By Hamish McNeilly
Newly declassified NZ intelligence service documents allegedly show a 1981 assassination attempt on Queen Elizabeth was covered up by police to make sure the country received more royal tours.
Teenage criminal Christopher John Lewis, 17, fired a shotgun at the Queen from a nearby building as she exited her motorcade at the Otago Museum in Dunedin on October 14, 1981.
New memos have revealed he did want to assassinate Her Majesty – and allegedly show police knew the noise was a gunshot – despite officers later telling the media the noise was a council sign falling over.
The newly-released New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS) memo, released under an Official Information Act (OIA) request and dating from November 1981, states: “[Christopher] 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.”
It adds: “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.
“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.”
Former news editor at Dunedin radio station 4XO, Allan Dick, recalled being called into a meeting with a high ranking detective who said reports of a shot being fired were not true.
He said: “We all left that meeting more mystified about what had happened.
“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.”
After the incident police told media that Christopher Lewis, who was never charged with treason or attempted treason, shot at a road.
Those close to the case alleged political interference came into play over fears the country would lose future royal tours due to the security lapse.
The newly released memo appears to vindicate claims made by former Dunedin detective Tom Lewis, who went public about the assassination attempt in 1997.
He claims despite the initial ‘push from journalists’, the latest tranche of released documents confirmed police wanted the matter to disappear from the outset.
Tom said: “Once you start to cover-up, you then have to keep covering up the cover-up.
“It will be like ripping the scab off . . . so much pus would come out.”
Lewis positioned himself on the fifth floor of the seven storey Adams Building to take a shot at the Queen.
The memo, which includes a hand-drawn map, also suggests police believed the angle of fire and range would have made it difficult for the Queen to have been a target, because buildings screened her from the firing point except on four occasions of about two seconds duration.
Police ballistic tests subsequently found the bullet’s trajectory was more likely to have passed high above the crowd than to have been fired at a road.
Lewis was sentenced to three years’ jail and later went on to commit suicide in prison aged 33 in 1997 after committing a string of armed robberies before being charged with murder.
A spokesman for New Zealand Police said: “Given the interest in this historic matter, the Police Commissioner Mike Bush has asked the Deputy Commissioner National Operations, Mike Clement, to oversee an examination by current investigation staff of the relevant case file.
“Given the passage of time, it is anticipated this examination of the old file and its associated material will take some time.
“NZ Police will share the outcome of this examination once it has been completed.”