The Jewel In The Mud Award
Were the British Secret Service implemented in killing WPC Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan Embassy in 1984? A recent Channel 4 Dispatches programme presented strong evidence. Seamus O Conner reviews a Jewel in the Mud special.
Jewell In The Mud II - John Pilger see below
Squall 13, Summer 1996, pp. 58-59.
When the excellent ‘Dispatches’ series on Channel Four recently turned its attention to the shooting of WPC Yvonne Fletcher, a can of secret service worms spilled across the television screens.
The expert testimonies presented by the programme included 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.
How exactly Fulcrum Productions, the programme’s makers, assembled such an impressive array of unusually overt experts is a testament to their techniques of documentary film making.
On the morning of April 17 1984, an anti-Gadaffi demonstration took place outside the Libyan Embassy (The Libyan People’s Bureau) at No 5 St James 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 Gadaffi traditionally put extra effort in hanging his opponents at home whilst hunting his enemies abroad. The majority of Libyan people attending the demonstration were dissidents with scarves over their faces, keen to avoid the photographers inside the Embassy collating dossiers on Gadaffi’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-Gadaffi demonstrators arrived, Gadaffi 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-Gadaffi 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 Gadaffi 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 that WPC Fletcher was 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-Gaddafi demonstrators was indeed 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 is 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 submachine 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.”
Then 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 programme makers then took former army surgeon Hugh Thomas to St James’s Square to take a look at 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 may have come from, Thomas then points to either No 8 or 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 then on duty in this multi-tenant building related 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 that day. Bearing in mind that the discovered use of this floor was to conduct surveillance on the Libyans, it was highly unusual there was no one present on the day anti-Gadaffi 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.
This unusual absence of the usual British intelligence surveillance team is rendered even more significant by the fact that the British Security had intercepted a message sent by Gadaffi to the Libyan Embassy the day before the shooting incident. Gadaffi’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 it [stories about Brittan] were being deliberately put about and… were manufactured by MI5.”
Colin Wallace was also revealing about the use of such smear campaigns: “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.
So the collated evidence strongly suggests that the bullet which killed Yvonne Fletcher was a single shot, fired not from the Libyan Embassy but from a high level nearby building consistent with the floor level 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 the 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, American bombers were allowed to fly from British bases in a bombing raid which narrowly failed to assassinate Colonel Gadaffi.
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 Gadaffi: “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- Gadaffi 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 this year, Labour MP Tam Dalyell, levelled the allegations contained within the Dispatches programme at David MacLean, Michael Howard’s side kick at the Home Office. MacLean’s answer is a model of the classic cocktail of outrage and avoidance. Despite putting these allegations in eight clear and concise factual questions, MacLean failed to answer a single one of Dalyell’s questions. 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 bowls 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 Paul Foot in his 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.
The investigation conducted by Fulcrum Productions undoubtedly constituted a major jewel of journalistic investigation. And yet despite its national significance, not one newspaper, magazine or television news service picked the story up. Testament once again to the Establishment’s media mud in which such rare gems find themselves.
Jewel In The Mud 2
John Pilger - The quiet death of dissenting journalism
(New Statesman & Society, April 19th 1996)
“A third of British children grow up invisible in their poverty because the reasons and solutions for their predicament are heretical to a new conformity...
“The insidious modern features of poverty are for unread doctorates, not journalism...
“Since Live Aid, journalists have invented a public affliction called ‘compassion fatigue’, which in reality, is confined to them and the conformism they serve...
“John Vidal’s fine work on the Newbury bypass story comes to mind, along with Paul Foot on the Bridgewater Four...
“Not any more. The ‘metropolitan’ journalist is apparently more concerned with introspection than with finding out about others. For females this means quoting each other, spats with each other, ‘relationships’ and the assorted angst of the middle class... For males it is games with politicians, spin doctors, virtual reality (such as whether or not John Prescott is middle class) and echoing ‘media village’ gossip: or what F Scott Fitzgerald called ‘bantering inconsequence’...
“Thus, reaction is ‘reform’, capitalism is ‘democracy’ and the Deity is the ‘market’. If this sounds vaguely Orwellian, that’s because, like all cult-based language, it is: the cult these days being the fundamentalist belief that all human activity can and should be turned into a commodity ‘market’.
“This is counterfeit journalism because the surface is never disturbed. Dissent, while at times tolerated as exotic, is generally suppressed. This is done not so much by commission as by omission.”
Jewel in the Mud Award - Charles Clover for his gem on Newbury. Squall 12 - Spring 1996. [not online].