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1979: British ambassador assassinated in Holland

British ambassador in Holland Sir Richard Sykes has been shot dead outside his Dutch home.

Two gunmen opened fire on Sir Richard and his Dutch footman as they left his residence at The Hague to make the short five minute car journey to the embassy.

At about 0900 local time the 58-year-old and 19-year-old footman, Karel Straub, were both shot in the head.

The father-of-three is reported to have fallen into his car and been driven off at speed by his chauffeur Jack Wilson.

Mr Straub fell to the pavement and was repeatedly shot again.

Both men were taken to hospital but died on arrival within minutes of each other.

Eyewitnesses said the gunmen were wearing dark suits and coats, aged between 35 and 40, and escaped down a quiet alleyway.

Alyson Bailes, secretary to the former Trade Secretary Edmund Dell, is on a special visit to Holland and is understood to have been with Sir Richard during the attack.

But initial reports suggest she is unharmed.

A spokesman for the embassy said: "We have no idea who perpetrated this horrible act, or for what motive."

Police in the Netherlands and in Britain have not ruled out IRA involvement, but other groups under suspicion include Palestinians and Iraqis.

Detectives are also considering the possibility Dutch "hit-men" could be involved.

The embassy and the police said no threats had been made against the ambassador, and there had been no sign of IRA activity in Holland during recent months.

Sir Richard was an acknowledged expert on security affairs and had been a diplomat in Cuba, Peking and Washington.

He was responsible for an internal report on the safety of British diplomats following the killing in 1977 of the British ambassador to Eire, Christopher Ewart-Biggs.

Sir Richard took up his job in June 1977 after a two year posting as a Foreign and Commonwealth Office deputy under-secretary in London.

In Context
Security came under scrutiny after the killing as there was no permanent guard on the ambassador's residence and he relied on mobile patrols by local police based about 300 yards from his home.

Sir Richard's assassination baffled detectives in both countries but police suspected the IRA more than any other group.

It was later revealed he had been killed by members of the IRA.


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