1984 Libyan hostage incident

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The Libyan hostage situation began on the morning of the murder of WPC Fletcher, 17 April 1984 and lasted until 5 February 1985 (294 days). In accordance with the hostage release agreement, reporting on the incident was restricted until the fall of Gadaffi in 2011.[citation needed]


March 1984

Four Libyan nationals were arrested on charges following explosions at Manchester and Heathrow airports in the UK and were remanded in custody.[1]

17 April 1984

WPC Yvonne Fletcher was hit by a bullet from a burst of machine-gun fire from within the Libyan Peoples' Bureau (Libyan Embassy) in St James's Sq., London. She died shortly afterwards.

That evening, Doug Ledingham, the airport manager for British Caledonian Airways at Tripoli Universal Airport, Libya, was arrested by soldiers.

17 to 27 April

There was a standoff between the Libyan and British governments over the pursuit of who shot WPC Fletcher. The standoff resulted in the breaking of diplomatic relations by Britain with Libya, and the return to Libya under diplomatic immunity of the occupants of the Libyan Peoples' Bureau in London. Rumours abounded at the time as to the fate of the person who is alleged to have fired the fatal shots from the Libyan People's Bureau. In 1986, a British businessman who had worked for Colonel Gaddafi's regime reported WPC Fletcher's killer had been hanged as soon as he returned to Libya.[2]

Following the breaking of diplomatic relations with Libya, the British Embassy in Tripoli was evacuated by the British and ransacked by the Libyans.[3] A skeleton staff of British diplomats took up office in the Italian Embassy.

14–16 May 1984

Four further British men in Libya were rounded up and detained as hostages against the four arrested Libyan nationals in Britain by those claiming to be officials of the Gaddafi regime. The men in order of capture were: Michael Berdinner, Alan Russell, Malcolm Anderson and Robin Plummer. At first, Allen Russell and Malcolm Anderson were held at a separate location where they were questioned and beaten. Ledingham, Berdinner and Plummer (Plummer in solitary confinement) were in the same facility, the Italian Mansion, a building approximately 400 yards distant from the Italian Embassy.

12 June 1984

A month after being taken hostage, the five men were allowed a meeting with the British Second Consul, George Anderson, who was able to offer only pastoral care and contact with home, but no suggestion of release. It was clear by this time, however, that the men were being held as hostages by one of Col Gaddafi's Revolutionary Committees, in defiance of international law. Return to their respective prisons was followed by little or no improvement in the hostages' circumstances.

19 July 1984

A second meeting with George Anderson resulted in all the hostages being put into one location, the Italian Mansion, and being fed an improved diet and given medical attention. This improvement in circumstances was accompanied by a slow but inexorable descent into gloom of the hostages isolated from all news of the outside world.

Meanwhile, in Britain, unbeknownst to the hostages, their families, notably Pat Plummer[4] and Carole Russell,[5] were working tirelessly with Kate Adie of the BBC and Brent Sadler of ITN to keep the hostages' plight in the media to keep the situation in the news and the profile high on the government's agenda. By now, the families were being kept up to date on a daily basis by contacts within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London as to the stalemate between Libya and Britain, with a continual decline in international relations between Libya and most of the rest of the world.

Summer 1984

In London, a committee in parliament was held to determine whether or not what the British government had done over the Libyan hostage situation was reasonable. The committee concluded that in the circumstances, the British government had done all it reasonably could in the light of what little was known at the time.

7 August 1984

The Libyans allowed family members to visit the hostages. These visits brought unofficial news of the, as yet, publicly undisclosed involvement of Terry Waite, the Special Envoy to the Archbishop of Canterbury, of the Church of England.[6]

1 September 1984

Doug Ledingham and George Bush, another prisoner, arrested and detained on bona fide charges unrelated to the Libyan hostage situation, were freed and allowed home.[7] On the day of their release, British television news was granted access to and showed the world for the first time, detail of the hostage situation.[8]

17 October 1984

Two of the wives of the hostages, Pat Plummer and Carole Russell, attended a meeting with the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The two wives petitioned for a representative of the British Government to go to Libya and start negotiations for the release of the hostages.[9] This meeting was soon followed by the arrival in Libya of Terry Waite.

21 October 1984

Alan Russell and Malcolm Anderson were removed from the Italian Mansion and taken to the Libyan courts, where they were charged with transporting state secrets.[10]

10–18 November 1984

Terry Waite was in Libya. The hostage situation showed no signs of thawing, in spite of national and international efforts to secure the release of the hostages and the intervention at a pastoral level of Waite.

13–14 December 1984

Allen Russell was placed on trial and charged with sharing state secrets with British journalists. Robin Plummer seized the opportunity to speak to the press post being question and states his innocence and makes a plea for warm clothing.[11]

24 December 1984

The four men were confirmed as political hostages by Gaddafi. Waite held a Christmas carol service with the hostages.[12]

6 January 1985

Col Gaddafi himself placed the matter of the remaining hostages before the members of the Basic and General Peoples' Congresses, the system of democracy prevalent in Libya at the time, for a decision on the release of the hostages.

1 February 1985

Then WPC Fletcher's memorial was unveiled temporarily disrupting negotiations and sent a very clear message to the Libyans.

5 February 1985

The Congresses voted by an overwhelming majority to release the hostages. But there were conditions to the release.[13] The release was however subject to a few days' delay, for undisclosed reasons.

7 February 1985

After almost nine months (294 days), the hostages arrived back in England.[14]

Conditions for release[edit]

The conditions were as follows:[citation needed]

  1. Britain should undertake not to support "stray dogs" (political exiles),[15][not in citation given] to hand them over, and to stop antagonistic acts against the Libyan people;
  2. British Government to work for release of the Libyan prisoners in the UK;
  3. The Anglican Church to undertake to look after Libyan students in Britain and to endeavour to secure release of Libyan prisoners;
  4. British Government to stop anti-Libyan propaganda channelled through British media;
  5. Her Majesty's Government to undertake to treat Libyans in accordance with international law.


An interpretation of Condition 4 could include a complete absence in any British-controlled media of any reference to the Libyan hostage situation for fear that any such reference might be construed by the Libyan authorities as a breach of Condition 4. In accordance with this interpretation, there has been almost no reference to the hostage situation in literature since the time of the release. Most references that state the history of Libya at the time make reference to the murder of WPC Fletcher and then make no reference whatsoever to the hostage situation, skipping instead to the bombing of Libya by the Americans in 1986.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Libya – statement by Larry Pressler in a session of the UN General Assembly on November 19, 1986, CBS Interactive Business Network Resource Library
  2. ^ "Stories", Libyan embassy shots kill policewoman, On this Date, BBC, 17 April 1984.
  3. ^ "Stories", 1984: Libyan embassy siege ends, On this Date, BBC, 27 April 1984
  4. ^ Selena Scott (3 September 1984). Selena Scott interviews Pat Plummer (Television production). ITN.
  5. ^ After Carole's visit to Libya (Television production). Anglia News. October 1984.
  6. ^ Terry Waite, Taken on Trust, 1993, Hodder and Stoughton, UK
  7. ^ Kate Adie (2 September 1984). Doug Ledingham returns home, Pat Plummer insists the government do more (Television production). BBC.
  8. ^ Brent Sadler (1 September 1984). New moves could help the four Britons held in Libya and the two who come home tomorrow (Television production). ITN News.
  9. ^ Tony Scase (17 October 1984). Post meeting with Margaret Thatcher (Television production). BBC Look East.
  10. ^ Kate Adie (21 October 1984). Russell and Anderson charged with espionage (Television production). BBC.
  11. ^ Kate Adie (14 December 1984). Wives plead to Gaddafi and Plummer pleas for warm clothes (Television production). BBC Look East.
  12. ^ Kate Adie (24 December 1984). A difficult Christmas (Television production). BBC.
  13. ^ Kate Adie (5 February 1985). Press Conference in Libya to release hostages (Television production). BBC Breakfast.
  14. ^ Former Hostages arrive at Gatwick (Television production). BBC Breakfast. 7 February 1985.
  15. ^ Gadaffi still hunts 'stray dogs' in UK, Martin Bright, The Observer, Sunday 28 March 2004

News articles[edit]

"Airport will issue Briton's visas", Northampton Chronicle & Echo, 7 February 1985

"They're free at last. Libyans keep up tension to the end", Northampton Chronicle & Echo, 5 February 1985

"Britons face a new setback. Detainees must wait at lease [sic] 24 hours for freedom", Northampton Chronicle & Echo, 4 February 1985

"Anxious wait for news of detainees", Northampton Chronicle & Echo, 15 January 1985

"A Libyan newspaper said today that all Libyan students held in British jails must be set free", Northampton Chronicle & Echo, 7 January 1985

"Church of England envoy, Mr Terry Waite was today reporting to the Archbishop of Cant", Northampton Chronicle & Echo, 28 December 1984

"Envoy to report on Libya meeting", Northampton Chronicle & Echo, 27 December 1984

"The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Robert Runcie, is pictured with special envoy Terry Waite", Northampton Chronicle & Echo

"Premier to see families of 3 held", Northampton Chronicle & Echo, 15 October 1984

"Woman plea to Gaddafi", Northampton Chronicle & Echo, 18 September 1984

"Morris to help", Northampton Chronicle & Echo, 12 September 1984

"Desperate plea", Northampton Chronicle & Echo, 3 September 1984

External links[edit]