Libya twice warned the Foreign Office of potential violence on the eve of the shooting of Pc Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan People’s Bureau in London, according to newly-released government files.
Papers from 1984 show Libyan officials in both London and Tripoli warned they would not be answerable for the consequences if a planned demonstration by opponents of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi went ahead.
However they seem to have been regarded as little more than typical Libyan bluster – with Britain’s ambassador even placing a bet that nothing would come of it – despite repeated intelligence reports that weapons, explosives and “assassins” were being assembled at the People’s Bureau.
WPc Fletcher, 25, was killed on April 17, 1984 when a gunman inside the bureau building opened fire with a submachine gun on the protesters and police outside. Ten other people were injured.
The incident sealed the reputation of Libya, under its wildly unpredictable leader, as a pariah state.
The files show how the night before the shooting, the British ambassador in Tripoli, Oliver Miles, was summoned to the Libyan foreign ministry shortly after midnight.
There, according to Mr Miles’s telegram to the Foreign Office, he was confronted by an official “reading from an intemperately worded text” who complained the planned demonstration represented a threat to the security of the People’s Bureau.
Mr Miles said he was told: “The Libyan government would not be responsible for the consequences if the demonstration took place and they might include violence.”
The diplomat responded coolly. “I said that threats of violence did not impress the British Government,” he reported.
Mr Miles said the Libyan desk officer who showed him out “seemed as little impressed by this performance as I was”.
He signed off nonchalantly: “I made a bet with him that no such demonstration will take place. Grateful to know the outcome.”
Meanwhile that evening in London, two People’s Bureau officials had telephoned the Foreign Office to express concern about the demonstration the next day.
Just after midnight, according to a briefing note prepared for Home Secretary Leon Brittan, they turned up outside the Foreign Office itself with a message for the duty officer, strikingly similar to that given to Mr Miles in Tripoli.