Libya 'warned of embassy violence'

Hampshire Chronicle:  WPc Yvonne Fletcher was gunned down outside the Libyan Embassy in London on April 17 1984 WPc Yvonne Fletcher was gunned down outside the Libyan Embassy in London on April 17 1984

Libya twice warned the Foreign Office of potential violence on eve of the shooting of WPc Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan People's Bureau in London, according to newly-released government files.

Papers from 1984 released by the National Archives in Kew, west London, show Libyan officials in both London and Tripoli warned they would not be answerable for the consequences if a planned demonstration by opponents of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi went ahead.

However they seem to have been regarded as little more than typical Libyan bluster - with Britain's ambassador even placing a bet that nothing would come of it - despite repeated intelligence reports that weapons, explosives and "assassins" were being assembled at the People's Bureau.

Twenty five-year-old WPc Fletcher was killed on April 17 1984 when a gunman inside the bureau building in St James's Square opened fire with a submachine gun on the protesters and police outside. Ten other people were injured.

The incident sealed the reputation of Libya, under its wildly unpredictable leader, as a pariah state.

The files show how the night before the shooting, the British ambassador in Tripoli, Oliver Miles, was summoned to the Libyan foreign ministry shortly after midnight.

There, according to Mr Miles's telegram to the Foreign Office (FCO), he was confronted by an official "reading from an intemperately worded text" who complained the planned demonstration represented a threat to the security of the People's Bureau.

Mr Miles said he was told: "The Libyan government would not be responsible for the consequences if the demonstration took place and they might include violence."

The diplomat responded coolly. "I said that threats of violence did not impress the British Government, at which he withdrew saying that no direct threat was intended," he reported.

Mr Miles said the Libyan desk officer who showed him out "seemed as little impressed by this performance as I was".

He signed off nonchalantly: "I made a bet with him that no such demonstration will take place. Grateful to know the outcome."

Meanwhile that evening in London, two officials from the People's Bureau had telephoned the Foreign Office to express concern about the demonstration the next day.

Just after midnight, according to a briefing note prepared for Home Secretary Leon Brittan, they turned up outside the Foreign Office itself with a message for the duty officer, strikingly similar to that given to Mr Miles in Tripoli.

"They said that if the demonstration went ahead they would not be answerable for the consequences," the note stated.

Like Mr Miles, the duty officer seems to have been underwhelmed by his late night encounter. "This last is a standard Libyan line: we did not regard it as particularly significant at the time, though the act of calling at the FCO in the middle of the night was unusual," the note said.

Nevertheless, the duty officer did contact Scotland Yard and the Home Office to let them know what had happened. "In doing so he drew attention to the unpredictable and violent nature of the Libyan regime," the note said.

The warning hardly seemed necessary, given the Libyans' reputation. Earlier that year, on Gaddafi's orders, People's Bureau had been taken over by a committee of "revolutionary students" while there had been a series of bomb blasts in London and Manchester aimed at opponents of the dictator.

At the same time, the files show that the intelligence agencies were accumulating evidence of the Libyans' activities in the UK, with reports in March indicating the People's Bureau "may have assassins at its disposal and stocks of weapons".

A further intelligence report said the "revolutionaries" were ready to continue their "activities" and that "more bomb making supplies may be imported by diplomatic bag", while on April 11 - less than a week before the demonstration - it was reported they may be attempting to bring in weapons through Newcastle.

But despite all the warnings there is nothing in the files to suggest any action was taken to alert police responsible for policing the demonstration or to put in place extra precautions .

Within hours of the shooting, intelligence was received in the Home Office from telephone intercepts suggesting orders had been issued from Tripoli to the People's Bureau to open fire on the police and demonstrators.

Despite the public outrage over the killing of a policewoman, the files show Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was quick to accept that, under diplomatic protocols, nothing could be done to detain the occupants of the People's Bureau and they would have to be allowed to return to Libya.

While armed police surrounded the bureau building, her immediate concern appeared to be to avoid giving the Libyans the excuse to retaliate against British diplomats in Tripoli.

Her attitude appears to have horrified Mr Brittan who remarked acidly that "arguably we should not be too concerned" if the Libyans used the diplomatic bag to take their arms and explosives with them.

"We had after all," he told Mrs Thatcher, "already accepted that we would allow a murderer to go free."

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