Major Alan Clouter – obituary

 

Major Alan Clouter, who has died aged 73, was awarded the George Medal in 1972 for disarming explosive devices during the terrorist campaign in Northern Ireland.

In autumn 1971 Clouter, then a captain, was based at Lisburn and was serving with 321 Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Squadron. On October 20, he was part of a three-man bomb disposal team under the command of Major (later Lt Col) George Styles. They were called to deal with a device that had been placed in a public telephone booth in the bar of the Europa Hotel, in the centre of Belfast.

Major Alan Clouter

Major Alan Clouter

After the area had been cordoned off and evacuated, the team set about disarming and removing the bomb. The radiograph showed that it contained between 10 and 15lbs of explosive.

“Inside that telephone booth was enough energy to blow your head from your shoulders, your arms and legs from your trunk, and your trunk straight through the plate glass windows,” Clouter recalled. Until the electrical circuit had been dealt with, a false move, however slight, might be enough to detonate it. It was decided, therefore, to disarm the bomb in stages, each of which required the most careful planning and execution before proceeding to the next.

At last, it was possible to fix a line around the device and pull it a distance of some 18 feet before drawing it a further 30 feet out of the hotel and on to the pavement. The whole operation took six hours and was completed successfully.

Two days later, three masked men held the staff of the Europa at gunpoint while a fourth carried a heavy box which he left close to the reception desk. It contained a charge of almost 40lbs of explosive, and complex wiring and micro-switches had been added to try to confuse the EOD team. Inscribed in small letters on the device were the words, “Tee-Hee, Hee-Hee, Ho-Ho, Ha-Ha.”

After nine hours of hazardous work, the team disarmed, removed and dismantled the bomb. Clouter and Captain Roger Mendham were awarded the George Medal. Styles received the George Cross.

lan Ian Clouter was born at Woolwich on September 18 1941 and educated at the Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School and Welbeck College. He went to Sandhurst in 1961 and was commissioned into the REME.

After serving with the Light Aid Detachment of 7 Para RHA, he went up to Clare College, Cambridge, to read Engineering. He moved to the REME depot for a year and then transferred to the Royal Army Ordnance Corps.

In 1970, he returned to England after a spell in Singapore and trained as an Ammunition Technical Officer (ATO) at Shrivenham College and the Ammunition School at Bramley. In March 1971, he was posted to HQ Northern Ireland. In September, he was called to a local police station at night following a shooting incident.

A holdall had been discovered on the steps beside the door. He found that it contained 10lbs of high explosive and a timing device. The police who had secured the area were ordered away but Clouter had to work fast to minimise the danger to those who had to remain in the station. He attached a line to the holdall but, as he was easing it away from the door, the line snagged on something and broke. He ran from cover, repaired the line and, having taken cover once more, managed to pull it further away before it exploded.
On one occasion, he was defusing a bomb when, as he said later, “I got a bad feeling about it and, in getting clear, probably broke all records for a man in EOD body armour before the device exploded.”

On another, there was a big explosion in a pub and Clouter arrived with an NCO to investigate. A crowd gathered around them and became very threatening. The two men were armed but either of their options – to try to shoot their way out, or be seized and have their weapons used against them – would, they believed, result in their deaths.
Clouter was saying his last prayers when the Reverend Ian Paisley came through the door. “Step aside!” he boomed. “And let these lads get on with their jobs.” Clouter was in no doubt that Paisley had saved their lives.

Clouter played a notable part in pioneering a remote-controlled vehicle which could be used to disrupt an explosive device without endangering the ATO. Apart from three months on active service in Iraq in 1991, he served in BAOR for the last 18 years of his Army career and remained there as a civilian adviser on health and safety at work and on handling dangerous goods.

He then worked for the BBC, the National Grid and, subsequently, Kellogg Brown & Root, the civil engineering company, in the Middle East. His last job was with Bertling Group, the ship-owning and transport organisation, where his work as global head of Health, Safety, Security and the Environment involved worldwide travel.

Alan Clouter married first (dissolved), in 1964, Wendy Annette Moss. He married secondly, in 1976, Catherine Mary Hawkins. She predeceased him and he is survived by a son and a daughter of his first marriage and a stepson and two stepdaughters of his second.

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