Queen Elizabeth II Assassination: Why Did New Zealand Cover Up Attempt on Monarch's Life?

Declassified intelligence agency reveal that New Zealand’s security services covered up an assassination attempt on Queen Elizabeth II in 1981, The Sydney Morning Herald has reported.

Christopher John Lewis, a 17-year-old from New Zealand, tried to shoot the Queen using a .22 caliber rifle as she visited the city of Dunedin on October 14, 1981.

According to a declassified 1997 New Zealand Security Intelligence Services (SIS) memo: “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.”

Although spectators on the day heard a gunshot, they were told by local police that it 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.

To avoid national embarrassment and to ensure that royals would continue to visit New Zealand, the police decided not to charge Lewis with treason, which still carried the death penalty in 1981. In the end, the teenager was only charged with unlawful possession and discharge of a firearm. He was imprisoned for three years.

Lewis initially appeared in court on unrelated robbery and burglary charges, but the SIS noted: “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.”

GettyImages-887693130 Queen Elizabeth II Britain's Queen Elizabeth II attends the commissioning ceremony for the Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth in Portsmouth, southern England on December 7, 2017 CHRIS JACKSON/AFP/Getty Images

Former news editor at Dunedin radio station 4XO, Allan Dick, revealed to the Herald that a high-ranking detective told him reports of a shot being fired were not true.

“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,” Dick said.

The revelations have sparked a police inquiry into the alleged cover up, and a New Zealand police spokeswoman told Reuters that the police commissioner had ordered the case file be examined.

This is not the only assassination attempt made on the Queen during her 66 years on the throne. In 1970, would-be assassins attempted to derail the Queen's train using a large log as she visited Australia. Luckily the train was already travelling slowly when it hit the log, and simply slowed to a halt. 

In June 1981, a British 17-year-old fired six blanks at the Queen as she took part in the Trooping of the Colour parade in London.

A severely disturbed youth

In police interviews, Lewis—described by intelligence papers as a “severely disturbed youth”—claimed to be a commander his own 'National Imperial Guerrilla Army'. He recruited two school friends, with whom he committed a series of robberies.

It was through investigating an unrelated armed robbery that police found Lewis, who eventually led them to the fifth floor window from which he had taken the shot at the Queen eight days before. The weapon and a used cartridge were still there.

GettyImages-630366910 New Zealand Police Local police attempted to keep the true course of events from the media, and told witnesses that the noise of the gun shot was actually a sign falling down Phil Walter/Getty Images

In police interviews, he said that the assassination was plotted with a person known only as the Polar Bear, and ordered by someone called The Snowman, who ordered the army to terrorize Dunedin.

Lewis later told police that the group and his accomplices were “a figment of my imagination.”

When Prince Charles visited New Zealand in 1986, Lewis attempted to break out of prison to stage another attack. When the Queen visited New Zealand again in 1995, police sent Lewis on a taxpayer-funded holiday to the north of the country to keep him out of the way.

Lewis committed suicide in 1997 while awaiting trial for the murder of a woman and the abduction of her baby daughter, who was later found outside a nearby church.