|Saturday, 18 September 2010 10:09|
Yvonne Joyce Fletcher
Born: 1959 Wiltshire, England, UK
Died: 17 April 1984, St James's Square, London, England, UK (in the line of duty)
Cause of death: Shot by Libyan from inside Embassy.
WPC Yvonne Joyce Fletcher was a police officer who was shot and killed in London's St James's Square while on duty during a protest outside the Libyan embassy. Her death resulted in a police siege of the embassy, which lasted for eleven days. The shooting also caused the breakdown of diplomatic relations between the United Kingdom and Libya. Her death was the third murder or manslaughter of an on-duty mainland British policewoman, only 18 months after the first.
Fletcher was born in Wiltshire and joined the Metropolitan Police in 1977. At 5 ft 2¾in (159 cm) tall, she was believed to be Britain's shortest police officer (at the time, police officers were generally subject to minimum height requirements).
Nobody has ever been convicted of her murder, though after 15 years the Libyan government finally accepted responsibility for her death and agreed to pay compensation to her family
On the day of her death, Fletcher was one of a detachment of thirty officers sent to St James's Square to monitor a demonstration by Libyan dissidents opposed to the rule of Colonel Gaddafi. The officers with her at the time included her fiancé. This particular demonstration was organised by the Libyan National Salvation Front (LNSF), and was in protest at the execution of two students who had criticised Gaddafi in Tripoli. The Libyan embassy, known as the Libyan People's Bureau, was located at 5 St James's Square and, since February 1984, had been staffed by "revolutionary committees" or students that had taken over, rather than professional diplomats, with tacit approval from the Libyan government. Gaddafi loyalists at the embassy had warned the police that they intended to mount a counter-demonstration.
About 75 protestors arrived by coach from the North of England for the demonstration, and the police kept them and the loyalists apart by the use of crowd control barriers. Loud music was played from the bureau in an apparent attempt to drown out the shouts of the protestors.
At 10:18 on the morning of 17 April 1984, shots were fired into the group of protestors, striking eleven people, including Fletcher. The unarmed officer died of a stomach wound approximately an hour after arriving at hospital. Meanwhile, Libyan radio reported that the embassy was stormed and that those in the building fired back in self-defense against "a most horrible terrorist action".
The subsequent inquest into her death was told that Fletcher was killed by shots from two Sterling submachine guns from the first floor of the Libyan embassy.
Fletcher’s hat and four other police officers' helmets were left lying in the square during the ensuing siege on the embassy, and images of them were repeatedly shown on British and international television in the days that followed. The British public reacted with horror at the third murder of a British police officer in 18 months.
Following the shooting, the embassy was surrounded by armed police for eleven days, in the longest police siege in London's history. Meanwhile, Gaddafi expressed 'disgust' that his diplomats were not being permitted diplomatic immunity, and Libyan soldiers surrounded Britain's embassy in Tripoli in response.
The British Government eventually resolved the incident by allowing the embassy staff to depart the bureau and then expelling them from the country. Britain then broke off diplomatic relations with Libya.
In July 1999, the Libyan government publicly accepted 'general responsibility' for the murder and agreed to pay compensation to Fletcher's family. This, together with Libya's eventual efforts in the aftermath of the Lockerbie bombing, opened the way for the normalisation of relations between the two countries.
On 24 February 2004, the Today Programme on BBC Radio 4 reported that the new Libyan prime minister, Shukri Ghanem, had claimed that his country was not responsible for her murder (nor for the Lockerbie bombing). Ghanem said that Libya had made the admission and paid compensation in order to bring 'peace' and an end to international sanctions.
Gaddafi was said to have later retracted Ghanem's claims.
The official and generally accepted view that Fletcher was fired upon and killed by someone in the Libyan embassy has been disputed by a number of experts, including army ballistics officer Lt-Col George Styles and Home Office pathologist, Hugh Thomas. Prime Minister Tony Blair was questioned on this subject by MP Tam Dalyell in Parliament on 24 June 1997. The Guardian of 23 July 1997 reported a parliamentary speech by Dalyell concerned mainly with the Lockerbie bombing, but also referring to Fletcher's murder:
Participants who appeared in Channel 4's Dispatches documentary entitled Murder In St. James's highlighted such issues as the velocity of the bullet and the angle at which it entered Fletcher's body. Lt-Col Styles stated that a high velocity bullet from a Sterling submachine gun would have passed straight through her body at an angle of 15°, and Hugh Thomas rebutted evidence given by Ian West, the pathologist at the inquest, that the 60° angle of entry of the bullet could be explained by Fletcher's turning to the right or left. The film went on to allege that the anti-Gaddafi organisation Al Burkan, which was allegedly funded by the Reagan White House, had obtained a gun from the Hein terrorist group in West Berlin, and used it to kill Fletcher with a single shot from the sixth floor penthouse at 3 St James's Square - the building adjacent to the embassy. According to the film, the head of Al Burkan, Ragab Zatout, planned to overthrow Gaddafi and seize control of Libya's oil wealth after the severing of diplomatic relations, but his coup attempt on 8 May 1984 was thwarted by the Libyan army.
Her murder would later become a major factor in Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's decision to allow U.S. President Ronald Reagan to launch the USAF bombing raid on Libya in 1986 from American bases in Britain.
Early reports suggested that Fletcher's murderer had been hanged shortly after returning to Libya in 1984 though it was not confirmed. However, once diplomatic relations had been restored in 1999, officers from the Metropolitan Police went to Libya on a number of occasions to pursue their investigations into her murder.
In June 2007, detectives from Scotland Yard were able to interview the chief Libyan suspect for the first time, following the recent normalisation of political ties with that country. Detectives spent seven weeks in Libya interviewing both witnesses and suspects. Fletcher's mother, Queenie, described these developments as "promising".
In February 2009, Queenie Fletcher suggested that Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, who at the time was appealing against his conviction for the Lockerbie bombing, should be moved to a prison in Libya, on condition that the Libyan government co-operates with Scotland Yard detectives investigating her daughter’s murder. Mrs Fletcher said: "I know he is ill and I think he should be returned to a prison in Libya so his family can visit him. The appeal could still go ahead in Scotland, but he could stay in prison in Libya. It’s got to be a fair exchange, so Yvonne’s case can be closed. I’d like the police here to be given permission to interview whoever they’ve got to interview in Libya and see whoever they need to for someone to be brought to trial."
In October 2009 the Daily Telegraph revealed that the Crown Prosecution Service had been told by an independent prosecutor that there was sufficient evidence to prosecute two Libyans. A report from April 2007 concluded that the two men, who are now senior members of the Libyan regime played an "instrumental role" in the killing.
Largely as a result of a campaign by film director Michael Winner, a dedicated charity, the Police Memorial Trust, was created on 3 May 1984, two weeks after her death.
A memorial to Fletcher was commissioned by the Police Memorial Trust. In a display of political solidarity, the leaders of all the main political parties attended the unveiling in Saint James's Square on 1 February 1985, which was performed by the prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. The memorial is located on the north-east corner of the inner section of the square.
Westminster City Council slightly modified part of Saint James's Square to accommodate the memorial, placing a rounded area of pavement in front of it, extending into the roadway making an architectural feature, the centre of which was the granite and Portland stone memorial. The public showed their support of this recognition of police bravery and sacrifice by attending the ceremony in their hundreds and by placing flowers at the memorial every day since it was unveiled. A twenty-year anniversary memorial service was held in April 2004.
In memory of over 1,600 British police officers killed on duty, a national memorial was erected in London opposite Saint James's Park at the junction of Horse Guards Road and The Mall. The National Police Memorial was unveiled by Queen Elizabeth II on 26 April 2005.
The memorial may be seen on Google street view
There is a mention of her murder and memorial in the novel 'Enduring Love' by Ian McEwan.
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