Episode 2 - A Majestic Kidnapping
Today’s story takes us to London, the capital city of England, the 5th most affluent city in the world according to Wealth-X, and the working home of the British Royal Family.
It was pm on 20th March 1974, when 28-year-old ex-boxer, Ronald Russell, known to his friends as Ronnie, was driving back home to Kent via the Mall when he thought he had come across a road rage incident. On the opposite side of the street were two cars. One of the cars was clearly blocking the route of the other car – a maroon Rolls Royce. Ronnie could see there was some sort of altercation – there were people on the ground, bleeding and writhing in agony and a man was waving a gun and trying to drag a woman out of the back of the Rolls Royce.
Without a moment’s hesitation, or a thought for his own safety, Ronnie shot out of his car and went running towards the scene….
This is Dark Side and I am your host, Suze.
So, what happened that night? Why had a gunman gone on a rampage of a car? And who was the female victim inside the car and why was the assailant so eager to get to her?
Let’s go back to the beginning….
So, we’ve just heard the evening news headlines…it was Princess Anne, Queen Elizabeth’s only daughter, and her husband Captain Mark Phillips that were in the car that night of the fateful attack. But how could such an awful event befall a Royal, right in the heart of London? Where were the police? The armed escorts? Well, we need to look at what life was like back in 1970’s London.
In the UK, Police Officers, or Bobbies, as they are colloquially known, do not carry guns, and gun laws are very strict in the UK. Today, only three UK forces routinely arm officers - the Ministry of Defense Police, the Civil Nuclear Constabulary who guard nuclear facilities, and the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Back in 1974, only one branch of London’s Metropolitan police carried guns – those that were assigned to protect the royal family. On the night of the attack, SO14 had only assigned one man to protect the Princess. SO14 is Scotland Yard’s special operations branch charged with royalty protection. This may seem an awfully low number given today’s accompanying armed entourage for any royal in the succession line to the throne. However, back in 1974, it was standard protocol to have just one bodyguard. Even the Queen only had one minder to accompany her on unofficial trips to and from the Palace.
Why? I hear you ask.
Well, because no one ever thought anyone would go after the Royals.
The last attack on a Royal had happened in 1936 when Jerome Banningam aimed a loaded revolver at King Edward VIII. No shots were fired, but Banningam served 2 years hard labour for his action. Back in 1936, the monarchy was at the height of a constitutional crisis after King Edward proposed to Wallis Simpson; an American divorcee. The country and the royal family rejected the marriage and Wallis Simpson, and it is believed this dislike for Wallis and the potential marriage to the monarch is what motivated Banningam. There was civil unrest in the country at the proposed marriage – the couple were boo’d when seen out together. And so, the country and the royal family would not permit Edward to be both King and be married to an American divorcee. He had to choose between them. And he chose his heart and thus abdicated the throne.
Hmmm…I’m so glad we’ve moved on as a country since then. But by comparison, in 1974, the royals were more popular than ever and there was constitutional peace.
So, why then would anyone want to go after the Royal Family at a time of such rest, and why go after Princess Anne? She was 4th in line to the throne. Surely the three in the succession line before her; Prince Edward, Prince Andrew, and the Prince of Wales and Heir Apparent, Prince Charles would have been more lucrative targets.
It would be 3 decades before the country would finally learn the answer to these questions.
However, at the time of the incident, Princess Anne was considered the Celebrity Royal of her day – the IT girl, if you will, much in the same way that Kate Middleton, and Princess Diana were in their respective eras. The previous November, the 23-year-old princess had married Mark Phillips, a Captain in the British Army. Their nuptials attracted 2,000 guests, and The New York Times said the televised audience of 500 million was “the most ever” for a wedding.
The two had met through equestrian circles: the talented horseman had won a team gold medal at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Anne, herself was known for her equestrian talents having won a one gold medal in 1971 at the European Eventing Championships. Both Anne and Mark went onto compete in the 1976 Olympics making Anne the first Royal ever to compete in the Olympic Games. And so, because of her commitment to the equestrian sport and her medals, the BBC named Anne as its Sports Personality of the year in 1971.
So, Anne, at the time, really was the nation’s sweetheart and the IT girl of the Royals.
On that night in 1974, Princess Anne and her husband of four months, were heading towards Buckingham Palace after attending a charity film screening. Anne’s lady-in-waiting sat across from the couple in the back of a maroon Rolls-Royce limousine marked with the royal insignia, and in the passenger seat rode her one and only bodyguard for the evening: Inspector James Wallace Beaton whom was carrying the standard issue gun of SO14 at the time; a Walther PPK. If you don’t know what this gun looks like, just think of the type of gun that James Bond carries. Bingo.
As the chauffeur drove down the Mall, a road that runs between London’s Trafalgar Square and Buckingham Palace, a white Ford Escort overtook and forced the Royal car to stop…just 200 yards away from the palace. A bearded man with light red hair exited the car and, holding two handguns, charged towards the rear of the limo. Inspector Beaton assumed that the man was a disgruntled driver and stepped out to meet him. From six feet away, the assailant shot the officer in his right shoulder.
Ian Ball, aged 26, from London was behind the attack. He had one intention that night – to kidnap Princess Anne, Queen Elizabeth’s only daughter and hold her ransom for £3 million pounds. And, no one was going to get in his way.
There would be seven men in total who tried to stop Ian Ball’s attack; Ronnie Russell, two chauffeurs, a tabloid journalist, two policemen and Inspector Beaten. Four of the men would be shot in their valiant attempt to save the Princess, but it was Ronnie Russel’s vigilantism and strong-armed punch that brought the assault to a halt.
Although Ball could not have known the route that the limousine would take that night, the Palace had publicised Princess Anne’s appearance at the event, potentially making it easy for someone to follow the insignia Rolls-Royce as it escorted her from the theatre that evening.
Despite having taken a bullet to the shoulder, Beaten withdrew his weapon and tried to shoot Ball, but his wounded shoulder prevented him taking correct aim. He fired once but missed Ball. He tried to fire his gun again, but unfortunately, it jammed.
Ball turned to the rear door behind the driver’s seat and started shaking it. Anne was sat on the other side.
“Open, or I’ll shoot!” he yelled.
As the princess and Captain Phillips did their best to hold the door shut, Princess Anne’s lady-in-waiting crawled out of the door on the passenger side and ran for help. Beaton, despite the wound to his arm took the opportunity to jump back in the limo.
So, the Princesses’ bodyguard had been shot 4 times in a valiant attempt to protect her, but he could not stop the assailant and he was depleted from his injuries. Realising, Beaton could no longer protect the Princess, the Chauffeur, Alexander Callendar, stepped out of the car to confront the gunman. Ball shot him in the chest and Callendar fell back into the car. Pulling the back door open, Ball grabbed Anne’s forearm as her husband held valiantly held onto her waist.
Ball kept demanding that she get out of the car, but Anne calmly and dogmatically refused. As the two men struggled over Anne, her dress ripped, splitting down the back. Instead of panicking, she had what she later re-called as a very irritating conversation with her potential kidnapper. Here is Anne in her own words describing her conversation with the assailant.
Please forgive the laughter in the background of the clip. The Princess was giving an interview with Michael Parkinson some years after the attack, when she could regale the event with a modicum of humour that is so indicative of how Anne carries herself.
But, back to the attack. By now other police officers had arrived at the scene. However, constables hesitated to advance on an armed man so near to a Princess. Anne and Mark could see them and could see they weren’t advancing on Ball. Their rescue seemed so near, but yet so far.
Constable Michael Hills, 22, was the first police presence on the scene. He had been patrolling nearby when he heard the sounds of a struggle. He assumed the conflict was over a car accident. He approached Ball and not realising the magnitude of the situation, touched Ball on his shoulder. The gunman turned around and shot Hills in the stomach. Before he collapsed, Hills maintained enough strength to radio his station. This was the first alert that went out to the police.
Another motorist, a chauffeur named Glenmore Martin and had noticed the altercation had parked his car in front of the white Ford to keep Ball from escaping. He also tried to distract Ball, but when the gunman aimed at him, Martin turned to help Officer Hills on the side of the road. Meanwhile, Daily Mail journalist John Brian McConnell came onto the scene. He had been passing by and had also seen the altercation. Recognizing the insignia on the limo, he knew a member of the royal family was in danger. He tried to coax the gunman to put the weapon down, but instead, McConnell was shot and he fell to the ground beside the Constable.
After McConnell fell, Ball turned back to his struggle for Princess Anne, but it was at this point that Ronnie Russell, our valiant hero from the top of the story, was running to the scene. Spotting the assailant trying to pull Anne from the car, Ronnie rounded on him momentarily distracting Ball. Anne seized this brief opportunity and reached for the door handle on the opposite side of the backseat. She opened it and pushed her body backwards out of the car.
But by now, Ball had recomposed himself, and he ran around to Anne’s side of the car. She deftly jumped back into the car and slammed the door shut. Ronnie ran around to where Ball was pulling frantically on the door handle on Anne’s side of the car, and as we heard in his earlier audio clip, the former boxer delivered a well-timed, and well-deserved punch to Ball’s head.
This blow dazed Ball and he staggered back. Police were starting to close in and Ball began to get nervous, so Anne, as cool as a cucumber as she had been through the entire assault, said threw the window,
And Ball did just that! He hightailed it away from the scene and through St. James’ Park. Peter Edmonds, a temporary detective constable saw Ball fleeing the scene and gave chase after him. He threw his coat over Ball’s head, tackled him to the ground, cuffed him and arrested him. The ordeal was over.
Authorities found over £300 in £10 notes on his person.
You have probably noticed by now that I have not provided much information on Ian Ball other than his age and birthplace. Well, there’s a reason for that.
The then Home Secretary Roy Jenkins ordered an investigation into the incident but advised that the details were to remain “confidential.”
The story hit the headlines the next day but because of Jenkins’ confidentiality order, the only information released to the general public were Ball’s age, and birthplace and that there may be a background of mental health issues. The country collectively scratched their heads trying to work out how a mentally ill man could have masterminded a well-funded, well-thought out kidnapping attempt on his own. In fact, the populace and journalists alike went into overdrive with theories.
Princess Anne was praised in the press and by her heroes on that night for her calm and cool demeanor throughout the ordeal. And, in keeping with this level-headed attitude, just the day after the attack, the Princess and Captain Phillips returned to their normal routines at their home on the grounds of Sandhurst: he instructed cadets on the rifle range, and she tended to her horses.
Days after the kidnapping attempt, a group calling themselves the Marxist-Leninist Activist Revolutionary Movement sent a letter claiming responsibility to The Times of London. Scotland Yard dismissed any connection between that group and Ball.
Roy Jenkins told the papers that he ordered an increase in royal protection. However, Buckingham Palace released a statement saying that the royal family “had no intention of living in bullet-proof cages.” Chief among them was Princess Anne, who valued her privacy even after recognising how fortune she was in escaping un-scathed. However, they did concede to having two Police escorts, instead of one.
Ian Ball appeared in court on April 4 charged with attempted murder, wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, and attempting to kidnap Anne. He pleaded guilty to all charges. His lawyer spoke about his history of mental illness, but Ball also gave a statement on what motivated his crime – to draw attention to the lack of facilities for treating mental illness under the National Health Service.
Ball was sentenced to a life term in a mental health facility, he has spent at least part of his internment at Broadmoor, the UK’s highest security psychiatric prison, notorious for housing some of the UK’s most prolific criminals, such as Ronnie Kray – one half of the Kray twins, Peter Sutcliffe, also known as the Yorkshire Ripper, and Charles Bronson – dubbed the UK’s most violent prisoner. Ball remains there to this day under the Mental Health Act.
Even after Ian Ball’s sentencing, the public would know little else about him except for his birth date and birthplace, and eyewitness accounts of his appearance and actions. In fact, it would be 3 decades before the public would learn of Ball’s identity, his background, the lead up to the attack, and why he even wanted to kidnap Princess Anne. This information was released only because the British National Archives upheld their thirty-year rule which requires the release of cabinet papers 30 years after their filing.
So, after 3 decades, people finally learned all about Ball – and it’s a bizarre ride where the facts are stranger than fiction. At the time of the attack he was and an unemployed labourer. He had a history of psychiatric disturbances and had been seen many times at the St Mary Abbott hospital, in London between 1967 and 1972. He was diagnosed a schizophrenic and given tranquillising drugs. He had dropped out of school at 16, worked odd jobs and lived in a concrete tower block. According to experts, Ball heard voices in his head telling him what to do.
Ball, who was classified as being neither anti-royal nor politically motivated, spent two years planning the kidnap in minute detail. He had been to Spain to buy two pistols, he had rented a house in Fleet, Hampshire, not far from Sandhurst, where Princess Anne was living with her Captain Phillips.
Using the name John Williams, Ball had rented a car, in which police would find two pairs of handcuffs, Valium tranquilizers, and a ransom letter addressed to the Queen. He had typed this rambling note, which criticized the royal family and demanded a £3 million ransom to be delivered in £5 notes. That is £20 million in today’s standards. He intended to give the money to the National Health Service, to be used to improve the care and treatment of psychiatric patients.
Ball asked that the Queen in his ransom note to have the money stored in 20 unlocked suitcases and put on a plane destined for Switzerland. Queen Elizabeth herself needed to appear on the plane to confirm the authenticity of her signatures on needed paperwork. He was found with the ransom note on him at the time of his arrest.
He attempted to destroy his Ian Ball identity, burning his passport and other personal papers shortly before he carried out his kidnap plan.
He had bought food, nightgowns and a toothbrush for Anne, as well as three pairs of handcuffs. He intended to fly from London with Princess Anne to Zurich in Switzerland. From there, she’d be released and returned safely home once he received the ransom money.
For the final stage of his plan, Ball shadowed Anne for five days, merging into the crowd as he studied her routine and the people around her. To find out where Anne was going to be at specific times, all Ball had to do was call the Palace press office which told him the Princess would be attending a charity film screening that night.
In 1983, Ball actually had the audacity to pen a letter to a member of Parliament in which he claimed that the attempted kidnapping was a hoax, and that he was framed!
But, back to 1974, September to be precise. All the men involved in saving the Princess that night were invited to Buckingham Palace.
Queen Elizabeth awarded the George Cross, Britain’s highest civilian award for courage, to Inspector Beaton – the Princesses’ Bodyguard whom received 4 shots that night. She presented the George Medal, the second-highest civilian honour for bravery, to Police Constable Hills (the first police officer shot on the night) and to Ronald Russell (our valiant boxer who punched Ball), and the Queen’s Gallantry medals (the third-highest) to Police Constable Edmonds (the Constable that chased Ball through St. James’ Park), John McConnell (the journalist who tried to coax the gun from Ball, but was shot) and Alexander Callendar (the Chauffeur who tried to confront Ball but was shot). Glenmore Martin (the motorist that parked his car in front of Ball’s to prevent him escaping) received the Queen’s Commendation for Brave Conduct.
Having shown such bravery, Beaton continued to work for Anne for another five years. He subsequently worked for the Queen too.
As previously mentioned, the Home Secretary had ordered an increase in Royal protection following the incident, but this had been refused by the Royals. However, in 1982, less than 10 years after the botched kidnapping, the press criticized Scotland Yard for failing to protect the royal family when an unemployed man scaled the palace walls and snuck into Queen Elizabeth’s bedroom. The two talked for ten minutes before the queen could summon help.
The following year, Scotland Yard reorganized the Royalty Protection Branch and placed one of the heroes of the night of the attempted kidnapping, James Beaton, as its superintendent.
In the subsequent years, significant changes were implemented to protect the Royals. When the attempted kidnap happened back in 1974, there was no back-up vehicle, no radio communication within the vehicle to call for help. The training on how to protect a Royal was non-existent, and the weapon they were issued, the Walther PPK, was notorious for malfunctioning. But then again, back then, nobody even contemplated that anyone would want to go after the royals. In the aftermath of the Queen’s unwelcome bedroom visit, much more stringent protection procedures were put in place; Royal cars had escorts, specialist protection training was given to all members of the police assigned to the Royals, and those pesky, jamming guns were immediately replaced.
This story, you would think, would be coming to an end at this point, but something happened just this year – 2020, that brought this event back into the public focus. Ronnie Russell, our boxing hero that laid the punch that stopped the attack on Princess Anne, the protagonist at the top of this episode, entered the news in February. Ronnie, now 72, has been suffering from a suite of health issues for the past few years. Even though we are extremely fortunate to have free healthcare in the UK (thank you NHS, we love you!), Ronnie has had to seek out private treatment and incurred other costs associated with his health. As a result, he has been left financially insecure and worried about his future, and especially how to pay for his funeral. In a heart-wrenching decision, Ronnie made the decision to sell his beloved George Medal, bestowed on him by the Queen. He has kept the medal as a showpiece all these years, but now, in his dotage, needs must.
The story caught the attention of the media – such a brave, heroic man having to sell his most prized possession and it really grabbed at the heart strings of the nation.
The medal went on sale at Dix Noonan Webb and had an expected sale price of £20,000 ($25K). However, whether it was the media attention, or the fact that his story of heroism and hard times touched an entire country, the medal ended up selling for a whopping £50,000 (approximately $65K). With this money, Ronnie is guaranteed to live out his days well, and I don’t know about you, but I wish him many years of better health and security. He is a true gent.
So, there you have it, the story of the attempted kidnapping of Princess Anne, and her 7 valiant heroes that came to her rescue. All the men that night are worthy of the medals they received, especially Superintendent Beaton whom received the brunt of the attack sustaining 4 bullet wounds. But Ronnie particularly stood out to me. Unlike the other defenders of the Princess that night, Ronnie did not know there was Royalty in the car. As a member of the general public, he dove headfirst into a very lethal situation…to help a woman. He thought nothing of his personal safety as he jumped over the bodies of the other fallen heroes lying in pools of blood to try stop the man from attacking the woman. That to me is the epitome of bravery because I don’t know that if I came upon such a scene of carnage and violence that I’d have the courage to wade into the fray. Would you?
I hope you enjoyed today’s story. It has been a little less macabre than previous week’s stories. I thought we could all do with something a bit less dark, especially in light of all the doom and gloom that 2020 has handed to us. But, don’t worry, this is only a mild reprieve, for Dark Side will be back next week with a story that I promise you will make your stomach churn and curl your toes. It did me.
Don’t forget to please rate on Apple iTunes, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. It would be greatly appreciated. And why not come join me on my Facebook group – I’d love to hear what you think and to hear of any cases you have in mind that can take us to the dark side of humanity, morality and sanity. You can also contact me and visit all the show content on my website; darksidepodcast.co.uk
So, until next time…stay safe, stay alert.
Over and Out.
Sound Effects and Music by:
Voices Provided by:
Narrator: SuZe Martin Fletcher: Anonymous
John Fletcher: James Spencer Uncle Peter: TH Susan Fletcher: SuZe “Gates are Locked” Female Voice: SuZe
“Get Everyone onto the Pitch” Male Voice: TH