Sir Richard Christopher Sharples KCMG OBE MC (6 August 1916 – 10 March 1973) was a British politician and Governor of Bermuda who was shot dead by assassins linked to a small militant Bermudian Black Power group called the Black Beret Cadre. The former army major, who had been a Cabinet Minister, resigned his seat to take up the position of Governor of Bermuda in late 1972. His murder would result in the last executions to be conducted under British rule anywhere in the world.
Sharples passed out from the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, in 1936 and was commissioned into the Welsh Guards. He married Pamela in 1946; they had two sons and two daughters. The family greatly enjoyed yachting, and this was the basis of a close friendship with Edward Heath, later prime minister. Sharples was elected Conservative Member of Parliament for Sutton and Cheam in a 1954 by-election. After the 1970 general election, he served as Minister of State at the Home Office, before resigning his seat in 1972 to take up the position of Governor of Bermuda. He was assassinated in 1973 by a faction associating itself with the Black Power movement.
His widow was subsequently made a life peer as Baroness Sharples.
Sharples was killed outside Bermuda's Government House on the evening of 10 March 1973. An informal dinner party for a small group of guests had just concluded, when he decided to go for a walk with his Great Dane, Horsa, and his aide-de-camp, Captain Hugh Sayers of the Welsh Guards. The two men and the dog were ambushed and gunned down near the residence.
A detachment of the Parachute Regiment, training at Warwick Camp at the time, provided a guard and escort for the late Governor's body, his coffin carried atop a 25 Pounder field gun of the Bermuda Regiment, to the Leander class frigate HMS Sirius, which was stationed at HM Dockyard Bermuda at the time. HMS Sirius conveyed the Governor's body from Hamilton to St. George's, where he was interred. After the assassination HMS Sirius provided enhanced security for Senior Naval Officer West Indies (SNOWI) who was stationed on the island.
Sharples was buried in the graveyard at St Peter's Church in St George's, with Captain Sayers and his dog, Horsa.
Elements of the British Army's airborne forces, which were on Bermuda for training exercises with the Bermuda Regiment at the time of the murders, were called in to assist the civil authorities. The 23 Parachute Field Ambulance, 1 Parachute Logistic Regiment and the band of the 1st Battalion, The Parachute Regiment subsequently provided protection for Government buildings, officials and dignitaries as well as assisting the Bermuda Police.
Police launched a massive manhunt and investigation. Eventually, in 1976, a petty criminal named Erskine Durrant "Buck" Burrows was arrested. He confessed to shooting dead Sharples and Sayers. At his trial he was also convicted of murdering the Bermuda Police commissioner George Duckett on 9 September 1972 and killing the co-owner and the bookkeeper of a supermarket in April 1973.
In his confession Burrows wrote:
- The motive for killing the Governor was to seek to make the people, black people in particular, become aware of the evilness and wickedness of the colonialist system in this island. Secondly, the motive was to show that these colonialists were just ordinary people like ourselves who eat, sleep and die just like anybody else and that we need not stand in fear and awe of them.
A co-accused named Larry Tacklyn was acquitted of assassinating Sharples and Sayers but was convicted of killing Victor Rego and Mark Doe at the Shopping Centre supermarket in April 1973. Unlike Burrows, who did not care whether he was to be executed, Tacklyn expected to get a "last minute" reprieve.
Both murderers remained in Casemates Prison while the appeals process for Tacklyn was brought before the House of Lords in London. During this time, it was reported that Tacklyn passed the time playing table tennis, while Burrows took a virtual vow of silence, only communicating his thoughts and requests on scraps of paper.
Both men were hanged on 2 December 1977 at Casemates Prison. A moratorium on hanging was then in effect, and, although others had been sentenced to death in the intervening years, no one had been executed in Bermuda since the Second World War. Burrows and Tacklyn would be the last people to be executed under British rule anywhere in the world.
Three days of rioting followed the executions. During the riots, the Bermuda Regiment proved too small to fulfill its role (which was considered by Major General Glyn Gilbert, the highest ranking Bermudian in the British Army, in his review of the regiment, leading to its increase from 400 soldiers to a full battalion of 750). As a consequence, at the request of the Bermuda Government, soldiers of the 1st Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers were flown in as re-inforcements in the aftermath of the riots. The cost of the damages was estimated to be $2 million.
- Anthony Browne (3 October 2002). "Death penalty abolished on all British territory". The Times.
- Bermuda Online: British Army in Bermuda from 1701 to 1977
The Ottawa Citizen, 11 March 1973,**as first reported.**
The Black Panthers: Their Dangerous Bermudian Legacy, Mel Ayton 2006.
- BBC News story from 1973
- Bernews: Details of assassination of Sir Richard, and subsequent conviction
|Parliament of the United Kingdom|
|Member of Parliament for Sutton and Cheam
|Governor of Bermuda
Sir Edwin Leather