Beware the Men in Suits Part 2: Justice For Yvonne

Beware the Men in Suits Part 2: Justice For Yvonne

In 1984, when Police Constable Yvonne Fletcher was shot outside the Libyan Embassy in London , John Murray swore he would bring her killers to justice. Decades later, he's about to come closer than ever before - but mysterious elements inside the British establishment seem determined to stop him in his tracks. Daisy Ridley joins Murray, and author Matt Johnson, to recount an epic mission for the truth. A mission that will take Murray to the ends of the Earth - and the limits of his endurance.
Read the transcript →

True Spies, Episode 184 - Beware the Men in Suits, Part Two: Justice for Yvonne

NARRATOR: This is True Spies, the podcast that takes you deep inside the greatest secret missions of all time. Week by week, you’ll hear the true stories behind the operations that have shaped the world we live in. You’ll meet the people who live life undercover. What do they know? What are their skills? And what would you do in their position? I’m Daisy Ridley and this is True Spies from SPYSCAPE Studios.

MATT JOHNSON: John's situation was most unusual because he had no authority or power to get involved in what was a very major criminal investigation. He wasn't part of the Anti-Terrorist Squad. But what he was, was a good friend to Yvonne and someone who really had a strong sense of the need for justice. 

NARRATOR: Beware the Men in Suits, Part Two: Justice for Yvonne.

MATT JOHNSON: John was instructed to leave all his personal documents - anything that could identify him - in his hotel room in Valletta and meet Ahmed at Valletta Harbor.

NARRATOR: The year is 2015 and retired police officer John Murray is about to make a journey that few would ever sign up for.

MATT JOHNSON: Now, John was thinking that he would be meeting a fairly substantial boat, a nice cruiser of some form, and they would go across the Mediterranean in safety. No, it was a tiny little fishing boat with an outboard motor.

NARRATOR: The kind of boat you might recognize from news reports - one overburdened with refugees, attempting to escape a war-torn country. Except John Murray is traveling in the opposite direction.

JOHN MURRAY: I always remember the refugees coming the other way. It was quite amazing. We landed on a beach and it was just about dawn, I think, when we arrived. Had a vehicle waiting for us. 

NARRATOR: A pickup truck with an open, flatbed. John’s instructed to hop in.

MATT JOHNSON: And he, Ahmed, and this guy who's driving them, head across Libya in the direction of Tripoli. And they're now seeing flags up on the horizon of ISIS.

NARRATOR: Even to an outsider like John, it’s clear the situation in Libya is extremely volatile. The threat of violence looms heavy in the air. His fixer, Ahmed, is visibly tense.

JOHN MURRAY: So he said, “Best that you hide.” So I hid under the tarpaulin and off we went. 

NARRATOR: Soon enough, from his hiding place in the bed of the truck, Murray feels the vehicle slow to a halt. A checkpoint, of some kind. As to whose? He can only speculate. But this is ISIS territory.

MATT JOHNSON: And John thinks there are people here that, if they catch me, they're going to cut my head off, quite literally. The news is full of Westerners being killed by Isis supporters. 

JOHN MURRAY: And I could hear them. I obviously couldn't understand what was said, but they were chatting away. And then I felt this prod in the back. And I knew what it was.

NARRATOR: What it was, was the barrel of a Kalashnikov. 

JOHN MURRAY: And I thought, “Don't move. Don't even breathe.” 

NARRATOR: Over the three decades that he has been investigating the circumstances of his friend Yvonne Fletcher’s murder, John Murray has had plenty of opportunity to reflect on the strange turns that his life has taken.

JOHN MURRAY: I spent a lot of time doing it. I ended up getting divorced probably through my fault. I don't mind saying that. I had one, two, three heart attacks and all sorts of things.

NARRATOR: But this moment - with just a tarpaulin separating him from the business end of a terrorist’s assault rifle - must surely put things into perspective. He is in well over his head. But the thing about John Murray? He’s a dyed-in-the-wool optimist.

JOHN MURRAY: I often thought, if I did get captured, it would do my campaign a world of good. Now, that might sound very strange, very funny. But that thought did cross my mind.

NARRATOR: We’ll leave John and his campaign there for now - there’s a lot to fill you in on before that dangerous journey in 2015. When you last saw John Murray in Part One of this story, he was reeling from a shocking revelation. One of the organizers of the 1984 protest at the Libyan Embassy, at which police officer Yvonne Fletcher had been shot dead by a pro-Gaddafi gunman, had approached him with new information. He had pinpointed those responsible for Colonel Gadaffi’s botched plan to assassinate dissident activists - or so-called ‘stray dogs’ - on UK soil. He had even identified the man who pulled the trigger on Yvonne. But John Murray was tantalized by the information. Unable to motivate police to investigate further, he had sat helpless. But then, after six long years, everything changed. In 2011, the Arab Spring arrives in Libya and Colonel Gaddafi’s 42-year rule comes to a violent end. The dictator is dethroned and assassinated. Libya falls into the hands of rebel groups. With the troubled nation back in the global news cycle, John Murray sees another opportunity to promote his campaign for justice. He contacts the BBC.

JOHN MURRAY: They get back in touch and said, “Yes. Would you like to go to Libya with the news team?”

NARRATOR: John didn’t even think about it. He was in.

JOHN MURRAY: I had to do what they call a hostile environment course, a five-day residential course, and it's mainly attended by war correspondents and [those] sort of people.

NARRATOR: A residential course in the British countryside. Sounds charming, right? Wrong.

JOHN MURRAY: The first night, your door would burst open. These guys would come in with masks on and drag you out of bed, put you in a room, put a bag over your head, and just leave you. 

NARRATOR: Now trained to navigate a number of worst-case scenarios, John Murray and the BBC crew set off for Libya in 2012.

JOHN MURRAY: We flew to Tunisia and we went by road, and that took some time across the desert and all sorts of things. I remember crossing the border into Libya. And, as soon as you got there, like the pope did, I went down on my knees and I kissed the ground. And I thought, “I'm actually here… And we can do something about what's happened.” 

NARRATOR: John had a busy itinerary for his trip. Most promising of all was the prospect of confronting one of the key players he had identified in Gaddafi’s stray dogs plot: Matouk Mohammed Matouk.

JOHN MURRAY: He was one of the people in the Bureau at the time. And I did have my suspicions that he was heavily involved.

NARRATOR: On Matouk’s return to Libya, he had climbed the ranks of Gaddafi’s regime, happily reaping the rewards of his loyalty. Now, with that regime in tatters - Murray has a chance of finding him and holding him to account, on film. He has questions for Gaddafi’s prized henchman, and he intends to have them answered. And so on his second day in the country, he sets off for the area where Matouk was last seen.

JOHN MURRAY: And we drove into a place on the outskirts of Tripoli - so that's me, the reporter, producer, cameraman, and we’ve two bodyguards with us. So we're driving up this slight incline and suddenly this half truck appeared at the bottom of the road and cut us off and this big machine gun was pointing at us. So we're halfway up this little hill. And goodness me, the same thing at the top with another half-truck blocking us. So we can't go forward. We can't go backward. And these guys are pointing these machine guns at us. And then, from the side road, here he comes. Here’s a commander in all his glory, big green uniform on, surrounded by his soldiers.

NARRATOR: Panic floods the vehicle. The bodyguards’ hands move to their weapons. At the window, the commander signals for the team to leave their truck.

JOHN MURRAY: We got out and then the reporter spoke to him. The producer spoke to him, and he knew exactly who we were. He knew exactly who I was. And he knew the story of Fletcher.

NARRATOR: It seems that John Murray, long a thorn in the side of Colonel Gaddafi, had something of a reputation in Libya. The militia commander greets him as a hero. Sensing an opportunity, John asks if the commander happens to know the location of Matouk Matouk’s house. Why, of course, he does.

JOHN MURRAY: He says, “I will get one of my soldiers to take you.” So the soldier hopped in our transport and off we went. We went to… it was like a compound, a palace, if you like, but with a big wall around it and a big, big, big iron gate, which was locked.

NARRATOR: Eventually, a janitor emerges from the building, unlocks the gate, and allows John and the crew into the property. The compound has an eerie quality to it - like a crime scene abandoned in haste.

JOHN MURRAY: I remember seeing that he had a private zoo there. And we walked past and you could see all the animals who were obviously dead just lying there. And then we went up and there we were at his front door. It was open. There was a soldier there, and we were invited in.

NARRATOR: Finally, John Murray felt he was where he needed to be: On the trail of the criminals who had murdered his friend. But alas, there was no sign of Matouk himself.

JOHN MURRAY: We actually found out he fled a couple of days before. We just missed him. But we went into the house and we had a good look around and I couldn't believe it. Everywhere was green and gold and all sorts of riches and all sorts of things in his house. He'd been well-rewarded by Colonel Gadhafi for what he did. 

NARRATOR: A few days later, John prepares to leave Libya. He feels a combination of optimism and frustration. After all, his targets have evaded him and he has no idea when he will next get an opportunity to return and continue his quest for answers. At the airport, John strikes up a conversation with a curious stranger named Ahmed. The man is intrigued by his story and makes John an offer.

JOHN MURRAY: If you're ever coming back, get in touch. I can be your driver, bodyguard, translator. 

NARRATOR: Ahmed scrawls his number on a napkin and presses it to John’s palm, as he heads to his departure gate. Back home in the UK, Murray continues his private investigation. He finds, in the wake of Gaddafi’s death, that more Libyans are willing to offer him information. 

JOHN MURRAY: The fear, if you like, of Gaddafi is now lifted amongst these people… Now he's out of the picture. They seem a little freer to say something. 

NARRATOR: With each new account, John is building a clearer picture of the events of April 1984. Just months after his last visit, he has enough new information to warrant another trip to Libya but the situation has changed.

JOHN MURRAY: On the first visit with the BBC we didn't need visas. You could go there quite freely. By the time I was thinking of going back there, you needed a visa. So I went to try and get a visa, but that was refused.

NARRATOR: It was unclear to John whether his application had been blocked by Libyan authorities or his government. In either instance, the result was the same. His plan had hit a roadblock. That night, he headed to the pub to drown his sorrows.

MATT JOHNSON: And the story goes that he went to the pub, and bought himself a drink. He put his hand in his pocket to pay for the beer. And he had Ahmed's phone number there. 

NARRATOR: Ahmed, the helpful stranger who had offered his services in the Tripoli airport. Well, it couldn’t hurt to give him a call, could it? Happily, John found Ahmed as obliging as ever. The two men put a plan together. They met on the outskirts of Tunisia.

JOHN MURRAY: Off we went. 

NARRATOR: Ahmed warned John that his trip would be a little more clandestine this time, which suited the rogue policeman just fine.

JOHN MURRAY: It might sound silly, but there was no pressure. We could take our time. He knew what he was doing and I knew what I was doing. He knew the right people. We were both armed, believe it or not, so we could look after ourselves. 

NARRATOR: The main difference was that on his last trip, John Murray had been part of an official, invited press delegation. This time, he would be entering illegally.

MATT JOHNSON: It was an incredible cross-country journey of probably 500 or 600 miles from a neighboring country across the desert in a pickup truck with Ahmed driving to eventually [smuggle] John into Benghazi where he was able to meet with a guy called Adel who was a witness. 

NARRATOR: Adel [like the singer] had taken an interest in John’s cause. 

JOHN MURRAY: And he made various appointments for me and he said, “There's one person that you should talk to.” 

NARRATOR: The identity of that person was kept a surprise from John until the moment he arrived at the meeting. When, outside a nondescript farmhouse, Adel told him the identity of the man inside. John was dumbfounded.

JOHN MURRAY: I couldn't quite believe it. And I thought, “Is this a wind-up or something? Is this going to happen?” 

NARRATOR: The man waiting for John inside the building was none other than Salah Eddin Khalifa. The man who, as John had discovered back in 2005, had pulled the trigger on the gun - the man who had killed Yvonne Fletcher. With his heart pounding in his chest, John entered the building and found Khalifa inside.

JOHN MURRAY: So I had this meeting with him and I'll never forget what he said. I said to him, “Why?” And he said, “If I didn't do it, my wife and my children would be killed.” Now, I didn't know at that particular point whether to hate him for what he’d done. Or, funny enough, I admired him for what he'd done. I could have killed him at that particular time. That's what my heart wanted to do. 

NARRATOR: Remember, John is armed on this expedition. Before him sits the man whose actions sent him down this dark pathway decades earlier.

JOHN MURRAY: He'd basically ruined my life and a lot of other people’s and he’d taken a life. But in a funny sort of way, I could understand why. I could never forgive him. And I would have liked to do a lot of things to him… but I couldn't. 

NARRATOR: And so, John’s weapon stays in its holster. The meeting comes to an awkward end. How do you say goodbye to the man who ruined your life? John returns to the UK and reports the confession he has taken from Khalifa. Again, he finds the Metropolitan Police Force nonplussed.

JOHN MURRAY: It made me think a lot more because hang on a minute. If I can do this, why can't the authorities? The word was they could never find anybody. Oh, they weren't getting any cooperation. But suddenly, me, on my own, can do something. And, it just wasn't right.

NARRATOR: Years earlier, the head of the Anti-Terrorist squad, John Grieve, had told Murray to ‘beware the men in suits’. He’d been cautious with his optimism about any official breakthrough in Yvonne’s case ever since. Even so, he had hoped that the authorities would be spurred into action by his trip to Libya. He’d hoped they would seek out Khalifa and finally extract justice. But that was never to be. Just months after their meeting, news reached John that Khalifa had been killed.

JOHN MURRAY: I don't know, but I'm pretty sure that he was murdered because of the meeting that I had with him.

NARRATOR: The rumor went that Khalifa had been killed to prevent him naming the higher-ups who had given him his orders at the embassy. A reminder, if John needed one, of the life-and-death stakes involved in his rogue mission. But even so, he couldn’t stop thinking about a return visit. In 2015, he found a reason.

MATT JOHNSON: John wanted to speak with a guy called al-Senussi. Al-Senussi was in charge of Libyan internal security. And what Senussi doesn't know about what was going on at that time isn't worth knowing. Senussi had been arrested. He was being detained in prison. And John thought, “I'm going to go to Tripoli to see if I can persuade the authorities to allow me access to Senussi so I can ask him face to face. What happened? Why did it happen? And who was responsible?” Again, the Libyans said, “No, you're not coming. No visa. Not allowed into the country.”

NARRATOR: And so, just like before, John makes other arrangements. Not that he’s quiet about it. He tells the press of his intention to return to Libya. Anything to keep the media’s eye on the investigation. John is all set to leave. Then, just days before his departure…

JOHN MURRAY: I got a call one morning from a detective inspector from Special Branch who said that he wanted to come and see me. And [we] spoke about 7 am - ‘We'll be there within the hour. Okay?’ So he turns up with the detective sergeant. He produced an envelope with my name typed on it. I said, “What's this?” He said, “I don't know, but I've just been told to give it to you.” I open it. And I read it: Dear John, We've heard through the press, media, and the police that you're thinking of going to Tripoli to see a person called Al-Senussi. We as a family think that you shouldn't do that. You should leave it to the Metropolitan Police and the Foreign Office to deal with. End of story.

NARRATOR: Signed, Heather Fletcher - Yvonne’s sister.

JOHN MURRAY: I said, “Are you telling me that the family has written to Special Branch to hand-deliver a letter to me?” And I didn't get an answer. I said, “I know Heather Fletcher.’ I said, “I've got her number. We speak quite a lot.”

NARRATOR: When John called Heather, she knew nothing of the letter signed in her name. He showed the Special Branch detective the door. Beware the men in suits indeed. Just two days later, John departed once again. By 2015, the glimmer of optimism following the Arab Spring had curdled into an indefinite reign of chaos. Large portions of Libya were controlled by ISIS. Ahmed told John that crossing the border by land would be too risky this time. 

MATT JOHNSON: So this time John went to Malta under the instructions of Ahmed and he met Ahmed at Valletta Harbor.

NARRATOR: You already know what happens next - the trip on the fishing boat, passing the refugees, the ISIS flags waving on the horizon. The terrifying ride, beneath a tarpaulin, interrupted by a checkpoint and the prod of a Kalashnikov. John had felt certain that his luck was finally up. But somehow, he escaped.

JOHN MURRAY: Why he didn't lift that bloody thing up, I've got no idea. If he'd done that, it could have been a different story. But he didn't. 

NARRATOR: His heart was still pounding in his chest five kilometers up the road when the truck stopped and Ahmed told him what had happened.

MATT JOHNSON: It was members of the Libyan Army who were looking for ISIS people. But John didn't know that. He believed that his life was in danger. And his life was in danger because if the Libyan Army had caught him, he'd have probably been put in prison. So he might not have been executed as ISIS would have done, but he would still be in big trouble.

NARRATOR: If Murray had been rattled by the close brush with capture, he had a funny way of showing it. In Tripoli, he dropped his bags at a hotel and headed directly to the prison where Al-Senussi was being held.

JOHN MURRAY: I've always found that the US dollar is a ticket that opens many doors. 

MATT JOHNSON: He bribes his way into the prison through the prison guards and meets the commander of the prison, and says to the commander of the prison, “I would like to talk to Al-Senussi.” And it turns out, most incredibly, that the commander of the prison was a man he had met during the visit to see the house of Matouk. This was a local militia commander whom John had met had now become the commander of this prison.

NARRATOR: The very man, in his brilliant green uniform, who’d told John that his reputation preceded him, years earlier, on his first trip to Libya.

MATT JOHNSON: And this commander’s sympathetic to John’s predicament, but he says to John, “Sure, you can see al-Senussi, you can interview him. You can ask him the questions you want to. It's going to cost you. Thousands of US dollars.” It's money that John doesn't have. John tries to negotiate a smaller fee using the money he has available. And this militia commander views that smaller offer as a personal insult. And John thinks, “I'm in trouble here. I'm in danger.”

NARRATOR: Now, John has to think on his feet. He tells the commander that there’s more money in his hotel room. If he’s allowed to leave, he will bring back the full amount required. It’s a bluff. There is no more money. But the commander agrees. And John is able to leave the prison.

MATT JOHNSON: And so he heads back to his hotel. Before he reaches the hotel, the Libyan security people are there, and they are turning over his room looking for the money that they think he's going back to get.

NARRATOR: Evidently, John’s status as an anti-Gaddafi hero is worth less than the US dollars the commander might turn up in his room. And John realizes that he's in serious danger. So he and Ahmed head straight back to the coast. As John escapes Libya on a fishing boat, his bag abandoned in the ransacked hotel room, he must wonder if he will ever return. He has pushed his luck three times now. This time, he is barely escaping with his life.

MATT JOHNSON: And this is a man who is not in the best of health, has had several heart attacks, and has to take a lot of medication. But the man is made of incredibly tough material.

NARRATOR: Back in the UK, it’s the same old story. John attempts to contact the Metropolitan Police. The Met doesn't want to know. He begins to wonder if he’ll ever find closure.

JOHN MURRAY: And then in 2015, I think it was, I got a telephone call from a national newspaper to say that they'd been invited to a press conference the next morning at Scotland Yard. And they didn't know what it was about, but they were convinced it was regarding the murder of Yvonne Fletcher. 

NARRATOR: This comes as a great surprise to John Murray. He has, by this time, built up a conclusive picture of what happened that day in the embassy. But he hadn’t been aware that the police were even still investigating. At the press conference the next morning, the Anti-Terrorist squad drops a bombshell. Arrests have been made.

JOHN MURRAY: That was a chap called Saleh Mabrouk, his wife, and his son. They'd been arrested for - Saleh Mabrouk, for - conspiracy to murder Yvonne Fletcher and the three of them for money laundering. And they were arrested at their home address in Reading, which completely threw me. I didn't know they were in Reading.

NARRATOR: It was hard to know what shocked him more: that Mabrouk, a man he knew to have masterminded the protest in 1984, had been allowed to live in the UK or that he was actually in police custody. After three decades of campaigning, finally a breakthrough. John was elated.

JOHN MURRAY: Until I'm informed again through a press release that a report had been submitted by the Metropolitan Police to the Crown Prosecution Service, and the Crown Prosecution Service said that no charges could be brought against Mabrouk because they were missing - in their words - two pieces of vital evidence which the Home Office and Foreign Office refuse to hand over on the grounds of national security. 

NARRATOR: John already knew that there was more to the handling of Yvonne’s investigation than systemic incompetence. But now the scale of the cover-up began to dawn on him. What happened inside the embassy in 1984 was only half the picture. To truly answer the ‘why’ of his promise to Yvonne, he had to understand the role his government played in her death. It was just like he’d been warned, years before.

JOHN MURRAY: Beware the men in suits. Now, you know that that sums it up because he said that to me many years prior to no charges being brought by the CPS, but it was exactly the same. It's got to be the men in suits. 

NARRATOR: And so, John got in touch with someone he thought might be able to help. An old colleague turned writer. 

MATT JOHNSON: Now, John had become a fan of my fiction writing. He'd read my novels and he knew I had a history and he knew that I had dedicated my first novel to the memory of Yvonne Fletcher and that I had driven the ambulance escort that had taken her to the hospital, and that I had known Yvonne. So he knew there was a connection. 

NARRATOR: Matt Johnson was fascinated by John’s story - and he too sensed that there were hidden depths to Yvonne’s murder. And as it happened, around this time, one of Matt’s novels had caught the attention of a very prestigious reader - one who might be able to help.

MATT JOHNSON: I was invited to meet John le Carré. And during the course of the afternoon, while we were at his home in Cornwall, I was talking to him about this project with John Murray. And he said to me he had some knowledge of the incident and he couldn't tell me about it because he was covered by his own rules and regulations. But he suggested to me that I should approach the National Archives and look at certain documents relating to what had happened in Libya. 

NARRATOR: When John le Carré - a former MI5 [and MI6] officer himself - offers you an intelligence tip, you take it. 

MATT JOHNSON: We went up to the National Archives. We started looking at this kind of information that John le Carré had indicated would be interesting. And we found the most incredibly revealing information. Documents that were 23 years old that had been released by the Cabinet Office under the Freedom of Information rules, were sitting there just waiting for somebody to read them. 

NARRATOR: Those documents represented the final, missing piece of the puzzle.

MATT JOHNSON: What they revealed was what was really going on behind the scenes in the run-up to the demonstration in April 1984 and what was really motivating the UK government to want to send those Libyans home rather than prosecute them.

NARRATOR: When John Murray began his investigation into Yvonne Fletcher’s murder, back in 1984, he knew it would bring him face to face with the dark inner workings of Colonel Gadaffi’s military regime. What he didn’t know was how deep and how far the roots of corruption would spread. He could never have imagined that his government would be implicated in his friend’s death. With the material he found in the National Archives, Matt Johnson was able to piece together what he claims was a far-reaching, UK-sanctioned conspiracy. A grubby compromise born out of another fraught political context of the 1980s. Namely, a standoff with the miners union.

MATT JOHNSON: The National Union of Mineworkers were very powerful because they could say, “We'll go on strike and it won't be very long before the lights around the UK start to go out and the UK would lose its power generation facility.” 

NARRATOR: In the ‘80s, the National Union of Mineworkers, and its charismatic leader, Arthur Scargill, were a near-constant thorn in the side of the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

MATT JOHNSON: Margaret Thatcher was tired of this and she said, “Enough is enough. We need to stop this.” This is, to her mind, a Marxist influence and a Marxist-driven campaign to undermine the authority of the UK government. 

MATT JOHNSON: She goes to her energy minister. The energy minister then talks to his experts and they come up with an idea. And the idea is that the UK government has sufficient oil-fired generation in order to maintain the electricity supplies to the UK. But they don't have enough oil, they don't have enough oil reserves. 

NARRATOR: So who might a desperate UK government turn to, in its hour of need?

MATT JOHNSON: It just so happens that at that moment in time, Libya under the leadership of Colonel Gaddafi, has a glut of oil because they are the subject of United States sanctions. So they are unable to sell their oil on the open market. They have vast reserves of oil going cheap.

NARRATOR: Of course, to publicly break rank with their allies in the US - and buy oil from a despotic leader, at this very moment sponsoring terrorist campaigns around the world - would cause a political scandal. But the leverage that Libya’s oil would buy Thatcher, in her negotiations with the Miners Union, is priceless. Johnson claims it was so valuable to her that she was prepared to go off the books to get it.

MATT JOHNSON: And so a deal is done through the medium of the UK and the Libyan secret services to secure a deal for the UK to buy Libyan oil. And so, during 1983, with a 1984 miners strike on the horizon, the UK is importing vast amounts of Libyan oil which is being built up in order to keep the UK power stations running when the strike goes into effect. In March 1984, as April approaches, the UK government is confident that when the miners go on strike, they will be able to outlast them. 

NARRATOR: This top-secret arrangement is working. It’s the ace card that might finally bury the miners’ effort.

MATT JOHNSON: But then, what happens is an idiotic Libyan plan to attack the stray dogs, the anti-Gaddafi people who are living in the UK in the form of a shooting at the Libyan People's Bureau. 

NARRATOR: The murder of Yvonne Fletcher on April 17, 1984, could not come at a less convenient time for Margaret Thatcher’s government. There are demands, from both police and the public, that those responsible in the embassy be denied the cloak of diplomatic immunity. People want justice but justice would mean risking retribution from Colonel Gaddafi.

MATT JOHNSON: And this is in danger of completely wrecking the secret arrangement that the UK government has with Colonel Gaddafi in Libya. They are faced with a quandary. Do they arrest and detain the Libyans? Do they prosecute them? Do they spoil their cozy working relationship with Gaddafi? Or do they defeat the miners? 

NARRATOR: When the siege of the People’s Bureau ended, after 10 long days, with the deportation of all inside - John Murray and Matt Johnson had both wondered what hidden negotiations had informed that decision. Now they knew.

MATT JOHNSON: Their priority was to defeat the miners so they let the Libyans go home. 

NARRATOR: Cold political calculations. A joyless game of cost and reward. Matt Johnson had glimpsed the inconvenient truth behind the embassy shooting and he was convinced there was yet more to uncover. One of the most elusive aspects of the whole story was the role that the UK’s own secret services had played in proceedings. Why hadn’t they caught wind of Gaddafi’s plans at the Libyan Embassy? Matt Johnson’s research revealed that warnings had been passed on to the Government Communications Headquarters in the build-up to the shooting.

MATT JOHNSON: The problem at the time was the government was also in dispute with the unions that were representing the employees at GCHQ. And so they weren't working properly. And so, as this information was coming through, hinting that something was going to happen on April 17  at the Libyan People's Bureau, this information didn't get through as speedily and as effectively as it should have done. Most importantly, it didn't reach the ears of the police officers, the uniformed officers who were going to be supervising that demonstration.

NARRATOR: Officers like John Murray and Yvonne Fletcher, who walked into the protest unarmed and unprepared. Colonel Gadaffi’s now notorious instruction - to cover the streets of London in blood - had itself been intercepted. But the intelligence wasn’t passed on in time. The implications of that failure, for those caught in the subsequent gunfire, were devastating.

MATT JOHNSON: They went out there. They stood in front of the Bureau. All those people were allowed to demonstrate. And they were complete sitting ducks. 

NARRATOR: All of this information - of Thatcher’s shady dealings with Gaddafi, of the mishandled intelligence that might have prevented the attack - was explosive. But none of it explained why the Crown Prosecution Service had been forced to drop its case against Saleh Ibraham Mabrouk. Soon enough, Matt Johnson began to uncover details of Mabrouk’s biography that hinted at an answer to the riddle.

MATT JOHNSON: For example, he turned up in Paris one day when Arthur Scargill was there trying to raise funds for the miners' strike.

NARRATOR: This was during a time in which the UK’s secret services were desperately attempting to discredit the principled leader of the National Union of Mineworkers. They were waging an intelligence war, trying to drag up any dirt they could. And who should appear then but Salih Ibrahim Mabrouk at a hotel in Paris to meet with Arthur Scargill to offer funds for the National Union of Miners. 

NARRATOR: Why on Earth would Mabrouk pop up here - to offer Scargill dirty money that he could never justifiably accept?

MATT JOHNSON: The same man who'd been running the Revolutionary Committee, the same man who was interviewed many years later by a chap called Seamus Milne for a book that he was writing, and he admitted that he had been working with MI5 and MI6. 

NARRATOR: Could it be true? Was Saleh Ibrahim Mabrouk - the man John knew to be partly responsible for Yvonne’s death - an MI5 asset? Was that why he had been deported after the shooting and not arrested? Was that why he’d been allowed to return to the UK and live there? Was that why the Crown Prosecution Service had been forced to drop their case against Mabrouk? Without the evidence that the Foreign Office and Home Office withheld, we can only speculate. But Matt Johnson has a compelling theory. He believes that Mabrouk informed MI5 and MI6 of the plan to snatch Gaddafi’s so-called ‘stray dogs’ from outside the embassy.

MATT JOHNSON: So we know that Mabrouk was working for MI5, MI6. We know that Mabrouk was inside the Libyan People's Bureau. It's a supposition, but the clues are there to suggest that Mabrouk, who obviously knew the attack was going to happen because he was involved in the planning of it, was working with MI5. Is it beyond the realms of possibility that MI5 and MI6 knew that something was in the offing and they advised their man to get out before it happened?

NARRATOR: Remember, Mabrouk had extricated himself from the situation. He’d been arrested just hours before the protest when he’d argued over the barriers being assembled in front of the embassy. Could it have been a deliberate ploy? At that point, the plan had still been to grab the Libyan dissidents - something MI5 and MI6 may have been able to stomach as necessary collateral to protect a valuable asset. Things only morphed into a plot to shoot the protesters after Mabrouk left the scene. Like Matt Johnson says, it’s all a matter of conjecture. But he makes a strong argument.

MATT JOHNSON: Save Mabrouk himself actually saying “I was there and I knew what happened”. Perhaps because he was there and he knew what happened, that is the national security issue, which has prevented his criminal prosecution in the UK. And until it's heard in open court, we will never know. 

NARRATOR: When charges against Mabrouk were dropped in May 2017, John Murray immediately went on the offensive. Armed with his new information, he was determined to have his justice.

JOHN MURRAY: When I found out that the Home Office and Foreign Office were refusing to hand over this evidence, I applied for a judicial review of that decision. 

NARRATOR: John Murray wanted to force the key missing evidence into the public domain. A costly exercise - and, as it turned out when the verdict came in, a fruitless one.

JOHN MURRAY: It was basically one line. To say ‘no’. No explanation. No reason. Nothing at all.

NARRATOR: Again, John’s campaign appeared to have reached the end of the line. But there was one final option to explore.

MATT JOHNSON: He had heard about a particular case with a team of solicitors from a company called McCue Jury. They had helped a young lady whose father had been killed during the Hyde Park bombing in 1982 to conduct a civil prosecution against the alleged bomber. And that prosecution in the civil courts had been successful. 

NARRATOR: In a Civil Prosecution Court, John Murray would be able to present his case against Mabrouk - and seek damages for harm done. 

JOHN MURRAY: I sued Mr. Mabrouk in the High Court for the princely sum of £1. And I was advised by the lawyers that, obviously, I could do a lot more. But as I said to them and very many people… I'm not interested in getting any money from him. I want this evidence that we've gathered put in front of a judge, an independent judge, a High Court judge, and let him decide on the merits of our case. 

NARRATOR: In November of 2021, John Murray presented the case he had painstakingly assembled over more than three decades to a High Court judge. Unfurled, before the court, were the stark facts of his life since 1984. The death of his friend had sent him down the strangest path imaginable, bringing him face to face with the dark forces of a military regime and his own complicit government. He had endured divorce, heart attacks, and the very real prospect of his death in his tireless campaign for justice. And now, there was nothing more to be done.

JOHN MURRAY: On the morning of what I would call decision day, we all go to court and the court clerk or the judge's clerk came over to me and she said, “Mr. Murray, this is a copy of the judge's decision, with his compliments.”

NARRATOR: The document bearing the judges’ decision spanned 40 pages or more. But John Murray couldn’t wait a moment longer. He skipped to the end.

JOHN MURRAY: Well, all sorts of emotions went through my head. I mean, there were tears in my eyes, but I couldn't say anything. I couldn't do anything because nobody else knew.

NARRATOR: The judge’s address took several hours to reach its conclusion. Finally, he announced the verdict that John Murray already knew. He had won his case.

JOHN MURRAY: As soon as he announced his decision in open court, everybody applauded. Even the press guys in the press box stood up and clapped. It was absolutely amazing. And the High Court judge, in his wisdom, said to my barrister, “I've never had this in my court before.” And Philippa Kaufman, my QC, said, “My Lord. You will never see it again.”

NARRATOR: At no point before had John Murray ever permitted himself celebration. But now, he was overcome.

JOHN MURRAY: All the emotions, all the hard work, all the heartache, everything. It all came together. And I thought, “We've finally done it. We've got the information out there. It's gone in front of a judge. And, he's accepted and he believes and he knows we've told the truth. We've done it.” 

NARRATOR: Even so, John Murray doesn’t consider his campaign over. He will continue to pursue the murderers of Yvonne Fletcher until criminal prosecutions are achieved. He will not rest until he has finally fulfilled his promise to his friend.

​​JOHN MURRAY: I thought about giving up many, many times. But, I just couldn't do it. And I've said this many times: If I’d been shot, Yvonne would be the person speaking to you now and she would be doing exactly the same as I'm doing. 

NARRATOR: For a full account of the story told in these two parts of True Spies - you can read Matt Johnson’s book, No Ordinary Day. In John Murray, he may well have found the hero of his career.

MATT JOHNSON: He was what Commander John Grieve, who became the head of the Anti-Terrorist Squad some years later, described as the grit in the oyster, who eventually would become a pearl, because he was the man who kept agitating and kept pushing people to do something about it, and he wouldn't let it drop.

NARRATOR: I’m Daisy Ridley. Join me next time on True Spies.

Guest Bio
No items found.
No items found.