By Chas Early
An 11-day siege of the Libyan Embassy in London was set in motion on this April 17, 1984 when shots fired from the building hit and killed 25-year-old Metropolitan Police constable Yvonne Fletcher.
WPC Fletcher had been one of a small number of officers overseeing a group of protestors outside the embassy in St James’s Square, who were demonstrating against the Gaddafi regime.
The protestors held placards and shouted anti-regime slogans; later, a number of pro-Gaddafi Libyans had appeared from within the embassy and started their own chants, but the two groups – neither of whom numbered more than 70 people – were kept well apart.
Then, at around 10.18am, a burst of automatic gunfire came from an upper window in the embassy. WPC Fletcher was hit, and fell to the floor holding her stomach. A number of her colleagues – including her fiancé, also a police officer – comforted her while an ambulance was called.
She was taken to Westminster Hospital but died of her wounds less than two hours later. Ten demonstrators were also hospitalised with gunshot wounds.
Neighbouring offices and homes were evacuated as the police surrounded the building. But under international law it was impossible for the police or security services to enter the embassy without the permission of the Libyans – and so a long stand-off began.
On April 27, after days of brokered negotiation and with the lives of British diplomats in Tripoli at risk, the embassy siege came to an end. Staff were allowed to leave the building unmolested and board a plane which took them back to Libya.
WPC Yvonne Fletcher – Did you know?
Yvonne Joyce Fletcher, described by colleagues as “a diamond”, had joined the Metropolitan Police aged just 19. She had been turned down by two other forces due to her height.
Evidence suggests that Gaddafi maintained a policy of trying to eliminate Libyan dissenters against his regime even if they were in other countries.
Fletcher was shot in the back; footage taken by news cameras shows her just after she is hit, and then as she is carried by colleagues out of the line of fire into Charles II Street.
Under instructions from Gaddafi, Libyan radio announced that UK police and intelligence agents had “stormed the building” and that the gunfire was in response to this “most horrible terrorist action”.
As a ‘response’ to this, the Libyan leader ordered his troops to surround the British embassy in Tripoli, trapping 18 diplomats inside. The UK government feared retaliation against them and 8,000 other British citizens in Libya if arrests were made.
Diplomatic relations with Libya were officially severed on 23 April, and the Libyans in the embassy were given seven days to leave the country. The British Ambassador in Libya was given the same deadline.
Relations were restored in 1999; the same year, Libya admitted “general responsibility” for WPC Fletcher’s death, and agreed to pay compensation to her family. They also agreed to cooperate with detectives from the UK anti-terrorist branch investigating the case.
After the collapse of the Gaddafi regime, more detectives have visited Libya to hunt for WPC Fletcher’s murderer. Two men have been named as suspects – Abdulmagid Salah Ameri and Salah Eddin Khalifa – but to date, no arrests have been made.
Two weeks after WPC Fletcher’s death, film director Michael Winner suggesting a memorial be erected in her honour. Donations flooded in and a memorial was unveiled in St James’s Square in February 1985.
Winner’s appeal led to the creation of the Police Memorial Trust, which campaigned for a National Police Memorial to honour police officers killed in the line of duty. In April 2005, the memorial, sited near the Mall, was unveiled by the Queen.
Chas Early – Journalist, A former actor, Chas swapped storylines for bylines to train as a journalist with the Press Association. His experience includes working in current affairs programming for GMTV.