It was the kidnap attempt which nearly took the life of the daughter of the Queen. On the night of March 20, 1974, crazed gunman Ian Ball used his Ford Escort car to force the limousine carrying Princess Anne and her husband Captain Mark Phillips to stop as it was being driven down The Mall.
He then used a pistol to fire volleys of shots through the Austin Princess’s windows, prompting the devoted Captain Phillips to shield his wife before he tried to bundle her out the other side of the car. Anne’s police bodyguard, Detective Inspector Jim Beaton, tried to intervene to protect his charge but his gun, a Walther PP, jammed and he was shot three times in the chest and arms.
In the ensuing melee to stop Ball, a further three people were shot – including Anne’s chauffeur and another policeman. Ball was finally stopped when he was bundled to the ground by officer Peter Edmonds after being punched in the head by passing former boxer Ronnie Russell, who had led Anne to safety.
Whilst Ball was later declared to be mentally ill, it emerged in 2014 that he had claimed in police interviews that ‘one good thing’ to come out of his ‘audacious’ crime was that officials would ‘have to improve’ Anne’s protection. Anne is now one of the members of the Royal Family who only receive protection during engagements and official duties, whilst the Queen, Prince Charles, Prince William and Kate get full-time police bodyguards.
On Sunday, it emerged Prince Harry is taking legal action against the Government over its decision to remove his UK police security after he and his wife Meghan Markle stepped down as working royals two years ago. Yesterday, Harry was told by former head of royal protection Dai Davies that he cannot ‘pick and choose’ when he wants to visit the UK and receive bodyguards.
Mr Davies pointed out that Anne does not get full-time protection despite her ordeal. The kidnap attempt on Princess Anne took place at around 8.30pm on March 21, 1974. She and her husband, whom she had married the previous year, had been on their way back to Buckingham Palace after attending a charity film screening.
Inside the car with the couple was Anne’s lady-in-waiting Rowena Brassey. Chauffer Alex Callender was at the wheel. Ball had followed Anne’s car down The Mall and overtook it opposite Clarence House before braking sharply to force the limousine to stop. He then got out and began shooting as he tried to get into the car. A witness, named as Miss Sammy Scott, told the Daily Mail at the time: ‘I could see Princess Anne and Mark huddled in the back of the car.
‘They were on the opposite side to the gunman. Suddenly, I saw a man fall down in front of me. He had been shot. He was covered in blood. He lay on the pavement. ‘Another man, a detective I suppose, came running up. I said to him: “This man has been shot, why doesn’t he go to hospital?”
‘The detective looked at me for a moment and then said: “So have I”. He opened his jacket and I could see blood pouring from his shoulder. Then he also collapsed.’ DI Beaton, who is now in his 70s, was shot immediately as he tried to intervene, meaning that he missed when he fired his first and only round before his gun jammed.
He was then shot twice more when he instead opted to try to use his body to protect Anne and her husband. He later explained how security measures have changed since the incident. He said: ‘I had nothing. ‘There was no back-up vehicle. The training was non-existent; but then again, we thought nothing was going to happen. They are highly specialised now, highly trained.’ Brian McConnell, a journalist who had been following the couple, also tried to intervene to stop Ball and was shot in the chest. Mr Callender was also shot.
When Ball told Anne he was going to kidnap her and ordered her to get out of the car, the princess is alleged to have replied, ‘Not bloody likely!’.