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30th anniversary of the Trades Hall bombing

Written By: - Date published: 12:10 pm, March 27th, 2014 - 21 comments
Categories: Unions - Tags: , ,

On this day in 1984 a suitcase bomb was left in the Wellington Trades Hall. At 5:19 it detonated, killing Ernie Abbott, the caretaker.

The bomber has never been caught, despite a massive police investigation and a reward of $50,000 offered for information. We don’t even really know why the Trades Hall was targeted – though anti-union extremism seems an obvious motive.

Thirty years on, it’s likely the bomber has taken his identity to the grave.

At 5:19 pm, let’s take a minute’s silence in memory of Ernie.


21 comments on “30th anniversary of the Trades Hall bombing”

  1. vto 1

    the fascists are right behind the door

  2. fender 2

    “….- and now police fear the killer is dead and his secrets are buried with him.”

    Muldoon may be dead but his party is still around…

  3. Ad 3

    The live-fire starting gun for the third Labour Government’s structural adjustment, that essentially bombed the post-war consensus of low unemployment and a strong and activist state for all New Zealanders.

    He needs a memorial to that. I think we all do.

    • Will@Welly 3.1

      Don’t you mean the fourth Labour Government?
      As for a call for a memorial to Ernie Abbott, well Kerry Prendergast was lovely enough to devote a whole park just across the road that would do fine, if we unceremoniously ripped it off and turned it into a proper memorial to Ernie.
      Sadly, what Muldoon failed to do, Richardson, Shipley, and Key have done, aided and abetted by Prebble and Douglas.
      In 1984, we reeled at the death of Ernie Abbott, but nothing prepared us for the steel that was to be taken to the trade union movement in the years to come.

  4. karol 4

    Thanks for this post, Stephanie. I wasn’t living in NZ in the 80s – until this week I hadn’t heard of this bombing.

    The timing – 1984 pre-Labour government, is quite disturbing.

    • Anne 4.1


      There was a decade plus of mysterious politically motivated incidents that began during the Kirk/Rowling Labour government (1972/75) and which continued on and off through the Muldoon years and included at least the first term of the Lange Labour Govt.

      One oft repeated scenario has the Trades Hall bombing connected in some way to the right-wing establishment paranoia over the anti nuclear movements of the 1970s and 80s. The Unions at that time were very much involved in the anti-nuclear movement and president, Pat Kelly (Helen Kelly’s father) was a well known anti-nuclear activist. There was a major union meeting held in the building that day which had been advertised in advance, so there was potential for more than one death to occur.

      IMHO, you can put this bombing in the same category as the murder of well known British anti-nuclear activist Hilda Murrell in 1984. Her nephew, Robert Green and his wife Kate Dewes – who now live in Christchurch – have good reason to believe MI5 was implicated in the murder. Add to that the Rainbow Warrior bombing in NZ in 1985 which we know was the work of the French DGSE and you can see a common thread running through these incidents – plus others that haven’t yet seen the light of day.

      • karol 4.1.1

        Yes, it does look like a remarkable set of “coincidences”, Anne.


      • Chooky 4.1.2

        +100 Anne….Agreed!…..i think this was the motivation ! …..probably done by some undercover secret service maverick from the UK…the most important thing is that it didnt succeed ….sheer guts from Helen Clark and others ensured we got a nuclear free policy….David Lange became the front man spokesperson…but there were many other NZers who supported this policy and it became a matter of pride and sovereignty for all NZers

        • Anne

          You only have to look at the lead up years to those incidents to appreciate what was going on.

          First there was “the wicked old witch” leading the UK. Imperious, authoritarian, ideologically insane (mind you she didn’t have that on her own) and paranoid about Reds under the beds. She used the establishment (security services/military/police) to have anyone deemed to be a commie bad egg – which was anyone who dared to stand up to her – hounded and harassed.

          Second there was Muldoon. Dictatorial, authoritarian egomaniac who was equally paranoid about Reds under the beds. He manipulated the SIS during his terms of office and was known to use them for political purposes.

          Then along came the Fourth Labour government and shock,horror… they banned nuclear armed and propelled ships in NZ waters. What made it worse, David Lange strutted the world stage spreading the good word to all who would listen. The apoplexy emanating from 10 Downing St. and the White House in particular was palpable! We had to be punished! Since those at the top were a bit harder to punish because of their status, they concentrated on the layers beneath them.

          • Chooky

            …the people in this drama and the unraveling and exposure of those secrets and the foreign manipulations would make an absolutely riveting history book

  5. Tracey 5

    i wonder what the ernie abbotts of today are earning?

  6. greywarbler 6

    Police didn’t know of a lead re possible IRA bomber – moved to Perth the next day.
    How did they not know then or soon after? What have they done about since they were told?
    Did anyone find out where the hate mail came from?
    I looked on google thinking there would be numerous stories on it but nothing except information from the Northern Amalgamated Workers Union timeline and details.
    There is no obituary that comes up from his name.
    Who might they have been after if not a caretaker?
    And Patch where did he or she get looked after?

    • Anne 6.1

      Not an IRA bomber gw. A former British military bomb expert supposedly running away from the IRA.

      From the link provided:
      The unions’ own investigations have long focused on a barrage of hate mail leading up to the event, union figure and now Porirua councillor Ken Douglas said. They also identified a British military bomb expert, supposedly on the run from the IRA and tipped to be in New Zealand at the time. He moved to Perth the day after the bombing.

      I think its possible the police were encouraged ‘not to know’.

      • Anne 6.1.1

        I looked on google thinking there would be numerous stories on it…

        Google Ernie Abbott gw. There’s quite a bit of stuff there. It was never meant for him of course.

        • greywarbler

          Thanks Anne. I put too much, thinking it would narrow the search. Instead I got something about a US Ernie Abbott and some interesting stuff about a Wellington bomber pilot. Just keep it simple stupid will be my motto from now on.

  7. dee 7

    It was a horrible and strange event. I thought at the time they wanted to take out our NZ Trade Union senior members. One in particular, but out of respect for family, I won’t say who that was.

    • Anne 7.1

      Yes dee, they were after the union leaders. From memory, they were meeting at the Trades Hall on the day of the bombing to discuss what to do about Muldoon’s attempts to destroy the union movement. Caretaker, Ernie Abbott copped it instead. I agree with Murray Olsen. The police were never meant to solve the murder and their senior personel knew it.

      There were other people during that period who were targeted by the same off-shore groups (and on-shore individuals linked to them) responsible for the acts of terror on NZ soil. Those of us who, for whatever reason, experienced it firsthand were powerless against them. I hope the truth about their activities and the identities of the NZ a*seholes involved will one day be publicly revealed.

  8. Murray Olsen 8

    My view has always been that the police didn’t look all that hard. The French military personnel who participated in the act of undeclared war on Auckland Harbour were basically caught by Neighbourhood Watch rather than good police work. Then they were let go shortly afterwards.

    • Chooky 8.1

      @Murray Olsen….disagree there…Detective Inspector Allen Galbraith co-ordinated some very fine work in rounding up the French fast before they could all get away!…it was the NZ govt that let them out of jail before they had finished their term … with a trade off with France

  9. Dave_1924 9

    You didn’t deserve that Ernie… RIP. And its a bloody disgrace the Police have not got even remotely close to finding the person or people responsible….

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