A new report reveals how the government of New Zealand attempted to conceal just how close a young man came to assassinating the Queen during a diplomatic trip to the country in 1981.
As the Queen paraded in front of adoring crowds Christopher John Lewis, a 17-year-old local boy from Dunedin, took aim with a 22. rifle.
The Queen had stepped out of a Rolls-Royce to greet 3,500 well wishers when the deafening crack rang out across the crowd.
The shot flew past her head. Lew had missed and aside from a brief moment of distraction the parade continued, the crowd unaware of what had just almost occurred.
The young man from the nation’s South Island had become obsessed with exterminating the Royal Family and, worryingly, the self-styled terrorist had come incredibly close to killing the British head of state.
In the aftermath New Zealand police tried to disguise the seriousness of the event, a new investigation by Hamish McNeilly for the website The Stuff reveals.
According to a former Dunedin police officer, Tom Lewis, police tried play down the seriousness of the attack.
Tom Lewis, who worked on the 1981 case, said police worked hard to keep the would-be killer out of the spotlight.
‘You will never get a true file on that. It was reactivated, regurgitated, bits pulled off it, other false bits put on,’ he said.
He later confirmed the teenager’s original statement had been destroyed.
Murray Hanan, the would-be killer’s former lawyer, said police decided not to charge the young man with treason – which in 1981 carried the death penalty – because they had received an order from ‘up top’.
He said: ‘The fact an attempted assassination of the Queen had taken place in New Zealand… it was too politically hot to handle. I think the government took the view that he is a bit nutty and has had a hard upbringing, so it won’t be too harsh.’
The incident was swept under the carpet by New Zealand police who did not charge the teen with treason because the case was ‘politically too hot to handle’
Lewis’s charge was late downgraded to possession of a firearm in a public place and discharging it.
In the hours after the shooting police were questioned over what had occurred.
They told press the distinctive noise was a council sign falling over.
Later, under questioning, another narrative emerged. They said someone had let of a fire cracker nearby.
Tom Lewis said that then Prime Minister Robert Muldoon feared the Royals would not return to New Zealand if word got out about just how close the rogue teenager had come to killing the Queen.
They told press the sound of a gunshot was a council sign falling over. Later, under questioning, they said someone had let of a fire cracker nearby
Christopher Lewis was interviewed eight times by police.
The young man said he had been ordered to kill the Queen by an Englishman known as ‘the Snowman’ – of who he was immensely scared.
‘The Snowman’ had told Lewis about far right groups in Britain like the National Front and said he could take refuge in similar groups in new Zealand.
Lewis later claimed in a draft autobiography he began before his death that he had been visited by top brass from Wellington during the interrogation process who told him never to speak about the event.
By the tender age of 17 Lewis had a history of armed robbery, arson and animal cruelty.
His idols included Australian bandit Ned Kelly as well as cult leader Charles Manson – who ordered the murders of American actress and model Sharon Tate.
After the incident Lewis was sectioned and police found clippings of the Royal family in his grimy flat, as well as a detailed map of the Queen’s route that day.
Written on the map were the words ‘Operation = Ass QUEB’ – assumed to to be the name he had given his ‘mission’.
Two years later the same teenager attempted to overpower a guard and escape from a psychiatric ward where he was being held in order to murder Prince Charles, who was visiting the country in April with the Princess Diana and their young son, William.
And in 1995 when the Queen returned, the New Zealand government sent the man, now 33, on a tax-payer funded holiday to the Great Barrier Reef.
They thought it safer to have him idling on a beach far from trouble. He was given free accommodation, spending money and a vehicle.
Lewis, however, was not under surveillance during this period.
He would later go on to kill himself in prison in 1997 – at the age of just 33 – while awaiting the trial of a woman and the kidnapping of her child.