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Top 10 Shocking Moments in Modern British History

VO: Richard Bush WRITTEN BY: Joe Cooper
These are the moments that made everything else come to a standstill. Welcome to WatchMojo UK, and today we’ll be counting down the most shocking moments in modern British History. For this list, we’ll be looking at key individual events since the end of World War II, that stopped Britain in its tracks and grabbed hold of public attention. Special thanks to our user RichardFB for submitting the idea on our interactive suggestion tool: WatchMojo.comsuggest

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Top 10 Shocking Moments in Modern British History

These are the moments that made everything else come to a standstill. Welcome to WatchMojo UK, and today we’ll be counting down the most shocking moments in modern British History.

For this list, we’ll be looking at key individual events since the end of World War II, that stopped Britain in its tracks and grabbed hold of public attention.

#10: Brexit (2016)

In a vote initially proposed by former Prime Minister David Cameron as a campaign promise, the UK’s decision to leave the European Union sent shockwaves throughout Europe, and beyond. The fallout from Brexit was messy; the pound plummeted, racially motivated violence and abuse spiked, and Cameron resigned – making way for Theresa May, and triggering multiple cabinet reshuffles, with no clear Brexit plan emerging from the Government. Talks of a second referendum have been touted, but that may only further complicate a situation that’s already impossibly complex.

#9: The Dunblane Massacre (1996)

The United Kingdom has some of the strictest gun safety laws in the world, and there's an unfortunately grim reason for that. In 1996, 43-year-old Thomas Hamilton walked into the Dunblane Primary School gym and opened fire on a class of 5-year-olds. Armed with two 9mm pistols and a pair of revolvers, all of which he legally owned, Hamilton murdered 16 children and a teacher before killing himself. It is the deadliest mass shooting in British history, and it led to the “Firearms (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 1997”, whereby all cartridge ammunition handguns were banned.

#8: The Birmingham Bombings (1974)

The 1974 Birmingham pub bombings were the deadliest attacks during the Troubles, a 30-year conflict sparked by tensions surrounding the constitutional status of Northern Ireland. The attack saw timed bombs planted at two pubs, the Mulberry Bush and The Tavern in the Town, which exploded 10 minutes apart, leaving 21 dead and 182 injured. A third bomb – planted at a Barclays Bank – failed to detonate. The situation was exacerbated when six innocent people were arrested within hours of the bombings and sentenced to life imprisonment, only to be released 16 years later when their conviction was deemed unlawful.

#7: The Grenfell Tower Fire (2017)

The most recent tragedy on this list, the Grenfell Tower fire occurred in June 2017 when a fire – started by a faulty fridge-freezer – spread to the protective wooden cladding on the building’s exterior and soon engulfed the entire housing block in an inferno. 71 people died in the disaster, and public outrage was understandably fierce. The government faced criticism for the speed and extent of its response, and questions were asked about why such a combustible cladding – which had effectively become kindling – was being used in so many similar towers, prompting a national enquiry.

#6: The Murder of James Bulger (1993)

In 1993, 2-year-old James Bulger was with his mother at a shopping centre when two 10-year-old boys abducted him. Robert Thompson and Jon Venables led James to a remote area, where they tortured and murdered the child, before leaving his body on a train track, where his remains were discovered two days later. Such a horrific crime committed by children was unheard of. The two boys became the youngest convicted murderers in British history, prompting a new dialogue on how to treat and handle young offenders when they are sentenced, and if they are released from custody.

#5: The Invasion of Iraq (2003)

In March 2003, the United Kingdom, in a coalition with the United States, launched an invasion of Iraq. Objectively, it was to topple Saddam Hussein, who was suspected of harbouring weapons of mass destruction. But protests were staged around the globe, with protesters variously seeing the hostilities as a misplaced attempt at revenge for 9/11, or as a way of obtaining Iraq’s rich natural resources. The ensuing Iraq War raged on for almost nine years, and has only added to the hostility between the Middle East and Western world, with some blaming the conflict for the rise in terrorist attacks since.

#4: Operation Yewtree (2012)

Nearly a year after the death of Jimmy Savile in 2011, an ITV documentary aired, detailing various claims of sexual abuse conducted by the star. Following the broadcast, many people came forward with similar accusations, leading the Met to launch Operation Yewtree to investigate the crimes – some of which dated back to the 1950s. The fallout left many wondering how such monstrous behaviour was seemingly covered up by institutions like the BBC and the NHS, given that rumours of Savile's activities had been in circulation since the '60s, while it also exposed a dark underbelly among the British media and celebrity elite.

#3: The Death of Diana, Princess of Wales (1997)

The death of Princess Diana was sudden, tragic and highly controversial. In 1997 the car she was a passenger in crashed into a pillar in the Pont de l'Alma tunnel in Paris, killing her and her lover Dodi Fayed. Diana’s death was shocking, not just because she was a popular royal, but because of the circumstances surrounding her passing and the subsequent conspiracy theories that evolved from it. An estimated 2.5 billion people worldwide watched Diana’s funeral, mourning the loss of a woman who so often put the needs of others before herself, and her heritage.

#2: The Hillsborough Disaster (1989)

In 1989, poor planning and lax safety regulations came to a head during an FA Cup semi-final in Sheffield, resulting in overcrowding and a subsequent human crush. Spectators were pushed against fences, some climbing barriers in an attempt to escape, with the chaos ultimately causing the deaths of 96 people. But, additional hardship came when police and some of the press falsely blamed the visiting Liverpool fans for the disaster. Justice was finally dealt in 2012, when an independent panel found that the fans weren’t responsible, forcing a series of high-profile apologies and, in 2017, various criminal charges levelled at senior establishment figures.

#1: The 7/7 London Bombings (2005)

On the 7th July 2005, a coordinated series of terrorist attacks were carried out during London’s morning rush hour. Three of four suicide bombers targeted the city’s Underground system whilst the fourth attacked a double decker bus, killing 52 civilians in total, and injuring more than 700. The attackers had reportedly claimed that they were ‘soldiers’ in a war, while the bombings prompted a wide-reaching police and security response. Ultimately, it was the deadliest terror attack in Britain since Lockerbie, and the first Islamic suicide attack in the UK. Although, as incidents like the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing show, it sadly wouldn’t be the last.

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