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David Copeland

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Nationality  British
Occupation  Engineer's assistant
Name  David Copeland

Photograph of Copeland taken after his arrest in April 1999

Born  15 May 1976 (age 47) (1976-05-15) Isleworth, London
Known for  Planting three bombs in public spaces in London in April 1999, killing three and injuring 140
Criminal charge  Three counts of murder, three counts of planting bombs.
Criminal penalty  Six life sentences, minimum term 50 years
Similar  Del O'Connor, Bernard O'Mahoney, Edgar Pearce

David Copeland (born 15 May 1976) is a British Neo-Nazi militant who became known as the "London Nail Bomber" after a 13-day bombing campaign in April 1999 aimed at London's black, South Asian and gay communities that resulted in three people being killed and more than a hundred injured. Copeland was a former member of two far-right political groups, the British National Party and then the National Socialist Movement.


Over three successive weekends between 17 and 30 April 1999, Copeland placed homemade nail bombs, each containing up to 1,500 four-inch nails, in holdalls that he left in public spaces around London. The first bomb was placed outside the Iceland supermarket in Electric Avenue, Brixton, an area of south London with a large black population. The second was in Brick Lane in the East End of London, which has a large Bangladeshi community. The third was inside the Admiral Duncan pub in Soho's Old Compton Street, the heart of London's gay community. The bombs killed three people, including a pregnant woman, and injured 140, four of whom lost limbs.

David Copeland’s bedroom with Nazi flags and newspaper clippings of past bombings.

Copeland was diagnosed by five psychiatrists as having paranoid schizophrenia, while one diagnosed a personality disorder not serious enough to avoid a charge of murder. His plea of guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility was not accepted by the prosecution or jury. He was convicted of murder on 30 June 2000, and given six concurrent life sentences. In 2007 the High Court ruled that he must serve at least 50 years. He appealed against the ruling, which the Court of Appeal upheld in 2011.

'Broken people': 20 years on from the London nail bombings - BBC Newsnight

Early life

Copeland was born in Hanworth, in the London Borough of Hounslow. His father was an engineer and his mother was a housewife. He lived for most of his childhood with his parents and two brothers in Yateley, Hampshire, attending Yateley School, where he obtained seven GCSEs before leaving in 1992. Journalist Nick Ryan wrote that, as a teenager, Copeland feared he was homosexual; when his parents sang along to The Flintstones theme on television—"we'll have a gay old time"—he reportedly believed they were sending him a message. As an older teenager, he began listening to heavy metal bands and earned himself the nickname "Mr. Angry". Ryan wrote that the staff at his school have no recollection of him during this period. It was as if he had become invisible.

After his arrest in 1999, he told psychiatrists that he had started having sadistic dreams when he was about 12, including dreams or fantasies that he had been reincarnated as an SS officer with access to women as slaves. He left school for a series of failed jobs, reportedly blaming immigrants for the difficult job market. He became involved in petty crime, drinking, and drug abuse. His father was eventually able to get him a job as an engineer's assistant on the London Underground.


Copeland joined the far-right British National Party in May 1997, at the age of 21. He acted as a steward at a BNP meeting, in the course of which he came into contact with the BNP leadership and was photographed standing next to John Tyndall, then the party's leader. It was during this period that Copeland read The Turner Diaries, and first learned how to make bombs using fireworks with alarm clocks as timers, after downloading a so-called terrorists' handbook from the internet. He left the BNP in 1998, regarding it as insufficiently hardline because it was not willing to engage in paramilitary action, and joined the smaller National Socialist Movement, becoming its regional leader for Hampshire just weeks before the start of his bombing campaign. It was around this time that he visited his family doctor and was prescribed anti-depressants after telling the doctor he felt he was losing his mind.

Terrorist attacks

Copeland's first attack, on Saturday, 17 April 1999, was in Electric Avenue, Brixton. He made his bomb using explosives from fireworks, taping it inside a sports bag before priming it and leaving it at Brixton Market. The Brixton Market traders became suspicious, and one of them moved the bag to a less crowded area. Two further moves of the bomb occurred by unconvinced traders, including the bomb being removed from the bag, which is when it ended up at the Iceland supermarket. It detonated just as the police arrived, at 5:25 in the evening. Forty-eight people were injured, many of them seriously because of the four-inch nails Copeland had packed around the bomb.

His second bomb, on the following Saturday, 24 April, was aimed at Brick Lane, the centre of the Bengali area in the east end of London. There is a street market on Sundays, but Copeland mistakenly tried to plant the bomb on Saturday when the street was less busy. Unwilling to change the timer on the bomb, he left it instead in a black Reebok bag on Hanbury Street. There it was picked up by a man, who brought it to the police station on Brick Lane, which was shut. He had placed it in the boot of his car which was parked outside number 42 Brick Lane, where it exploded. Thirteen people were injured, but there were no fatalities.

Bomb explosion near the Brixton Market in South London, an area with large Black population.

The third and final bomb was planted and detonated on the evening of Friday, 30 April at The Admiral Duncan pub on Old Compton Street, in the centre of London's gay village when the pub and street outside were crowded because the evening was the start of a Bank Holiday weekend. Andrea Dykes, 27, four months pregnant with her first child, died along with her friends and hosts for the evening, Nick Moore, 31, and John Light, 32, who was to be the baby's godfather. Andrea's husband, Julian, was seriously injured. The four friends from Essex had met up in the Admiral Duncan to celebrate Andrea's pregnancy, when the bomb exploded after being taped inside a sports bag and left near the bar. A total of seventy-nine people were injured, many of them seriously. Four of the survivors had to have limbs amputated.

Arrest and conviction

Undated photo of David Copeland

The Metropolitan Police Anti-Terrorist Branch identified Copeland from CCTV footage of Brixton. The image was given wide publicity on 29 April which caused Copeland to bring forward his bombing of the Admiral Duncan to Friday evening. Paul Mifsud, a colleague of Copeland, recognised him from the footage and alerted the police about an hour and 20 minutes before the pub bombing. Copeland was arrested that night once the police obtained his address, a rented room in Sunnybank Road, Cove, Hampshire. He admitted carrying out the three bombings as soon as he opened the door to the police, telling them, "Yeah, they were all down to me. I did them on my own." He showed them his room, where two Nazi flags were hanging on a wall, along with a collection of photographs and newspaper stories about bombs. 

His mental state was assessed at Broadmoor Hospital. There was no dispute that he was mentally ill, but the extent of it and whether he was unable to take responsibility for his actions became a matter of contention. Five psychiatrists said he was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, but prosecutors did not accept a plea of guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility. A sixth psychiatrist said Copeland had a personality disorder but it did not diminish his responsibility. The jury convicted him of three murders and three offences of planting bombs, and he was sentenced to six life sentences on 30 June 2000. The trial judge spoke of his doubt that it would ever be safe to release him. On 2 March 2007, the High Court decided that he should remain in prison for at least 50 years, ruling out his release until 2049 at the earliest, when he would be 73. Copeland appealed and on 28 June 2011, the Court of Appeal upheld the ruling.


Copeland maintained he had worked alone and had not discussed his plans with anyone. During police interviews, he admitted holding neo-Nazi views, and talked of his desire to spread fear and trigger a race war. He told police, "My main intent was to spread fear, resentment and hatred throughout this country; it was to cause a racial war." He said, "If you've read The Turner Diaries, you know the year 2000 there'll be the uprising and all that, racial violence on the streets. My aim was political. It was to cause a racial war in this country. There'd be a backlash from the ethnic minorities, then all the white people will go out and vote BNP."

After his arrest, Copeland wrote to BBC correspondent Graeme McLagan, denying that he had schizophrenia, and telling McLagan that the "Zog," or Zionist Occupation Government, was pumping him full of drugs in order to sweep him under the carpet. He wrote, "I bomb the blacks, Pakis, degenerates. I would have bombed the Jews as well if I'd got a chance." Ryan writes that Copeland's first idea had been to bomb the Notting Hill Carnival, after seeing images of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing. When asked by police why he had targeted ethnic minorities, he replied, "Because I don't like them, I want them out of this country, I believe in the master race." While on remand Copeland also wrote to crime writer Bernard O'Mahoney, who posed as a woman called Patsy Scanlon in the hope of duping Copeland into confessing. According to The Independent, the letters helped secure a conviction by giving prosecutors evidence about Copeland's state of mind.

Further conviction

In June 2014, Copeland attacked a fellow inmate at HM Prison Belmarsh with a shiv – an improvised weapon made from razor blades attached to a toothbrush handle. In October 2015, he pleaded guilty to wounding with intent and was sentenced to a further three years in prison, of which he will serve 18 months.


David Copeland Wikipedia