Friday, July 11, 2008

The 1984 Wellington Trades Hall bombing - victim Ernie Abbott 'in the wrong place at the wrong time'...

There have been two unsolved murders in New Zealand during the last fifty years or so that have both interested and intrigued me. The first was the 1962 parcel bombing of barrister, James Patrick Ward, in Dunedin which I have posted about previously, and that of poor old Ernie Abbott the cleaner who was 'in the wrong place at the wrong time' when the bomb went off in the Wellington Trades Hall on March 27 1984.

1984 was of course the end of Robert David Muldoon, better or infamously known, depending on your political point of view, as Rob Muldoon - New Zealand prime minister and would be despot, who unwisely called an early election after a bout on the booze. That was his greatest achievement; subsequently he and his government were trounced in a landside by David Lange and his new government. That was another story!

Rob Muldoon was an anti - trade unionist and as I claimed earlier, a would be despot. His methods are now history and were enshrined by the next National Party government in 1990, led by his Labour Minister, Jim Bolger. The Employment Contracts Act of 1991 owed much to the thought processes of Robert Muldoon.

On the evening of March 27 1984 I recall there was a meeting of the old Federation of Labour, led at that time by veteran trade union leader, Jim Knox. There were a number of controversial figures in the FOL at that time, people despised by Rob Muldoon. Storemen and Packers Union leader, Phil Mansor recalled as much in his ensuing interviews.

Read the following press story:

On March 27, 1984 a green, ragged suitcase loaded with about a kilogram of an unknown explosive blew up, taking the life of cleaner Ernie Abbott.

The suitcase had sat untouched for seven hours in the foyer before it exploded, detonated by a mercury switch when it was moved.

Storemen and Packers Union secretary Phil Mansor recalled the explosion, when talking to the Dominion Post in 2004.

"It sounded like a clap of thunder hit the building.

"The whole building seemed to jump," he said.

The late Pat Kelly, close friend and Trades Council president at the time, described Mr Abbott as a real Vivian Street character when talking to the Dominion newspaper the day after the bombing.

"He liked everybody.

"He loved a pint and would chat to the young ladies around Trades Hall."

Intense speculation ensued about the bomber's motive for the attack.

The most popular theory at the time was that the bomb was directed against a particular union, activist or activists, or the union movement in general, although scant evidence was ever found.

Speaking at the time, then Wellington Coroner Andrew McGregor said that the bombing appeared to have political overtones, and that was "utterly abhorrent" to all New Zealanders.

"Another fact that makes it so appalling is that Mr Abbott was an innocent victim," he said.

A $25,000 reward - then the largest ever put up in New Zealand - was offered for information that led to the capture of those responsible for the bombing. This was doubled to $50,000 in 1985.

The case remains unsolved.

Ernie Abbott rest in peace. What goes around comes around!


Anonymous said...

I was attending a youth course in a building out the back of the hall. That day me and two other girls, (I was about 16), walked through the hall to get some lunch. We all saw the small, pale green suitcase. Like a child's schoolbag with a collapsable handle. It had bits of white rag sticking out. We talked about pinching the bag. We saw it on the way out and on the way back to our course. Thank God we didn't touch it or there would have been three dead young girls. I knew Ernie, he used to joke with us. He always had his little dog with him. Rest in Peace.

Anonymous said...

what was the name of Ernies dog....we were trying to remember the other day?.

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