Necessity Still Breeds Ingenuity - Archive of SQUALL MAGAZINE 1992-2006

Murdering The Truth

Investigation into the shooting of WPC Yvonne Fletcher


Were the British Secret Service and the CIA implicated in killing WPC Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan Embassy in 1984? Consistent attempts to get the Home Office to answer well founded allegations made in 1996 on a Channel 4 Dispatches programme have met with blanket denials. With the Libyans offering a strategic "general acceptance" of responsibility in July this year, the British government hope the matter is now safely under the carpet. Seamus O Conner reviews the powerful evidence brought together by programme makers Fulcrum Productions and charts the attempts to extract a decent reply from a government apparently blind to scientific evidence they don't like.

When Channel Four first broadcast 'Murder at St James's' in 1996, viewers were agog. How come such apparently irrefutable evidence concerning the political murder of a British policewoman had never been aired in public before? The programme's audience sat in stunned silence as a can of secret service worms spilled across the television screens unadvertised. However, in marked contrast to the usual agenda-sharing, the rest of the national media didn't touch the subject, either before or after broadcast; so establishment rocking were its allegations.

The premise of the programme was that WPC Yvonne Fletcher had not been shot by occupants of the Libyan Embassy as the official government line runs, but by a single shot from a different building. Furthermore, the programme traced the probable source of the fatal bullet to a silenced pistol possibly born in the hands of a CIA agent and fired from offices rented by British Intelligence. Strong stuff and certainly open to accusations of an over-active imagination were the assembled evidence not so strong. For the expert testimonies presented by the programme include a top British Army ballistics specialist with years of experience in Northern Ireland, a top Home Office pathologist formerly involved in the crucial forensic examination in the Rosemary West trial, and a former member of British Army Intelligence with intimate contacts with the security services. All of them agreeing on an interpretation of events widely at variance to the official government line. An interpretation with massive implications.

On the morning of April 17 1984, an anti-Gadafy demonstration took place outside the Libyan Embassy (The Libyan People's Bureau) at No 5 St James's Square, London. It was destined to be a highly charged affair, having been called by the National Front for the Salvation of Libya to coincide with the month in which Colonel Gadafy traditionally put extra effort in hanging his opponents at home whilst hunting his enemies abroad. The majority of Libyan dissidents attending the demonstration wore scarves over their faces, keen to avoid photographers inside the Embassy collating dossiers on Gadafy's 'enemies abroad'.

Linda Kells is an Englishwoman who, as an employee of the American finance company occupying No 3 St James's Square, was watching the demonstration: "Soon after the anti-Gadafy demonstrators arrived, Gadafy supporters came out of the embassy to shout back at them. Then it got a bit nasty. Everyone was yelling and screaming and being quite horrid. At that time I noticed that a window on the second floor was being opened by some swarthy Egyptian-type looking man.... About 10 minutes after that some shots were fired."

Eleven anti-Gadafy demonstrators were injured in the volley of gun fire. WPC Yvonne Fletcher was also shot and, although rushed to Westminster Hospital, died soon after arrival.

Following a ten day siege, the 22 Libyan diplomats still in the embassy were escorted to Heathrow and expelled back to Libya. The British media subsequently broadcast pictures of Gadafy welcoming the diplomats back as heroes and the British public were led to believe that Yvonne Fletcher's murderer was among them. Three weeks later the jury at the official inquest recorded a verdict asserting that WPC Fletcher had been unlawfully killed by a bullet fired from the first floor of the Libyan embassy. In his inquest report, pathologist Dr Ian West stated: "Her injuries were entirely consistent with a shot fired from the first floor window of the Embassy, an angle of 15 degrees."


As the Dispatches programme clearly pointed out, there is no dispute over the fact that shots were fired from the Libyan Embassy on that day. Indeed the recorded angle of bullet trajectory for the wounds inflicted on the anti-Gadafy demonstrators was consistent with a 15 degree angle. However, Dr Ian West's original post mortem report, obtained by the programme makers, states that the angle of the bullet that killed WPC Fletcher was measured at 60-70 degrees. As Hugh Thomas, former Chief Consultant Surgeon to the British Army in Northern Ireland, said on camera: "There is lots of leeway possible in determining the angle of entry into a body. But from 60 to 15 degrees is really unacceptable.....You can't match an angle of 60 degrees to a 15 degree angle. What happened in this case was that an attempt was made to marry the post mortem findings to the 15 degrees........obviously there's pressure on the pathologist to try and match the evidence."

When the programme makers attempted to interview the pathologist, Dr Ian West, about these inconsistencies, he cancelled two appointments and then refused outright to meet at all.

The second unusual characteristic about the bullet which took Yvonne Fletcher's life was its velocity. By examining its path and the nature of the subsequent tissue damage, it was possible to determine that, by the time it travelled the 30 yards to where Yvonne Fletcher was standing, the bullet had reached terminal velocity and was slowing down. And yet the weapon used to fire the shots from the Libyan Embassy is accepted by British Police to have been a submachine gun with a far longer range. Lieutenant-Colonel George Styles, a member of the British army for 26 years and one of its leading ballistics experts, stated on camera: "I don't think a submachine gun killed the police lady because the bullet had gone comparatively slowly and I think from a sub-machine gun it would have gone that extra bit faster than the wounds described."

Hugh Thomas, British Army Surgeon, also stated: "The end of the range of a submachine gun certainly isn't 30 yards and any pathologist faced with this would have raised eyebrows instantly at such a concept."

Piecing together the sound tracks from two available pieces of video footage, the programme makers asked leading sound analyst, Simon Heyworth, to examine the audio characteristics of the recorded shots. He concluded that of the twelve shots fired, only the first eleven came from the same source. Those eleven were of the same audio profile, spaced exactly a tenth of a second apart. However, the twelfth shot came two and half seconds after the eleventh, and was of a distinctly different audio quality than the others. According to Heyworth, the twelfth shot was a "separate shot entirely" from the other eleven suggesting another weapon was involved "firing a single shot".

The terminal velocity of the fatal bullet suggested either a low range weapon, such as a handgun, and/or a weapon fitted with a silencer; a device which both dulls the full sound and slows the bullet's speed. The camera accompanied former army surgeon Hugh Thomas to St James's Square to view the Embassy, one of the smallest buildings in the Square, and its neighbouring properties. "There may well have been shots fired from number Five [the Embassy]," he concluded. "But you can't say the bullet that entered her body came from that angle. It's impossible to have that occur. The bullet that caused the fatal injury certainly came from the higher building."

"Not the embassy?" asks the interviewer. "No," replies Thomas. When asked to point out the buildings from which the fatal bullet was likely to have been fired, Thomas then points to No 8 and No 3. The programme's investigators discovered that the sixth floor of No 3, St James's Square was rented by the British security services for use as a surveillance vantage point on the Libyan Embassy.

Interviewed on the programme, the security guard on duty in this multi-tenant building relates how he had no knowledge of which organisation was renting this floor, he was simply told they were watching out for petty thieves in St James's Square. At the time he believed their story, now he doesn't. On the day of the demonstration he noted that none of these sixth floor tenants had arrived. Bearing in mind that the discovered use of this floor was to conduct surveillance on the Libyans, it was highly unusual no one was present on the day anti-Gadafy dissidents were demonstrating on the streets outside. However, the building has a back staircase leading onto a quiet side street via which a discrete entry and exit is possible.


The absence of the usual British intelligence surveillance team is rendered even more significant by the fact that British security had intercepted a message sent by Gadafy to the Libyan Embassy the day before the shooting incident. Gadafy's communique ordered the occupants of the Embassy to shoot at the demonstrators. Despite the significance of this information, British security services failed to inform the Metropolitan Police who had the responsibility of supervising the demonstration. This fatal failure to communicate vital information leaked out into the public domain, with selected journalists being told at the time that the intercepted communique had been mislaid in the bureaucratic maze. However, as Colin Wallace, former member of British Army Intelligence, told the programme makers: "I think it's unbelievable that an intercept of such importance, dealing with a prime target, would have been put aside casually or overlooked." Indeed, when the then Home Secretary, Leon Brittan, commissioned a secret report into the affair, the conclusions were highly critical of the Intelligence Services. In an attempt to head off public embarrassment, MI5 began a smear campaign on Brittan's private life in order to discredit him. According to Richard Ingrams, then editor of Private Eye: "I became convinced that they [stories about Brittan] were being deliberately put about and...were manufactured by MI5.

"Most people have skeletons in the cupboard somewhere and the intelligence community have access to that and, of course, can put pressure on people when the situation arises. One doesn't necessarily have to have a skeleton in the cupboard to be damaged by rumour, particularly when its coming from reliable sources."

In the end, the report commissioned by Leon Brittan dealt only with the handling of the affair, not confronting the question of who actually shot Yvonne Fletcher.

Colin Wallace also reveals in the programme that "an American agency, whether it was the CIA or one of the other organisations we don't know" was party to the information that a shooting was to take place from the Libyan Embassy that day.

The collated evidence strongly suggests that the bullet which killed Yvonne Fletcher was a single shot rather than part of a volley, fired not from the Libyan Embassy but from a high nearby building consistent with the floor hired by British Intelligence at No 3, St James's Square. On the day of the shooting, none of the usual occupants of that floor appeared and yet both the British security services and the CIA knew the day before that there was to be a shooting incident. Eleven shots were fired from a submachine gun from the Libyan embassy, followed very closely by a single shot from elsewhere. There is a back staircase in No 3, St James's Square which leads out into a quiet back street.


The programme of course was unable to state who exactly fired the single fatal shot, but political motivations for the killing Yvonne Fletcher were explored.

Not long after the shooting (1986), American bombers were finally allowed to fly from British bases in a bombing raid which narrowly failed to assassinate Colonel Gadafy but succeeded in killing his baby daughter. According to Howard Teicher, former Libya Policy Chief at the US National Security Council, the British were not keen to enter into a scrap with Gadafy: "The Europeans consistently wanted to do business with Libya." Indeed as the programme revealed, British arms dealers, with the full knowledge of the British Government, had more than likely sold the Libyans the very submachine gun fired from its first floor window that day. However, with the Reagan administration ploughing a high profile anti-Gadafy line, the American's needed both the public support of a European partner and the use of its air bases, before undertaking a politically risky bombing raid on Tripoli.

Vinnie Cannistraro, former CIA Chief of Counter-Terrorism, was unequivocal about the significance of the public outcry following the death of WPC Fletcher: "It was certainly a key factor leading to the British Government's decision to provide support to the raid on Tripoli. Without that support the raid probably would not have taken place at all."


In May 1996 Labour MP, Tam Dalyell, levelled the allegations contained within the Dispatches programme at David MacLean, the then Tory Home Office minister. MacLean's answer was a classic cocktail of outrage and avoidance. Despite Dalyell putting the allegations in eight clear and concise factual questions, MacLean failed to specifically address a single one of them. Instead, he expended several Hansard column inches with: "The [Dispatches] programme asks us to believe that WPC Fletcher was murdered by, or with the connivance of, British or American intelligence officers. If it were not so offensive and obscene, it would be laughable.... If people want to sit in the bowels of some television production company and invent those feverish fantasies, that is up to them. However, I do not know what hurt they have caused the parents of WPC Fletcher and all her other relatives who must be suffering the anguish of not seeing her killers brought to justice. Clearly the programme makers do not care. However, I do care that the memory of that brave officer should not be sullied by preposterous suggestions that she was murdered by other servants of ours or of a friendly country as part a treacherous plot......etc etc." (Hansard 8/5/96 Cols 208-216).

As reported only by journalist Paul Foot in his regular Guardian column, Yvonne's mother, Mrs Queenie Fletcher, was in fact sitting in the House of Commons gallery listening to this debate. She was singularly unimpressed with the fact that she didn't get any answers and with the crocodile tears shed on her behalf by MacLean.

There the subject dropped until the 1997 general election provided Tam Dalyell with renewed hope of forcing the Home Office to specifically address the evidence presented in 'Murder in St. James's'.

On June 10 1997, Jack Straw announced that the Metropolitan Police were reviewing the allegations made in the programme and were expected to complete their analysis by September of that year. But September came and went, and so too did 1997 and 1998 and still no word. Meanwhile the murder of Yvonne Fletcher was now being cited as the sole reason for maintaining trade sanctions against Libya.

According to Stephen Byers, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry: "Our response to the end of sanctions will be positive but satisfactory progress must be made in a number of areas and especially in resolving the outstanding issues in the murder of WPC Yvonne Fletcher. Until that matter is resolved satisfactorily, it will not be possible to resume full diplomatic relations." (Hansard 6/5/99 Col 1074). The following month, Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs, Dr Kim Howells, further asserted: "Normalisation cannot occur while a young police officer has been murdered on our streets in uncertain circumstances. We have a duty to find out the truth of that murder and to find the guilty parties." (Hansard 17/6/99 Col 557).

In line with this policy, a delegation of businessmen and politicians heading for Libya at the end of June were refused permission to travel by the Foreign Office. A foreign office spokesperson said: "Until and unless the WPC Fletcher case is resolved satisfactorily there will be no government-sponsored trade missions and a parliamentary delegation would sit quite oddly with that policy."


Finally, in June 1999 Jack Straw announced: "The Metropolitan Police have recently completed the report of their review of the evidence surrounding WPC Fletcher's murder and of the allegations made in the Dispatches programmes, and I understand that no evidence or intelligence was found to corroborate those allegations. Instead, the review has supported the findings of the original investigation that WPC Fletcher was killed by a bullet from the first floor of the Libyan People's Bureau." (Hansard 14/6/99 Col 18) And that was it. An investigation forecast to last three months had inexplicably lasted two years, only to conclude there was no evidence to justify the investigation in the first place. And still not one of the high level testimonies aired in the programme have been specifically addressed or convincingly refuted.

Meanwhile British business was haranguing the Government, saying that European counterpart were cashing in Libya's lucrative market whilst, under the British trade sanctions, they were "missing the boat". Amongst a myriad of pending trade deals, British Aerospace have a $6 billion contract waiting in the wings, whilst British and foreign banks based in London are keen to recuperate the $1.4 billion owed to them by the Libyans in debt repayment. As Tam Dalyell told SQUALL: "It is remarkable, given that a delegation has been prevented by the Foreign Office from visiting Libya this year specifically because of the unresolved murder of Yvonne Fletcher, that none of the expert evidence in the Dispatches programme has been publicly addressed."

Finally, after a series of talks between Derek Plumbly, director for the Middle East at the foreign office and Abdulati al Obeidi, the Libyan ambassador to Italy, the wording of a political apology was agreed between the two countries which led to the immediate resumption of full trade and diplomatic relations. Just like that.

Could it be that like the Tory government before it, this government were more interested in shielding the Americans from public exposure than they are in seeking justice for the death of a British police officer? And that a strategically negotiated acceptance of "general responsibility" was all that was publicly needed to get the trade dollars flowing again. Certainly the political nature of whole affair has been highly unusual from the moment Yvonne Fletcher fell on that spring day in 1984, to the broadcast of the Dispatches programme in 1996 to the latest strategically negotiated Libyan acceptance of "general responsibility" in 1999. There is little doubt that trade rather than truth emerges as the preoccupying force in the whole affair.

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