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History: The day Yvonne Fletcher was murdered

On Monday the 23rd of June, a House of Commons adjournment debate saw Bob Stewart MP, make an impassioned appeal for PC Yvonne Fletcher to be awarded a posthumous George Medal. Chris Hobbs, now retired, has vivid memories of a dark day for UK policing.

Every police officer who has served for any length of time, will experience days which will be embedded on his or her memory forever. Probably every officer who was in a UK police on the 17th of April 1984, will remember where they were and what they were doing when news of the murder of Yvonne Fletcher began to filter through.

I was a sergeant performing station officer duty at a west London police station at the time. In those pre-PACE days, the station officer not only had responsibility for the front office and desk but also for what is now termed, custody.

The shock amongst all officers was palpable. The veteran PC who was responsible for duties, was besieged by officers offering to travel into central London to assist in what everyone knew would be a major policing operation.

The one officer who was inevitably summonsed, was on my relief and a well-established authorised shot who was also qualified in respect of rifle weaponry. In those days, armed policing was not as sophisticated as it is today. That’s not to say that there were not many, very capable officers who were able to switch from routine policing to dealing with an armed incident in the blink of an eye.

That officer was to spend very, many hours prone on a rooftop overlooking the embassy before the incident came to its unsatisfactory end.

PC Yvonne Fletcher 

Whilst media coverage was not as extensive as it is now, we police officers quickly became aware of the diplomatic implications of the incident and the fact that there were some 8,000 British nationals working in Libya including British embassy staff.

Nevertheless, there was a belief that the Iron Lady, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, would ensure justice for Yvonne. The Iranian Embassy siege was fresh in the minds of all officers although of course those who had taken over that embassy were not diplomats; those who were responsible for the death of Yvonne probably were. There was an initial expectation that the SAS would be called in to resolve the situation and, given the acts of Libyan inspired terror in London even before this tragedy, their intervention was eagerly anticipated.

It became clear, as the stand-off continued, that a quick ‘Iranian embassy’ type resolution was unlikely. Days duly passed by with the Libyan embassy effectively under siege by officers from the Met backed up by SAS units.

One bone of contention was Yvonne’s hat which remained on the floor at the scene together with police helmets (see main photo). On the day of her funeral, it was daringly retrieved by PC Clive Mabry and rushed down to her funeral in Salisbury to be placed on Yvonne’s coffin. Clive told the BBC that he was promptly ‘arrested’ by an Inspector but common sense prevailed and no disciplinary action was taken.

On the same day, preparations for the evacuation of the Libyan embassy had begun. The actual evacuation convoy and the boarding of the flight back to Libya, came as a palpable shock to the police community. Had social media been active back then, it would doubtless have exploded with fury at what appeared to be a surrender to a stark, brutal act of terror.

Yet, despite the anger, there was also a realisation that there were effectively thousands of British hostages in Libya together with international protocols in respect of diplomacy.

Efforts to bring the perpetrators before a British court however have continued due, in no small part to John Murray, a former colleague of Yvonne’s who was present on the day and has dedicated his life attempting to bring those responsible to justice.

The ramifications of that awful day have ebbed and flowed over 36 years.

Bob Stewart’s adjournment speech suggesting that Yvonne be awarded a posthumous George medal was both well researched, caring and passionate. I, for example, was totally unaware that after being shot, Yvonne’s concern was not for herself but for others.

Bob Stewart was supported by controversial MP Mark Francois, and at the conclusion of the debate policing minister Kit Malthouse pledged the assistance of his officials in respect of acquiring the relevant evidence which would enable such an award to be made. As the debate concluded, it was clear that what was said had had a profound effect upon the deputy speaker.

The final word should perhaps rest with the Met as quoted in the Evening Standard.

“It is testament to WPC Fletcher’s legacy that, even though it is approaching 37 years since she was tragically murdered, her memory endures.

“Every April, officers - both serving and retired - return to Yvonne’s memorial stone in St James’s Square on the anniversary of her death to pay their respects and remember her.

“We will never forget Yvonne’s sacrifice.”

Chris Hobbs is a retired Met officer who worked in Special Branch

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