The New Zealand police will re-examine an attempted assassination of Britain's Queen during her 1981 tour of the country, after allegations the matter was covered up by the government and police at the time.
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The New Zealand police will re-examine an attempted assassination of the Queen during her 1981 tour of the country, after allegations the matter was covered up by the government and police at the time.
New Zealand's intelligence agency has confirmed for the first time that a teenager tried to assassinate Queen Elizabeth II during a visit to the southern city of Dunedin in 1981, sparking a fresh police inquiry into how the incident was handled.
Documents released by the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (SIS) show the then 17-year-old Christopher John Lewis shot at the Queen as she got out of her vehicle on the way to a science fair on 14 October during her eight-day tour of the Commonwealth nation.
Lewis, a disturbed New Zealander, aimed his .22 rifle at the British monarch, lining up her jade outfit in his scope. The bullet missed, but according to an investigation by reporter Hamish McNeilly for the website Stuff, the 17-year-old became obsessed with wiping out the royal family, as the government scrambled to conceal how close the self-styled terrorist had come to killing the head of state.
Two months after details of the historical case appeared in the local and international press, the New Zealand police commissioner, Mike Bush, has asked the deputy commissioner of national operations, Mike Clement ''to oversee an examination by current investigation staff of the relevant case file''.
Police declined to answer further questions but said in a statement, ''Given the passage of time, it is anticipated this examination of the old file and its associated material will take some time. New Zealand police will share the outcome of this examination once it has been completed.''
''Lewis did indeed originally intend to assassinate the Queen, however did not have a suitable vantage point from which to fire, nor a sufficiently high-powered rifle for the range from the target,'' said a 1997 SIS memo that was declassified in February and seen by media including Reuters and Stuff today.
Lewis, who intelligence documents described as a ''severely disturbed'' youth, was not charged with attempted murder or treason, adding to claims the incident was downplayed to prevent embarrassment to a country hosting a royal visit.
He was instead charged with unlawful possession and discharge of a firearm.
Members of the crowd in Dunedin and reporters heard the shot, but were initially told by police that the noise was from a falling sign or a car backfiring.
''Current police investigations into the shots have been conducted discreetly and most media representatives probably have the impression that the noise was caused by a firework of some description,'' said a November 1981 memo from SIS, also released on Thursday.
According to intelligence documents, police kept a close eye on Lewis during a 1986 visit by the Queen to New Zealand, fearing that he was still a risk.
The intelligence agency revelations have prompted a police inquiry into the matter, authorities said on Thursday.
It is understood that immediately after the assassination attempt police told local and British media covering the royal tour that the sharp crack they had heard as the Queen stepped out of her Rolls Royce was not a gunshot but a council sign falling over.
''Current police investigations into the shots have been conducted discreetly and most media representatives probably have the impression that the noise was caused by a firework of some description,'' the SIS report stated. ''There is a worry, however, that in court the press may make the connections between the date of the offence and the Queen's visit.''
A former news editor of a local radio station, who was working in Dunedin at the time, told Stuff he believed multiple parties attempted to cover up the assassination attempt.
''I have no doubt the matter was covered up, the cops were embarrassed, they didn't want the media to know and we got embarrassed that we allowed ourselves to be snowballed to such a degree,'' said Allan Dick, who was summonsed to a meeting with a high-ranking detective and told reports of an assassination attempt were false.
Former Dunedin police detective Tom Lewis (of no relation to the shooter) said the then prime minister, Robert Muldoon, feared that if word got out, the royals would never again visit New Zealand. ''Once you start to cover up, you then have to keep covering up the cover-up,'' Lewis told Stuff.
Police told media that Christopher Lewis had shot at a nearby road, and the teenager – who went on to plot further assassination attempts on the royal family – was never charged with treason or attempted treason.
More than a decade after the incident, Lewis was charged with the brutal murder of an Auckland mother and the abduction of her baby daughter, who was later dropped at a nearby church.
He died in a New Zealand prison in 1997.