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Last Updated: Monday, 2 April 2007, 01:19 GMT 02:19 UK
How BBC man scooped invasion news
By Laurie Margolis
BBC News

Laurie Margolis

Walk down London's Portland Place, heading south from Regent's Park towards Regent Street,and you come to a kink in the wide road.

Immediately ahead of you is the plush Langham Hotel, very expensive and also one of the most haunted buildings in London.

To your left, BBC Radio's headquarters at Broadcasting House. This busy location, on the northern edge of London's West End, was the focus of the way the story of the Falklands invasion unfolded exactly 25 years ago.

Back in 1982 I was a BBC journalist and also an amateur radio operator - I still am. That means I have a call-sign - G3UML - and some expertise in long-distance short-wave communications.

At the very end of March, 1982, I was working on the Golan Heights, hearing on the BBC World Service a bizarre story about Argentine scrap metal merchants taking over the British dependency of South Georgia.

Invasion claim

I returned to London on the morning on 2 April, and went into Broadcasting House to work on a documentary. I was met by scenes of near panic in the radio newsroom.

The Argentines were claiming to have invaded and taken over the Falkland Islands, the 2,000-strong British colony off the south-eastern tip of South America.

Argentine soldiers take a lunch break during the invasion
Argentine soldiers took control after a few hours' resistance

The newsroom had Argentine claims, but nothing else apart from a laconic message from the Cable and Wireless station on the Falklands - "we have a lot of new friends".

At that time the Langham Hotel was a dreary BBC office block and, in a dusty, junk-filled attic room - number 701 - the BBC's own amateur radio club had a shortwave transceiver. With a big aerial on the roof, it worked pretty well.

My senior editors wondered if there was any way I could contact the Falklands through amateur radio. Nothing else was working. It seemed a possibility. The remote nature of the islands meant that radio was important, and for the small population there were a lot of radio amateurs down there.

'A true scoop'

So I took up a vigil in room 701, listening carefully across the 14, 21 and 28 megahertz bands for anything from VP8 - the international call-sign prefix for the islands.

And about six hours later, I struck gold. On 21.205 megahertz at 1600 London time, that rather distinctive accent, a bit West Country - a Falkland Islander.

And what a story he had to tell - a true scoop, an exclusive of the greatest magnitude.

Map of the Falkland Islands

The voice was that of Bob McLeod, and he lived in the settlement of Goose Green on East Falkland. His call-sign, I realised, was VP8LP but he was anxious that it shouldn't be used. I have much of what he said that day recorded on an old-fashioned audio cassette.

"We have now been taken over. The British government still denies it but they have no contact I believe with the Falklands, and this is probably why they are still denying it.

"But we have been taken over. There is an aircraft carrier and I believe four other boats - I don't have the details on them - but they do have heavy armoured vehicles in Stanley, details I don't know, and quite a number of personnel.

"They landed approx 0930 GMT this morning in landing craft and stormed the capital Port Stanley and have taken over the government office, they landed with heavy armoured vehicles.

"We're now under their control. They are broadcasting that all local people will be treated as normal. Fairly peaceful in Stanley at present time."

Foreign Office call

The Argentines had still to reach Goose Green and so Bob was able to transmit his bombshell.

He was getting information from local radio, which broadcast a commentary as the invasion developed early that morning, and then carried on, under Argentine control, transmitting messages of reassurance. The islands' VHF radio network was also buzzing with the story as it developed.

HMS Antelope exploding after Argentine air attack
The resulting conflict cost hundreds of lives

By then my dusty attic was busy with BBC TV crews and newspaper people who'd been told it might be a good place to be.

I went onto the Radio 4 PM programme at 1700 London time with an account of what I'd been told. A few minutes later I was rung by the Foreign Office, who understood I'd been in touch with the Falklands and wondered what they were saying. I gave them a bit more of Bob.

"Damage we don't know, shooting around a very rough guess approx two hours. Three deaths of Argentineans [sic] in the Falklands, one believed to be very senior.

"The English marines and local defence forces - we have no information. Took over Government House, and then taken over all of Port Stanley. And I believe they shot up the Cable and Wireless transmitting station.

"Helicopters flying around Stanley. 500 personnel in Stanley, and aircraft carrier believed to be carrying 1,500. Flying Hercules aircraft, one has come in."

It clearly made an impression. Within an hour the Foreign Secretary, Lord Carrington, was on his feet in the House of Lords confirming a massive British humiliation.

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