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Today in history… attempt to kidnap Princess Anne

12:00am | & Lifestyle

The closest anyone has ever come to kidnapping a member of the British royal family happened on Wednesday March 20th, 1974.

The intended victim was Princess Anne who, when ordered to get out of her car by her armed would-be kidnapper, gave the spirited reply: “Not bloody likely!”

The Princess was returning to Buckingham Palace at around 8pm after attending a charity film screening. Travelling with her in the rear of the car were her husband of just four months, Captain Mark Phillips, and her lady-in-waiting, Rowena Brassey, while her personal protection officer, Inspector James Beaton, was the front seat passenger next to chauffeur Alex Callendar. Suddenly the limousine, bearing the royal insignia, was forced to a halt when a white Ford Escort pulled into its path and its driver, a young man, jumped out.

First out of the limousine was Insp. Beaton, who at first thought the Escort driver was an irate motorist. He only realised the other man was armed with two pistols when he was shot in the right shoulder from just six feet away. Insp. Beaton managed to draw his own pistol, but struggled to aim because of his injury. His first shot missed and then his gun jammed.

The attacker was Ian Ball, a 26-year-old unemployed labourer from North London with a history of mental illness. He moved to the rear door of the limousine on the driver’s side, where Princess Anne was sitting, and tried to pull it open. On the inside, both the Princess and her husband struggled to hold the door shut, with Ball yelling that he would shoot unless she got out.

The lady-in-waiting managed to scramble through the passenger side rear door, with the wounded Insp. Beaton seizing his opportunity to climb back into the limousine through the open door and place himself between the Princess and the gunman. Ball then shot into the car, hitting Insp. Beaton twice more, which forced him out of the open passenger door and onto the ground. When the chauffeur got out to confront the gunman, he too was shot in the chest and fell back into the car.

Ball then opened the back door of the car, grabbing the Princess by her arm and trying to pull her out while her husband hung onto her waist. By now he was almost pleading with her to come with him, but she refused to get out of the car, continuing to talk to him. Another policeman, 22-year-old PC Michael Hills, then arrived but was shot in the stomach, though he still managed to radio for help.

Seeing the commotion, a passing motorist parked in front of Ball’s Ford Escort, blocking his escape, then went to help PC Hills. Another witness was newspaper journalist Brian McConnell, who approached Ball and tried to reason with him, but was also shot for his trouble.

As Ball returned to his struggle to get Princess Anne out of the car, another witness decided on a more direct approach. Ron Russell, a 6ft 4ins former boxer, approached Ball from behind and hit him hard in the back of the head. As the Princess and Capt. Phillips moved to get out of the passenger side door, Ball ran around the car to stop them, but they jumped back in and closed the door. When Ball turned to go back he was punched in the face by Russell.

More police officers were now approaching and with Ball appearing nervous, the Princess urged him: “Go on… now’s your chance.” Heeding her advice, he took off running through St James’ Park, but was rugby tackled to the ground by a plain clothes detective constable, Peter Edmonds, who had heard PC Hills’ radio message and rushed to the scene in his own car.

All four injured men were taken to hospital, where they recovered from their various bullet wounds. Police searching Ball’s car found two pairs of handcuffs, tranquilisers and a rambling ransom letter addressed to the Queen. It demanded £3m. in used £5 notes, to be put into 20 unlocked suitcases loaded on a plane bound for Switzerland. Ball later claimed the money was for the NHS and he devised the kidnap plan to highlight the underfunding of mental health services.

He pleaded guilty to the attempted murder of Insp. Beaton, attempted kidnapping of Princess Anne, and various other serious wounding offences. He was given a life sentence and detained indefinitely in a secure mental hospital. Insp. Beaton was awarded the George Cross while PC Hills and Ron Russell were each awarded the George Medal. Alex Callendar, Brian McConnell and DC Peter Edmonds were each awarded the Queen’s Gallantry Medal.

Although Ball was clearly unhinged, investigations showed his kidnapping attempt was meticulously planned and well-funded. If he had intended to assassinate rather than kidnap, he would almost certainly have achieved his goal. The incident led to increased security around members of the royal family, including more armed protection officers and upgraded attack-resistant vehicles.

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