Stockline disaster 2004: 'It was surreal. All of a sudden there was a loud bang. I'd never heard something so loud in my life'

AFTER the explosion, there was the silence.

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Gary Gentles was standing close to the Stockline factory when it exploded
Gary Gentles was standing close to the Stockline factory when it exploded

Just after midday on May 11 2004 an explosion reduced the four-storey ICL Plastics factory, known as Stockline, in Glasgow's Maryhill, to rubble.

With around a dozen people trapped under the debris, a painstaking rescue operation was launched which lasted for four days.

Nine people died and 33 were injured and hundreds of lives were changed forever.

This week families and friends of the victims, survivors and community members are looking back over the past 10 years.

To some people, the blast still feels like it happened yesterday.

They remember how warm the day was and the blue skies that morning.

They also remember the massive clouds of dust and the sniffer dogs which were used to search for missing people.

They recall how, in between the sadness and the hope, there was humour and warmth as groups of people tried to pull through the aftermath.

Gary Gentles, develop-ment services manager at Maryhill Community Central Halls, was standing in Maryhill Road - close to the blast site - at the time.

The 52-year-old said: "It was surreal. I was standing outside the halls on a nice hot summer's day and all of a sudden there was a loud bang.

"I had never heard something so loud in my life. My first thought was a lorry had come off the road.

"My granddaughter was in nursery in the halls at the time and I had checked if it was in here. But none of the windows were broken.

"Then I realised it was the plastics factory.

"I thought it must be a fire. It has to just be a fire. But then a couple of seconds later everything went silent.

"And then I realised something serious had happened."

Families of the workers who were missing in the rubble gathered in the halls while the rescue teams tried to save lives.

At the same time the media were beginning to arrive - later coming from as far afield as America - to report on the tragedy that would change Glasgow forever.

The central halls were used as a refuge to support victims' relatives and those who had been injured.

The nine people who lost their lives were Stewart McColl, Margaret Brownlie, Annette Doyle, Peter Ferguson, Thomas McAulay, Tracey McErlane, Kenneth Murray, Tim Smith and Ann Trench.

Mr Gentles said: "Our initial reaction was to make space in the halls downstairs for injured folk or a place for people to come.

"It turned out that we had nine families. So they were there under our care for four days. It was a 24- hour operation."

The community pulled together.

Supermarkets and other local shops, as well as community centres, helped provide everyone at the halls with supplies - toothbrushes, tea, biscuits, whatever was needed.

Mr Gentles said: "The days had just been about talking to people, making it as easy as possible for them.

"As time went by one family after another left.

"We waited and hoped and, if you like, prayed that the last person would come out alive.

"But history tells you there were nine folk dead."

But, he says there was some laughter.

"At the time, believe it or not, there was some laughter," he said.

"We had some funny stories. When you are waiting for something you need something to lighten the mood.

"There was laughter, but there was heartache.

"At different times someone would be taken out of the rubble, the family had to go down and identify their loved one if they could.

"That was it. It was a case of 'will we ever find anybody alive?' During that time people were bereaved but we lived in hope."

THE extent of the horrific blast affected Mr Gentles after the rescue operation finished on the Friday following the deadly explosion.

Tim Smith's was the last body to be pulled from the rubble in the afternoon.

"I remember going home - I hadn't been home for four or five days and just breaking down in tears," said Mr Gentles.

"You just go in and there's nobody there and there's nothing for you to do. It was just sudden - all the emotion poured out at the one time."

However, far from being over, the end of the rescue effort was the start of a long battle for justice for the victims' relatives and survivors.

The explosion was blamed on a leak of liquified petroleum gas from a corroded pipe.

A public inquiry found the blast was "avoidable" and that risks were not identified or understood.

Councillor Liz Cameron, Lord Provost at the time, visited the halls every day during the rescue operation.

She said: "It was one of those weeks where you know things would never be exactly the same again.

"It wasn't for the families, certainly not for Stockline.

"In the back of your mind was always the question: Why? What happened here?

"No one should go to their work and not come home again."

Families

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