion that the IRA had abducted the man who had lived in the flat after he refused to heed a warning to leave the city over alleged criminality. That man was released by the IRA after the tragedy.
The IRA said the bomb had been intended for a British Army patrol and that although the operation was carefully planned it went “tragically wrong”. The IRA claimed the flat had been under 24 hours surveillance to ensure that “no one - apart from crown forces - would go near it”.
They said in their statement that they had turned people away from the flat on three occasions, but that when the British Army did not approach the flat during their patrol, they decided to remove the bobby trap. “In the course of securing the area against the possibility of underground soldiers coming on the scene, a volunteer - whose responsibility it was to monitor - left his position for a period of 25 minutes,” they said.
It was during this period, the statement claimed, that the civilian neighbours arrived at the flat and the tragic events unfolded. “This time we failed and we accept the consequences and criticism of that failure,” the IRA statement added.
The IRA came under fierce criticism from public representatives at the time.
The then SDLP leader John Hume said: “The cruel loss felt by the families and friends of the victims shows once again that such violence only brings suffering to the ordinary people of this country, contrary to the IRA’s presentation of their campaign.”
Meanwhile, the then Mayor of Derry, SDLP Councillor Anna Gallagher said: “I hope and pray this will be the last time innocent people will lose their lives, but my experience over the years tells me otherwise.”