BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: Programmes: Correspondent  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
Correspondent Monday, 12 March, 2001, 16:06 GMT
Justice: A Greek tragedy
Heather Saunders at her husband Stephen's funeral.
Heather Saunders at her husband Stephen's funeral.
Heather Saunders' husband was killed in Greece last year by the terrorist group November 17. N17 have been killing for a quarter of a century and no one has been caught. Edward Stourton travels to Greece to follow Heather's fight for justice.


The fight for justice

map of Greece
map of Greece
Heather Saunders wants justice for the murder of her husband, Stephen. She kept silent for months after he was gunned down by the shadowy Greek terrorist group N17 on his way to work at the British Embassy in Athens.

Now she has decided to speak to the BBC documentary programme Correspondent because she fears that his murder will be forgotten.


Not only have they killed my husband, but they have now destroyed me and my entire family.

Heather Saunders
Heather Saunders' home is an old mill house hidden in the folds of the Dorset countryside. She and her husband bought it as a place to retire to - instead she is living out her grief there with their two teenage daughters.

Brigadier Stephen Saunders was the British military attaché in Athens. He was assassinated last June by a shadowy terrorist group called N17 - they followed him on a motorbike as he drove to work, and shot him at point blank range while he was caught in the heavy Athens traffic.

Brigadier Stephen Saunders
Stephen Saunders - killed last year by N17 group
The following day the newly widowed Heather emerged from the embassy gates to make an extraordinary appeal for witnesses. "I only hope that the people that carried out this cowardly act on an unarmed man on his way to work will realise the total devastation that they have caused."

"Not only have they killed my husband, but they have now destroyed me and my entire family". It was one of those moments which remains in the minds of anyone who saw it, and it had a political impact that is still being felt today.

The Charter of Fundamental Rights


The Saunders killing put Greece's record on terrorism in the spotlight - and Athens' commitment to justice has been on trial ever since.

Edward Stourton
Greece, like every other country in the European Union, was negotiating the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The Charter was endorsed by the EU's governments at the Nice Summit just before Christmas, and one of the rights it enshrined was the right to justice.

The Saunders killing put Greece's record on terrorism in the spotlight - and Athens¿s commitment to justice has been on trial ever since.

N17 terrorist group logo
N17 terrorist group logo
N17 is named after the student uprising of November 1973 - it commemorates the day the Greek junta known as the Colonels sent in the tanks to crush the rebellion. The group murdered for the first time in 1975, and has killed 23 people in all.

After each assassination it issues a "proclamation" - a long and rambling justification.

The 'justification' for murder

The early versions of these quasi-manifestos were heavily coloured by Marxist Leninist ideology - they have become more nationalist in tone as the years have gone by.

The proclamation following Brigadier Sounder¿s killing said he was chosen because of the Nato campaign in Kosovo.

Not a single person caught


Only Greece has failed to make any kind of progress whatever - not a tiny shred of progress.

James Woolsey
CIA Director
Left-wing terrorism was an all too familiar phenomenon in 1970s Europe. What makes Greece stand out is that it still continues there, and in the 26 years during which N17 has operated, not a single person has been caught.

As the former CIA Director James Woolsey told Correspondent, "Every single European country that had a group terrorising its population has long since broken the group. Only Greece has failed to make any kind of progress whatever - not a tiny shred of progress".

Heather Saunders with Edward Stourton
Heather Saunders today with Edward Stourton
The sense of frustration about the failure of the Greek authorities is especially felt in Washington.

Five of N17's victims have been staff at the American embassy in Athens. The Americans have poured money into embassy security.

They spend more there than they do at any other embassy in the world - and devoted substantial resources to fostering the anti-terrorist skills of the Greek police.

Failure of Greek Government

But it has not worked. "The US government", Mr Woolsey said, "has provided substantial information in the past to the Greek authorities relating to 17 November.

November 17 group
Founded in 1975
Roots in resistance to former junta
Anti-capitalist
Opposes Greek links with West
Has admitted to 21 killings
"At some points it seemed as if Greek intelligence were working seriously on this. But then work stopped, and from all we've been able to see in this country there hasn't been any progress on this issue for many, many years".

Explanations for this failure go back to the period of the Colonels' rule from 1967 to 1974.

The trauma of dictatorship has left an enduring mark on Greek society; there is a natural fear of any laws which would allow the authorities to intrude too far in peoples' lives, and a residual suspicion of the police and authorities may be one of the factors which explain why witnesses are not willing to come forward.

Brigadier Stephen Saunders
Born: Farnborough, Hants in 1947
Married to Heather
Daughters: Nicola, 15 and Catherine, 14
1965: Joined army
1967: Commissioned into Duke of Edinburgh's Royal Regiment
1968-71: Read geography and economics at Bristol University
1986: Promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, serving in N. Ireland, Australia, Papua New Guinea and Kuwait
1999: Promoted to Brigadier and appointed defence attaché to the British Embassy in Athens

With the return to democracy PAK gave birth to PASOK, the political party which has held power for 17 of the past 20 years.

But there are those who believe that the links between legitimate politicians and left-wing terrorists which were formed in the days of the Colonels have never been entirely broken.

And that people within Greece's political establishment are protecting those who were once their comrades.

When Correspondent put that to the Greek Justice Minister he dismissed it out of hand.

"So long as there is no evidence", he said, "we cannot accept such accusations".

Since the Saunders killing, the fight against N17 has suddenly become a political priority.

The law on DNA evidence is being re-written, there could soon be a witness protection programme, and Scotland Yard are in Athens helping with the investigation.

But after nine months no arrest has been made and no witness have dared come forward - and Heather Saunders is still waiting for justice.


Click here for transcripts


Watch the webcast



A Greek Tragedy:
1920 GMT, Sunday 18 March, BBC Two.

Reporter: Edward Stourton
Producer: David Akerman
Executive Producer: Farah Durrani
Series Producer: Kate Snell

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Edward Stourton:
"A group of terrorists have been killing for a quarter of a century."
Reconstruction of Stephen Saunders' murder:
"He was a sitting duck...a very easy target."
Edward Stourton:
"One of the very few clues to N17's identity."
Edward Stourton:
"26 years of killing. 23 victims to date."
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Correspondent stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Correspondent stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes