TERRORISTS last night laid a double bomb trap apparently designed to

kill emergency workers, police said today.

A bomb planted in the toilet of Reading station was timed to go off

only hours after a trackside bomb exploded beside the main line between

London and the West Country.

Though the attack failed in its murderous intent, it will mean

commuter chaos this morning on one of the busiest rail links in the


Chief Superintendent Anthony Howlett-Bolton, of Reading Police, told a

news conference that the bomb found in the toilet by a BR security

worker was a ''substantial device'' and was ''primed and ready to go''

with a timer.

The weapon was made safe by an Army bomb squad. Otherwise it would

have exploded as emergency services thronged the station dealing with

the trackside bomb on the main line to Paddington which exploded at

10.43pm .

Another bomb planted in a toilet at Basingstoke station in Hampshire

was also discovered and made safe.

''The IRA have failed, and once again failed badly in their terrorist

campaign because, if the device that exploded had gone off first, and

the first one had not been discovered by the vigilance of the security

staff, one can imagine there would have been loss of life, because the

station would have been used by the emergency services,'' said Mr


Misleading warnings about bombs at other stations last night brought

closures and disruption to a huge section of British Rail's Network


There was a question mark early today over the size and effect of the

trackside bomb, which was heard by staff at a local radio station three

miles away.

A Thames Valley police spokesman said first reports said the explosion

had taken place on the line 600 metres north of the station. But it was

later suggested that the bomb might have gone off in a car park next to

the railway.

The spokesman said: ''We are trying to pin-point exactly where the

explosion was. So far there have been no reports of any damage to


She said there was nothing to confirm an earlier report that the lines

had been blown apart.

In the early hours, police continued searching the station and track

for further devices and a large part of the town centre remained sealed


The station straddles the main rail route between London and the West

Country and South Wales.

The spokesman said Anti-Terrorist Branch officers were on the scene.

The coded warning was a type used by the IRA.

Asked about the terrorists' actions, Mr Howlett-Bolton said: ''I think

they are futile, absolutely futile, because they will not cause the

British public to cow to their aims.''

BR chief Roger McDonald told the news conference: ''We'll do our best

to look after the 40,000 people due to use these services.

''If necessary, we are planning shuttle services from South Wales and

the West Country to Swindon and bus connections to Slough for a further

shuttle into London.''

Forensic teams are examining the remains of the bomb recovered from

the Reading toilet after it had been made safe by a controlled

explosion. ''We were examining that when the second one went off,'' said

Mr Howlett-Bolton.

''The blast rattled the windows of the police station nearly two miles


Mr McDonald said: ''There's something of a Dunkirk spirit about an

incident like this, where many staff have volunteered for service to do

what they can to help.''

Engineers were on standby to begin repairs to any damage as soon as

the police declared the area safe after as visual checks are completed

in daylight.

The earlier bomb finds, coupled with telephoned warnings of other

devices planted at Waterloo and Guildford stations, sparked a security

alert which threw the Home Counties into chaos last night.

The bombs followed Saturday's atrocity in Belfast where an IRA bomb in

the Shankill Road left 10 dead, including one of the bombers.

A Network South-east spokesman said a call was received at 7pm saying

a bomb had been planted at Basingstoke station.

A telephoned warning of another device at Guildford in Surrey led to

that station being closed, although trains continued to run through.

Waterloo station was also entirely closed from 8.15pm and Scotland

Yard later said a controlled explosion was carried out in a street near

the station at around 9.10 pm. The item was not a device but the station

remained closed.

The alerts left thousands of people returning from weekend breaks

stranded as their often-crowded trains were halted miles from their


Many had to await hastily-improvised shuttle bus replacements as a

railway spokesman said: ''The south-west division of Network South-east

has effectively come to a stop.''

The explosion came on a day when fears had been heightened of a

threatened backlash by loyalists after Saturday's IRA bombing in


Last night, efforts to involve Sinn Fein in peace talks appeared

doomed after the bombing which killed 10 people, including one of the

IRA terrorists who was planting the device when it exploded.

Mr Gerry Adams, president of the IRA's political wing, last night

admitted the bombing was a ''disaster''. He said: ''It was wrong. It can

not be excused.''

Prime Minister John Major branded the atrocity ''cold-blooded murder''

and Northern Ireland Secretary Sir Patrick Mayhew declared that there

would be no talking to the IRA until it had renounced violence.

A meeting planned for this Wednesday between British and Irish

Government Ministers -- to discuss peace proposals agreed in secret

talks between SDLP leader John Hume and Mr Adams -- has been postponed

because of the bombing.

Two girls aged seven and 13 were among those killed in the explosion

at a fishmonger's shop in the crowded Shankill Road, a fiercely

Protestant area, on Saturday afternoon. The 58 injured included a

two-year-old boy.

Security forces in Belfast are now bracing themselves for a threatened

backlash by loyalist terrorists. Three men have already been injured in

shootings attributed to loyalists in the Belfast area since the


The IRA terrorist killed by his own bomb was Thomas Begley, 23, from

Brompton Park, Ardoyne, Belfast, who had just helped to carry the device

into the shop when it exploded.

A second IRA man lost an eye and was last night under

heavy police guard in hospital where his condition was critical.

Police said a third man, the driver of the getaway car, had been

sitting parked around the corner but drove off on hearing the blast. It

is believed detectives know his identity, but it is not clear if he is

among those detained.

The IRA said the bombers' target had been members of the outlawed

Ulster Freedom Fighters who, it claimed, were meeting in an upstairs


But loyalist terrorists last night claimed nobody was there and that

the UFF leader the IRA wanted to kill had not even been in Belfast at

the time.

Apart from the wounded bomber, 10 other people, including a

two-year-old boy, were still recovering in hospital last night.

Mr Adams said last night: ''What happened, no matter about the

intention, cannot be excused.

''I think that those who are in position of leadership in the IRA --

no matter about the pressures which might be on them from loyalist

killer gangs -- they have to be aware that how they respond to these

pressures could end up as it did yesterday.''

Mr Major, in Cyprus for the Commonwealth summit, said yesterday: ''The

message I want to hear from the IRA is quite simple, and I have not

heard it. The message is: 'We have given up violence for good'.''

He shrugged off the Hume/Adams plan, saying: ''I have read about it, I

have heard about it, but I have not seen it.''

Mr Major, who was visiting the Royal Irish Regiment at a British base

at Episcopi, described IRA apologies for the atrocity as cold comfort.

''Many of the people here are from Belfast. Half the soldiers here are

from Ulster. Expressions of regret cut no ice here. It was cold-blooded

murder and there is just no excuse for it''.