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The Bloody Attempt to Kidnap Princess Anne


The aftermath of Ian Ball's attempt to kidnap Princess Anne.

At approximately 8 p.m. on March 20, 1974, Princess Anne and her husband, married for just four months, were en route to Buckingham Palace following a charity film screening. Seated in the back of a maroon Rolls-Royce limousine adorned with royal insignia, Anne's lady-in-waiting accompanied the couple, while Inspector James Wallace Beaton, a member of Scotland Yard's special operations branch responsible for royal protection, occupied the passenger seat as their bodyguard. Along the Mall, a thoroughfare connecting London's Trafalgar Square and Buckingham Palace, their journey was abruptly halted as a white Ford Escort overtook them, compelling their chauffeur to stop roughly 200 yards from the palace. A bearded man with light red hair emerged from the Escort brandishing two handguns, advancing towards the rear of the limousine. Assuming the man to be a disgruntled driver, Inspector Beaton, aged 31, exited the vehicle to confront him. From a distance of six feet, the assailant fired a shot, striking the officer in his right shoulder.


Beaton would later speak to The Times newspaper about what was going through his mind as he tried to protect the princess and got shot.

“I thought it was somebody who wanted to be a pain in the neck,” the former officer recalled when Ball stopped the car. “There was no hint of what was to happen.”

After being hit by gunfire, Beaton said: “I felt tired and very drunk, although I hadn’t been drinking. I just wanted to lie down.”

“I had nothing. There was no backup vehicle,” Beaton told The Times per Express. “The training was non-existent; but then again, [we thought] nothing was going to happen. They are highly specialised now, highly trained.”

Princess Anne in the early 1970s

It might seem improbable that locating a member of the royal family could be as straightforward as obstructing their limousine with one's own vehicle, yet Ball defied expectations by pinpointing the princess's whereabouts with precision. Familiar with Princess Anne's route from previous sightings, he deemed her an "easy target" and simply dialed the Buckingham Palace press office to ascertain her location.

The palace had also widely publicized Princess Anne's attendance at the charity event, and her limousine prominently displayed the royal insignia, facilitating Ball's pursuit.


Perceiving Princess Anne as vulnerable, Ball likely noted that she and her husband travelled with only one bodyguard, further fuelling his confidence in targeting her for abduction.


In his scheme to seize Anne, Ian Ball set his sights on the day's celebrity royal figure. Having married a commoner, Mark Phillips, a British army Captain, the 23-year-old princess had captured public attention. Their union, forged through equestrian circles where Phillips had distinguished himself with an Olympic gold medal, culminated in a lavish wedding ceremony that included 2000 guests and extensive media coverage.


During the attempted kidnapping, only one member of SO14 was tasked with protecting Princess Anne, a practice akin to Queen Elizabeth's unofficial trips, where she typically had just one bodyguard in tow. Although Ball was unaware of the specific route the limousine would take that night, the palace's promotion of Princess Anne's event appearance could have potentially facilitated tracking the maroon Rolls-Royce as it escorted her from the theatre.


At 26 years old, Ball, grappling with mental illness, had rented a car using the alias John Williams. Inside, authorities discovered two sets of handcuffs, Valium tranquilizers, and a ransom letter addressed to the Queen. In the letter, Ball, in a disjointed manner, criticized the royal family and demanded a £2 million ransom, to be paid in £5 sterling notes. He outlined a convoluted plan for the exchange, insisting that the money be placed in 20 unlocked suitcases and transported on a plane bound for Switzerland. Ball stipulated that Queen Elizabeth II herself must be present on the plane to validate the authenticity of her signatures on the necessary paperwork.

Ian Ball

While most of London’s Metropolitan police officers were unarmed, those tasked with protecting the royal family were equipped with automatic weapons. Inspector Beaton attempted to fire at Ian Ball, but his injured shoulder impaired his aim, and his gun jammed after a single shot.

Turning his attention to the rear door behind the driver’s seat, Ball forcefully shook it, with Princess Anne seated on the opposite side.


“Open up, or I'll shoot!” he bellowed.


Despite the princess and Captain Phillips struggling to keep the door shut, Princess Anne’s lady-in-waiting managed to crawl out from the passenger side door. Seizing the moment, Beaton swiftly reentered the limousine, positioning himself between the couple and their assailant. Ball fired into the car, but Beaton deflected the bullet with his hand. Undeterred, Ball fired a third shot, forcing Beaton out of the vehicle and onto the ground with a wound.


Chauffeur Alexander Callendar, one of the Queen’s drivers, emerged to confront the gunman, only to be shot in the chest, causing him to fall back into the car. Ball then forcibly opened the back door, grabbing hold of Anne’s forearm as Phillips clung to her waist.

“Please, come out,” pleaded Ball to Anne. “You must come.”

Princess Anne visiting her bodyguard, Inspector James Beaton, at Westminster Hospital

As Anne and Ball grappled, her dress tore, splitting down the back. Despite the chaos, Anne remained composed, recalling later that she engaged in what she described as "a very irritating conversation" with her would-be abductor.

Repeatedly asserting her refusal to leave the car, Anne responded to one of Ball's pleas with a blunt retort, saying, "Bloody likely."


Captain Phillips admitted to feeling fear during the ordeal, particularly when police officers began to arrive, creating a sense of being trapped. The arrival of help seemed tantalizingly close yet frustratingly distant, as constables hesitated to approach an armed man in such close proximity to the princess.


Police Constable Michael Hills, just 22 years old, was the first to respond. Initially assuming the commotion stemmed from a car accident, he approached Ball and attempted to intervene, only to be shot in the stomach. Despite his injury, Hills managed to radio for assistance before collapsing.

Ronald Russell, an executive on his way home from work, witnessed the scene and approached on foot after observing Ball confronting Officer Hills.



Russell later recalled thinking “He needs sorting”. A 6’4” former boxer, Russell waded into the shooter for hurting a policeman. Russell later said "As a 6ft 4in, ex-heavyweight boxer, I decided I was well-placed to defuse the situation. I wanted to prevent this fellow from getting into any more trouble. So I stopped my car and walked towards him. I saw Ball reaching into the back seat of the limousine, his hand on the forearm of the young woman inside – only then did I recognize her as the Queen’s daughter." Another motorist, a chauffeur named Glenmore Martin, positioned his vehicle in front of the white Ford to prevent Ball from fleeing. Martin also attempted to distract Ball, but when the gunman aimed at him, Martin turned his attention to aiding Officer Hills on the roadside.

Meanwhile, journalist John Brian McConnell from the Daily Mail arrived at the scene. Recognising the royal insignia on the limousine, he realised a member of the royal family was in peril.


Former heavyweight boxer Ronnie Russell, punched Ian Ball in the head

“Don’t be silly, old boy,” he said to Ball. “Put the gun down.” Ball shot him. As McConnell collapsed onto the pavement, he became the third man to bleed onto the road.

With McConnell down, Ball refocused his attention on his struggle with Princess Anne. Seizing the opportunity, Ronald Russell approached from behind and delivered a powerful punch to the back of Ball's head. As the former boxer diverted the gunman's attention, Anne reached for the door handle on the opposite side of the backseat. With determination, she opened the door and pushed herself backward, freeing herself from the car.


“I thought that if I was out of the car that he might move,” she said.Her instincts proved correct. As Ball dashed around the car toward the princess, she swiftly retreated back inside with Phillips, firmly closing the door behind her. In the heat of the moment, Ronald Russell delivered a forceful punch to Ball's face. With additional police officers now arriving on the scene, the unfolding events were being witnessed by more onlookers.

Princess Anne noticed their presence made Ian Ball nervous. “Go on,” she said. “Now’s your chance.”

He took off running.


Upon hearing Officer Hills' distress call, Peter Edmonds, serving as a temporary detective constable, swiftly responded. Arriving at the scene in his own vehicle, Edmonds witnessed a man fleeing with a gun through St. James Park. Without hesitation, Edmonds pursued Ball, employing a tactic of throwing his coat over Ball's head, which allowed him to successfully tackle and apprehend him. During the arrest, authorities discovered over £300 in £10 notes in Ball's possession. Subsequently, investigations revealed that earlier in the month, Ball had rented a property on a secluded road in Hampshire, situated just five miles away from Sandhurst Military Academy, which coincidentally was also the residence of Princess Anne and Captain Phillips.


What was found with Ian Ball after the kidnap

Home Secretary Roy Jenkins commissioned an investigative report for the Prime Minister and emphasised to the press the need for the investigation to remain confidential. Both Scotland Yard and Buckingham Palace declined to provide comments on specific details.


Journalists started to come up with their own theories regarding how an unemployed man grappling with mental illness could orchestrate and nearly execute a kidnapping attempt on his own. An office clerk disclosed to a reporter that police had tracked a typewriter rented by Ball, purportedly used to craft the ransom letter. Media outlets reported that one chilling line from the letter threatened, "Anne will be shot dead."


In the aftermath of the kidnapping attempt, a group identifying as the Marxist-Leninist Activist Revolutionary Movement claimed responsibility in a letter sent to The Times of London. However, Scotland Yard swiftly dismissed any connection between this group and Ian Ball. Some observers noted a striking resemblance in the ransom letter's content, wherein Ball allegedly pledged to donate the Queen's ransom to the National Health Service, to a previous incident. Just one month prior, the Symbionese Liberation Army had kidnapped Patricia Hearst, demanding a sizable food donation to feed the hungry in exchange for her release.



At one point detectives believed he could have been a member of the Irish Republican Army, but Ball quickly debunked that theory, insisting that he worked completely alone, telling police:

I have got no friends. I'm a loner. I put a lot of thought and work into it. I can't expect people like you to understand or accept that I did it and planned it alone. Do you think I am part of the IRA or something? If there had been anyone else, they would have helped me at the scene.

The public was later informed of Ball's mental illness and his status as an unemployed laborer and minor criminal, a revelation that left journalists grappling for a narrative. The notion of such an individual orchestrating the kidnapping of British royalty was unprecedented and, for many, hard to believe. "There is presently no indication that this was anything other than an isolated act by an individual," Jenkins informed the House of Commons, a sentiment echoed by the agreement to keep the investigation's findings confidential.


While Secretary Jenkins announced an increase in royal protection to the press, he refrained from divulging specifics. Buckingham Palace issued a statement asserting that the royal family had no intention of living in "bullet-proof cages." Notably, Princess Anne, who valued her privacy, continued to do so even after narrowly escaping harm.

Princess Anne visits police officer Michael Hills at St George’s Hospital

Discussing it later, the Princess said, "There was only one man, if there had been more than one it might have been a different story." The princess acknowledged in an interview that one's "greatest danger" is perhaps "the lone nutcases" that "have just got enough" resources to put a crime together. "If anybody was serious on wiping one out, it would be very easy to do."


When Ian Ball appeared in court on April 4, Ball gave a statement on what motivated his crime: "I would like to say that I did it because I wished to draw attention to the lack of facilities for treating mental illness under the National Health Service."

Princess Anne talks about the attempted kidnap on Parky


Ian Ball admitted guilt to attempted murder and kidnapping charges. He received a life sentence in a mental health facility, where he was confined, at least in part, at Broadmoor, a high-security psychiatric hospital. Despite Ball's sentencing, the public remained largely uninformed about him, possessing only minimal details such as his birth date, birthplace, and eyewitness descriptions of his appearance and behavior. In 1983, Ball wrote a letter to a Member of Parliament alleging that the attempted kidnapping was a fabrication and that he was framed.

Princess Anne talks with Brian McConnell in London's St. George's Hospita

Scotland Yard's investigation remained sealed until January 1, 2005, when the National Archives released the documents as part of the "thirty-year rule," which mandates the disclosure of cabinet papers three decades after their filing.


Less than a decade after the failed kidnapping, the press once again criticised Scotland Yard for its failure to protect the royal family. In July 1982, an unemployed man managed to scale the palace walls and sneak into Queen Elizabeth's bedroom. The intruder engaged in a conversation with the Queen for ten minutes before she was able to call for assistance. The following year, Scotland Yard restructured the Royalty Protection Branch, appointing James Wallace Beaton as its superintendent.


The day after the incident, Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips resumed their routine activities at their home on the grounds of Sandhurst. Phillips instructed cadets on the rifle range, while Anne tended to her horses. In September, Queen Elizabeth II awarded the George Cross, Britain's highest civilian award for courage, to Inspector Beaton. She presented the George Medal, the second-highest civilian honour for bravery, to Police Constable Hills and Ronald Russell, along with Queen's Gallantry medals to Police Constable Edmonds, John Brian McConnell, and Alexander Callender. Glenmore Martin received the Queen's Commendation for Brave Conduct.




Although Scotland Yard declines to disclose specific details regarding SO14, an internal police budget from 2010 revealed an expenditure of approximately £113.5 million on royal security. By 2012, this figure reportedly decreased to £50 million. Under the revised budget, Scotland Yard reduced funding allocated to safeguarding "non-working royals," including Prince Andrew's daughters, Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice, except for official family events. Concerned for his daughters' safety, Prince Andrew opted to privately hire security for them, mirroring his mother's concern for Princess Anne's safety 40 years prior.


Ronald Russell later recalled what Queen Elizabeth said as she awarded him his George Cross medal: “The medal is from the Queen of England, the thank you is from Anne’s mother.”


 



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