The London nail bombings: the St. Thomas' Hospital experience

Injury. 2003 Nov;34(11):830-3. doi: 10.1016/s0020-1383(02)00417-5.


At 18:00 h on 17 April 1999 a nail bomb exploded outside a supermarket in Brixton, London. This was the first of a series of three identical nail bombs. The injuries were due to penetrating nails, most were relatively minor, with only three patients requiring general anaesthesia for removal of nails and debridement. One 6-year-old child subsequently underwent onward referral for neurosurgical treatment. At 18:40 h on 30 April 1999, the third bomb exploded (there were no casualties at our hospital from the second bomb, that in Brick Lane on 24 April 1999) in the confined environment of the Admiral Duncan public house in Soho. The injuries were much more severe than those seen from the Brixton bomb. Two persons died on the scene and 81 were injured; 27 were transferred to our hospital. Three primary lower limb amputations were performed. Within the first 24h, four patients required ITU care and two onward referral to the regional burns unit. Injuries such as those seen in these two bombings are common in war situations. In peacetime it is rare to see this spectrum of injury and hence surgeons can be unaware of optimal management protocols. Our approach in these patients, based on thorough initial debridement and delayed closure/split skin grafting is similar to that advocated by the International Committee of the Red Cross based on their war surgery experience. We emphasise debridement without any initial reconstructive procedures. We also discuss some logistic problems of major incidents.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Amputation, Traumatic / surgery
  • Blast Injuries / surgery*
  • Child
  • Debridement / methods
  • Emergency Medicine / organization & administration
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • London
  • Male
  • Multiple Trauma / surgery*
  • Terrorism*
  • Wounds, Penetrating / surgery*