21-07-2012, 03:15 AM
Today in history: 21 July 1976
Christopher Ewart-Biggs, CMG, OBE (1921 – 1976) was the British Ambassador to Ireland and an author. He was assassinated on this date in 1976 by the Provisional Irish Republican Army in Sandyford, Dublin.
Christopher Thomas Ewart Biggs was born in the Thanet district of Kent to Captain Henry Ewart Biggs of the Royal Engineers and his wife Mollie Brice. He was educated at Wellington College and University College, Oxford and served in the Royal West Kent Regiment of the British Army during the Second World War. At the battle of El Alamein in 1942 he lost his right eye and as a result he wore a smoked-glass monocle over an artificial eye.
Ewart-Biggs was 55 when he was killed by a land mine planted by the IRA in an effort to get back the Six Counties. A man-hunt was launched involving 4,000 Gardaí who have a reputation for always getting their man and 2,000 crack soldiers. Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave declared that "this atrocity fills all decent Irish people with a sense of shame." In London, Prime Minister James Callaghan condemned the assassins as a "common enemy whom we must destroy or be destroyed by". Thirteen suspected members of the IRA were arrested during raids as the British and Irish governments attempted to apprehend the killers, however no one was ever convicted of the killings.
21-07-2012, 08:18 AM
July 21, 1976 Christopher Ewart-Biggs, Republic of Ireland Diplomat, 54, married, 3 children, British Ambassador
The newly appointed British Ambassador to Ireland, he was killed together with a civil servant, Judith Cook, in an IRA ambush. The attack took place 200 yards beyond the gates of his official residence at Sandyford, Co.Dublin, when his car was blown up by a landmine.
His death was one of the highest-profile assassinations of the troubles. His name was kept in public prominence by his wife Jane, who after his death remained highly active in peace and reconciliation work in both parts of Ireland and established a Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize. He had been ambassador for only 12 days before his assassination. He was being driven out of his residence shortly before 10am in a car which had been fitted with armour plating when a bomb hidden in a culvert was triggered by command wire. The force of the blast threw the car into the air. After the explosion two men, both unmasked, ran to a car driven by a third man and were then seen having to push the vehicle to start it. It apparently broke down again later but the bombers were never apprehended.
The ambassador''s Jaguar car, part of a four-vehicle convoy on its way to the British Embassy in Dublin, took the full force of the 200lb device. He and Judith Cook were killed while the driver and a senior civil servant, Brian Cubbon, were seriously injured. The latter went on to become permanent secretary at the Home Office, one of the most senior positions in the British civil service.
Nine days before his death the ambassador met senior Gardai officers to discuss his security. He wrote in his diary: "They are not very reassuring. They assess that I, but not Jane and the children, am distinctly at risk from the IRA. They do not seem to have given much thought to the scenario of attack. They thought for some reason that an attack on the car was unlikely - "it hasn''t happened yet" I ask them to keep us informed about any changes in their assessment of the risk".
The IRA said the ambassador had been sent to Dublin "to co-ordinate British intelligence activities and he was assassinated because of that". In the aftermath of the assassination the Foreign Office sent the deputy under-secretary in charge of Irish affairs to make a report. He was Richard Sykes, who was himself to be killed by the IRA three years later when serving as British Ambassador to the Netherlands.
It later emerged that Merlyn Rees, then Northern Ireland secretary, had at the last minute been forced to cancel plans which would have meant he would have been travelling in the convoy. He had arranged to travel to the Republic to consult with the ambassador and Irish ministers, but postponed his trip after Margaret Thatcher, then opposition leader, refused to allow Northern Ireland ministers to "pair" their votes in a series of late-night Commons divisions. In his memoirs, Northern Ireland, a Personal Perspective, Merlyn Rees wrote that it seemed likely the IRA had known of his impending visit but were unaware of its cancellation.
A #20,000 reward was offered for information about the assassination. Subsequently a former Garda admitted in a Dublin court that he gave an official document naming a suspect wanted for the murder to John Lawlor from Tallaght, Co Dublin. John Lawlor was shot dead by the IRA in a Dublin pub in 1977.
According to one theory, his death was linked to that of south Armagh IRA member Peter Cleary, who had been shot dead by the SAS near Forkhill. The ambassador had reportedly visited the SAS unit''s base at Bessbrook in June, two months after Peter Cleary was shot.
The incident led indirectly to the resignation of the Irish president, Cearbhaill O Dalaigh. In the wake of the assassination, the Irish government declared a state of emergency and introduced a number of security measures aimed against the IRA. President O Dalaigh used his powers to refer part of the proposed new laws to the Irish supreme court for a ruling on their constitutionality. At an Irish army function he was denounced for doing this by Mr Paddy Donegan, the minister for defence, as a "thundering disgrace". This led to the president''s resignation.
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