FBI unseals secret files detailing Queen bridge assassination threat

The FBI has today unveiled a mountain of files detailing assassination attempts against the late Queen, Royal Editor Chris Ship reports

The FBI has revealed a mountain of secret files detailing "everpresent" IRA threats and a previously unpublished account of an assassination attempt on Queen Elizabeth II during a state visit to the US.

The new details that have emerged reveal how a man had planned to drop an object off the Golden Gate Bridge, in San Francisco, onto the royal yacht Britannia when it sailed underneath in an attempt to kill the monarch.

The then-Queen and her husband, Prince Philip, paid a visit to San Francisco in 1983 and were hosted by the then-President Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy.

Records - posted in The Vault, the FBI’s public website - show that agents persistently braced for potential threats from the IRA and their sympathisers in the run-up to, and during, the royal state visits.

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip with President Ronald Reagan and first lady Nancy Reagan at a formal state dinner in San Francisco. Credit: AP

The 102 pages of records about the monarch's trips were publicly released on Monday in response to a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by NBC News and other media, following the Queen's death last year.

A city police officer who regularly visited an Irish pub in the area warned FBI federal agents about a potential threat against the royals by an IRA sympathiser seeking revenge for the death of his daughter, the previously secret records show.

The unnamed officer claimed that on February 4, 1983 - a month before the scheduled visit - he received a phone call from the man “who claimed that his daughter had been killed in Northern Ireland by a rubber bullet”.

A memo in the uncovered file reads: "This man additionally claimed that he was going to attempt to harm Queen Elizabeth and would do this either by dropping some object off the Golden Gate Bridge onto the royal yacht Britannia when it sails underneath, or would attempt to kill Queen Elizabeth when she visited Yosemite National Park."

Police also warned FBI agents that due to the wide variety of protesters against both Reagan and the British monarch, “it will be very hard to anticipate and prevent incidents which may embarrass either the queen or the president.”

But the records do not indicate the FBI or other law enforcement agencies arrested anyone during that or any other visit.

The royal family had reason to fear possible attacks, as in 1979 Lord Mountbatten, Elizabeth’s second cousin and a close confidant of now-King Charles, was killed in an IRA bombing in Ireland.

In 1989, prior to the Queen’s visit to the East Coast and parts of the American south, another internal FBI memo noted that, despite knowing of no specific dangers, “the possibility of threats against the British Monarchy is everpresent from the Irish Republican Army (IRA).”

“Boston and New York are requested to remain alert for any threats against Queen Elizabeth II on the part of IRA members and immediately furnish same to Louisville,” the memo read.

Queen Elizabeth II and President Ronald Reagan raise their glasses during a state dinner in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, 1983. Credit: AP

Previous assassination attempts

This was not the only time the Queen's life had been at risk.

In 1981, Christopher John Lewis, a New Zealand teenager, aimed a rifle at the monarch during her tour of the country.

The Queen had just stepped out of a Rolls-Royce to greet 3,500 well-wishers when the sound of the gunshot rang out.

In an attempt to mask the seriousness of the threat, police at the time claimed the noise came from a sign falling over, and later said it was due to someone letting off firecrackers nearby.

The bullet missed, but the 17-year-old reportedly became obsessed with wiping out the royal family.

In 1983, Lewis attempted to overpower a guard at the psychiatric hospital where he was being detained in order to assassinate the then-Prince Charles, who was visiting New Zealand with Diana, then Princess of Wales, and their young son, Prince William.

Lewis eventually killed himself in prison at the age of 33, while awaiting trial for the murder of a young mother and the kidnapping of her child.

Then-Prince Charles and Princess Diana in 1983, leaving London for a six-week tour of Australia and New Zealand. Credit: AP

The Buckingham Palace intruder

Michael Fagan, an out-of-work painter and decorator, made headlines around the world in 1982 when he broke into Buckingham Palace and came face-to-face with the Queen in her bedroom.

Mr Fagan, then aged 32, had climbed the railings at Buckingham Palace, scaled a drainpipe, and entered the building through an open window.

More recently, the story has been revisited in Series 4 of Netflix’s The Crown, which recreated the scene, but with its own fictional spin.

In the show's version of the incident, the Queen, played by Olivia Colman, engages in a long conversation with her trespasser, played by Tom Brooke, who is seen ranting about the then-Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.

However, although news reports at the time suggest that Mr Fagan engaged the monarch in a 10-minute chat, it has since been revealed that few words were actually exchanged.

Olivia Colman played the Queen in series 4 of Netflix's The Crown. Credit: AP

Speaking to the Telegraph in 2020, Mr Fagen said: “I pulled back the curtain and she said, ‘What are you doing here?’”

After he sat on the end of her bed, the Queen is said have to have told him, “I’ll be back in a minute."

“She walked out on her little legs. Then a footman comes in and goes, ‘You look like you need a drink, mate.'" Mr Fagen said.

"He pours me a whisky out of the pantry. Then the policemen came and they were all over the place - they hadn’t arrested anyone for years, they were on a retirement posting, on guard duty. One of them was fumbling around for his notebook.”

Mr Fagan was arrested but not charged with trespass. It was the second time he had broken into the Palace - on the first, he was disturbed by a maid and fled.

He was later charged with stealing a bottle of wine during that first intrusion, but was acquitted.

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