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1984: Libyan embassy siege ends

The siege of the Libyan Embassy in St James's Square in London is over.

In the end, the diplomats, holed up in the building for 11 days since the shooting dead of WPC Yvonne Fletcher which began the siege, simply walked out.

The first indication that a major development was under way came at 0847 BST (0747 GMT), when a group of neutral observers and two Libyan intermediaries walked into the Square and entered the building.

Half an hour later, a white van drove up to the door. Four diplomatic bags were loaded on to the vehicle by observers. They were followed by an assortment of suitcases, hand baggage and plastic carrier bags.

No emotion

In groups of five, led by the Libyan intermediary who has talked to them throughout the 11-day siege, the 30 diplomats made their way out of the embassy in single file.

They showed no emotion, even as they passed the spot where WPC Yvonne Fletcher was shot. Her hat, which had lain where she fell, was removed by one of her colleagues during the night.

The shooting, during a demonstration against the Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi, was believed to have been carried out from inside the embassy. It began a tense stand-off between police and the diplomats inside.

Just over a week later, at the inquest into the 25-year-old policewoman's death, witnesses spoke of seeing smoke and a flaming gun at a first floor window of the building.

Negotiations slow and tortuous

The Libyan leader, Colonel Gaddafi, countered with a siege of the British embassy in Tripoli. Negotiations between the two countries have been slow and tortuous, with politicians and the police frustrated by the lack of progress.

Finally on Sunday, diplomatic ties were severed, and those inside the embassy were given seven days to leave the country. The British ambassador to Libya was given the same deadline to leave Tripoli.

The Libyan diplomats have now been escorted to Heathrow and onto a plane out of the country.

Police have reluctantly had to accept that whoever shot WPC Fletcher will probably escape justice by claiming diplomatic immunity.

The Home Secretary, Leon Brittan, has said the government will press for changes in the Vienna Convention controlling diplomatic relations.

In Context
Nobody has yet been charged with the murder of WPC Yvonne Fletcher.

In 1999, Libya admitted "general responsibility" for her killing, and agreed to pay compensation to her family. The authorities in Tripoli also agreed to cooperate with detectives from the anti-terrorist branch investigating the case.

Diplomatic relations between the two countries were resumed later that year.

Police re-opened the file into the murder, and in May 2002 officers from Scotland Yard flew to Libya to further the investigation.

Their talks with the authorities were described as "useful", although newspaper reports suggested that their attempts to interview potential suspects were fruitless.

In 2004 it was announced that Libyan and British police would conduct a joint investigation into the killing.

I was there
I was working in a bank on the corner of Charles II Street [on 17 April 1984] when I heard the shots ring out.

I looked out of the window across St James's Square and saw police carrying [Yvonne Fletcher] to the relative safety of Charles II Street.

Then everything appeared to happen in slow motion, with armed police appearing from nowhere and an ambulance suddenly arriving.

Some of the female bank staff were upset and shaking and given whisky by the manager to help calm them down.

We were all evacuated from the bank premises under armed police guard, even leaving the cash in the tills!

The drains in the bank premises were subsequently inspected in case evidence (ammunition) had been flushed down the drains at the Libyan Embassy from where the shots appeared to have been fired.

The bank premises opposite ours was then used as a base for police operations.
Alan Brown, UK

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