The Yvonne Fletcher Incident

Today I walked past the site of the Yvonne Fletcher incident and thought I’d share some pictures of where this event took place, along with a little commentary, with my dear readers.

I’ll very briefly recap below, but for a thorough account of the event Wikipedia does as good a job as any here.

In 1984 a demonstration was taking place at the Libyan embassy in London (called the Libyan People’s Bureau by the Libyan government). The location of the Libyan embassy at that time was 5 St James’s Square. As is routinely done in such matters, a detachment of thirty London police officers was sent to St James’s Square to monitor the demonstration by Libyan dissidents opposed to the rule of Colonel Gaddafi. One of those police officers was a woman named Yvonne Fletcher.

Suddenly, and without warning, a diplomat from the embassy leaned out of a window and sprayed gunfire into the crowd below with a Sterling submachine gun. The gunfire struck a number of the protesters and fatally wounded Yvonne Fletcher whose fiance was among the other officers on the scene.

The original ITN report regarding Yvonne Fletcher’s murder with extensive footage of the area, the demonstrators and the shooting itself can be seen here.

The incident created an uncomfortable situation for the British government. The police and many in government were furious and surrounded the embassy with well-armed police units (and even summoned the SAS to the scene). But what about diplomatic immunity? After a standoff lasting eleven days, the British government stood down, allowing the embassy staff to depart the building and then expelling them from the country.  Britain then broke off diplomatic relations with Libya.

This decision by Britain was prompted, in part, by Libyan soldiers surrounding Britain’s embassy in Tripoli in response to Britain’s surrounding of Libya’s embassy in London.  However, Britain also, appropriately, feared an escalating tit-for-tat confrontation with Libya that would spread beyond just their embassy staff to British government employees and civilians around the world.  As difficult as it must have been, I believe they made the right decision.

This is 5 St James Park as it looks today:

former libyan embassy 5 St James Park

The gunman fired from the second window on the left (the one next to the balcony):

former libyan embassy 5 St James Park

Now, this building pictured below, just to the right of the Libyan embassy, deserves a mention as well.  This is 3 St James’s Square.  In 1984, the CIA and MI6 were allegedly camped out on the top floor, listening in on all of the radio traffic flowing in and out of the embassy.

Conspiracists float the idea that these agencies intercepted a radio communication from Tripoli ordering the firing into the crowd.  Forewarned, and given time to prepare, an agent of either the CIA or MI6 actually fired the fatal shot into Yvonne Fletcher.  The physical evidence for this idea is derived from the 60° angle of entry of the bullet that killed Ms. Fletcher.  Some highly regarded ballistics experts assert that it would have been impossible for the fatal shot supposedly fired from the balcony of the embassy to have achieved this angle – an angle that would have been achievable from the top floor of 3 St James’s Square.

The motive presented by the conspiracists?  America was eager to bomb Libya, but wanted to get a reluctant Britain on board with the plan as well.  Murdering a British citizen in a high-profile manner would go a long way toward swinging British public opinion against Libya.  And indeed, Yvonne Fletcher’s murder was supposedly a large factor in Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s decision to authorize the launch of the U.S. bombing raid on Libya in 1986 from American bases in Britain.  And when the United States did bomb Libya, there was barely a murmur of protest from the British public.

3 St James's Square

3 St James's Square

Whether one believes the conspiracists or not, it was a significant moment in history and it is interesting to see where it happened.

A memorial to Yvonne Fletcher was constructed and this is how it appears today:

Yvonne Fletcher Memorial

Yvonne Fletcher Memorial

Yvonne Fletcher Memorial

Today Colonel Gaddafi says he has no idea who fired the gun.  And there exists no enthusiasm in Britain to pursue the matter.  After all, Libya has OIL…  So, why dredge up past unpleasantness when there is money to be made?

3 thoughts on “The Yvonne Fletcher Incident

  1. From Paul Theroux…

    The killing of police officer Yvonne Fletcher never left my mind. It was in the spring of 1984; she was patrolling a crowd of protestors outside the Libyan Embassy in St James’s Square. And then she fell, killed by a bullet from a gun aimed by someone inside the embassy. And when the embassy was closed not long afterwards and the diplomats swaggered out to the square – to fly home to Libya – the TV announcer said, “One of these men killed Yvonne Fletcher.”


    Wednesday August 24,2011
    By Padraic Flanagan

    THE mother of murdered policewoman Yvonne Fletcher hopes her killer will finally face justice with the collapse of Gaddafi’s regime.

    Queenie Fletcher called for whoever shot her daughter outside the Libyan embassy in London 27 years ago to be tried for murder.
    Mrs Fletcher, 78, said: “This is the best chance to find my daughter’s killer. Even after all these years, I very much hope that somebody is brought to justice.”

    Yvonne, 25, was a constable policing a demonstration when she was killed by a bullet fired from inside the Libyan embassy in April 1984.

    A siege ensued at the embassy for 11 days until all those inside were allowed to leave and fly back to Tripoli, triggering revulsion across Britain. No one has been tried over the killing.

    Mrs Fletcher’s comments came as International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell expressed hope that the uprising in the oil-rich state would mean the gunman behind the “outrageous crime” would be charged.

    He said: “There is no question that, following a free Libya under the transitional control of the National Transitional Council, this is an issue the British Government will want to pursue.”

    Mrs Fletcher, speaking at her home in Semley, Wilts, said: “I shall be very pleased if there is a new judicial process which can find my daughter’s killer.”

    When the Libyan resistance first took up arms against Gaddafi, the campaigning grandmother told the Daily Express she was hopeful that her daughter’s killer could soon be tried.

    Her husband Tim, 77, said he and his wife were still anxious to find out who shot their daughter and who ordered the shooting.

    And he revealed how their grandchildren still ask them why nobody has been caught for the murder of the aunt they never knew.

    Mr Fletcher said he would “like to blow Gaddafi’s head off”.

    Yvonne’s killing sparked one of the longest sieges in British history and a major diplomatic row. In 2009, a leaked report claimed prosecutors had enough evidence to charge two Libyan men over her killing but no arrests have been made.

    In March, Libyan rebels captured Omar Ahmed Sodania, 59, who was a ­cultural attache at the St James’s Square embassy at the time of the shooting.

    His fingerprints had been found in a room on the first floor near the window from where the fatal shot was believed to have been fired.

    He insisted he did not carry out the shooting but said there were three men the Metropolitan Police should focus on, two students and a diplomat.

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