Bali bombings: 10 years on, families remember their loved ones

Ceremonies to mark anniversary of terrorist attacks in which 202 people died on island’s tourist district

It was supposed to be a relaxing holiday far away from the stresses of London life. Danielle Prothero and her schoolfriend, Sam, had left their boyfriends at home and headed to Bali. But six days into their two-week break, the 23-year-olds found themselves thrown to the floor of a pub toilet, their skin studded with glass from the shattered mirrors. Dazed and terrified, they tried the fire escape but it was locked. Stepping over bodies in the packed and now darkened bar, they desperately searched for a way out of a building that was rapidly catching fire.

That night, 202 people died, 28 of them British, in one of the most deadly terrorist attacks affecting Britons since the second world war. Prothero escaped with a broken wrist and memories which haunted her long after she returned home.

It has been a decade since Islamic fundamentalists linked to al-Qaida detonated three bombs in the Indonesian holiday province: one carried in a rucksack by a suicide bomber and a car bomb which devastated Paddy's Pub, where Prothero had been drinking, and the Sari Club opposite, followed by a third device outside the US consulate in Denpasar.

This Friday, 10 years to the day since the attacks, many survivors and families of those who were killed will attend a ceremony in Bali to mark the anniversary. The British ambassador to Indonesia will be there, and the Australian prime minister, Julia Gillard: 88 Australians died that night.

In Britain, others will gather for a ceremony outside the memorial to the attacks by the Foreign Office in London. In the afternoon, they will go to St Paul's church in Covent Garden for a private service of remembrance.


Prothero has helped to organise the service. It will be the last time she marks the anniversary in public, she says, and she will be attending primarily to support Jenny Record, whose brother Pete was one of those killed in the bombings. The two women were strangers on 12 October 2002; now they are firm friends. They will go out for dinner on Friday night with their families and "celebrate life", says Prothero, who has just returned from her honeymoon.

She could easily have died – she was sheltered from the full force of the explosion by a toilet attendant. Being so close to death forced her to reassess her priorities, says Prothero, a project manager. "For years I had worked and worked trying to build my career. You lived for these two weeks of holiday a year. But it's not about that. It's about every day, being bloody grateful that I'm still here."

It was only after she saw pictures of the surviving bombers that she realised just how close she had come to the men who tried to kill her. Crossing the road to Paddy's Pub, she had been jeered at by a man in the car. She later found out he was Amrozi bin Nurhasyim, who became known as the "smiling bomber" after he was photographed joking with his police interrogators and beaming broadly as he was led into court, having confessed he had bought the minivan used in the main car bomb attack and the chemicals to make the explosives. He was executed in 2008, along with Imam Samudra and Ali Ghufron (who was also known as Mukhlas).

Those affected by the bombs all have different ways of dealing with their grief – or in Prothero's case, guilt. "I couldn't stop thinking that I should have gone back and helped people who were injured, but I ran away," she says. It was only after receiving counselling and a session of hypnotism provided by the Red Cross that she was able to come to terms with her actions, she says. "Hypnotism allowed me to look on what happened at a distance, as if I'm watching it on TV. I remember it all, but I can't see faces."

Polly Brooks was the only member of her holiday group to emerge alive: her husband of five weeks, Dan Miller, died, along with her bridesmaid Annika Linden, and seven other friends from their party. Brooks suffered burns to 43% of her body and set up the charity Dan's Fund for Burns, raising £1.5m to support burns survivors.

Maggie Stephens, a 61-year-old family court adviser from Worcester, lost her son Neil Bowler in the attacks. He was 27 and on a rugby tour when he was killed. The case is still not fully solved, she says: one suspect, Riduan Isamuddin (known as Hambali) has been held in Guantánamo Bay for nine years. Earlier this week relatives of others killed visited the Foreign Office to demand he stands trial.


"For me I didn't want – and neither did a lot of people want – the three Balinese to be shot, we wanted them to not be seen as martyrs, and there are some people who are not brought to justice," said Stephens. "But I don't think this is the time [to talk about it] – this is about remembering the people who have died and also the people who have survived."

She was originally planning to return to Bali for the 10-year anniversary in what would have been her first trip since going to fetch Neil's body, but she changed her mind, she said, concerned about security.

After Neil was killed, people did not know how to react, she said. "If you're in India there'd be a funeral pyre and you get the women throwing themselves on it. In England you get people going 'you butter and I'll slice' – it's that sort of stiff upper lip and you find, what I found, is that people don't talk, it's such a big thing, people don't say anything. People cross the street."

Things have got easier, she says. "My other son and daughter have got another four children and life goes on. I don't think you will ever get closure; you have a life sentence, there's no doubt about it. You have a life sentence because as they get older, their friends start to get married or have partners and children. He was with his partner nine years since the sort of freshers night at Loughborough and she's now married with a family of her own which is lovely, absolutely lovely, but it's the sort of things you won't have of your own."


Helen Pidd and Rachel Banning-Lover

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Leader: British lessons from the Bali bombs
Leader: One question raised by the Bali bombs is why the Foreign Office failed to follow the Australian government's serious warnings to tourists.


03, Oct, 2005 @12:49 AM

Man jailed for life for role in Bali bombings
A Muslim militant was today sentenced to life imprisonment after being convicted of helping to build and transport bombs used in the October 2002 Bali nightclub attacks.


09, Feb, 2004 @5:16 PM

Families angry over Bali acquittal
The relatives of Australians killed in the Bali bombings condemned the Indonesian supreme court's decision to clear the Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir yesterday of any involvement in the 2002 attack.

Roger Maynard in Sydney

23, Dec, 2006 @11:55 PM

Article image
Bali bomb maker Umar Patek could be released early from Indonesian jail
Early release of ex-member of terror group linked to al-Qaida will cause distress for bereaved, says Australian PM

Josh Butler and Johanes Hutabarat in Jakarta

19, Aug, 2022 @7:02 AM

Cleric charged over Bali bombings
An Indonesian cleric appeared in court today accused of leading the militant Islamist group responsible for a series of attacks including the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings that killed 202 people.

Staff and agencies

28, Oct, 2004 @11:01 AM

Article image
Bali Nine: Australia recalls ambassador as world condemns executions
Indonesia criticised after Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, four Nigerian men, an Indonesian and a Brazilian are executed by firing squad

Michael Safi Sydney, Jonathan Watts Rio de Janeiro, Kate Lamb Jakarta, Dina Indrasafi Cilicap

29, Apr, 2015 @8:01 AM

Two suspects held over Bali bombings
á Two Indonesians formally detained
á Reports of a 'bombmaker confession' denied
á Indonesia and Australia to form intelligence team

Mark Oliver and agencies

16, Oct, 2002 @1:28 PM

Article image
Bali police killing: Australian woman and British man named as suspects
Sara Connor, from Byron Bay, and David Taylor arrested over death of officer whose body was found with head wounds on Kuta beach

Oliver Holmes and agencies

21, Aug, 2016 @10:32 AM

Tourist numbers tumble after Bali bombings
The number of visitors to the resort island of Bali plummeted in October after suicide bombers killed 23 people, according to the Indonesian Central Board of Statistics.

Associated Press in Jakarta

03, Dec, 2005 @2:00 AM

Article image
Briton arrested in Bali over cannabis oil 'could face 15 years in jail'
Pip Holmes, 45, says he ‘foolishly crossed the line’ by using the oil for his arthritis

Frances Perraudin

18, Dec, 2018 @5:20 PM