Richard Sykes (diplomat)

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Richard Sykes

British Ambassador to the Netherlands
In office
MonarchQueen Elizabeth II
Personal details
Born8 May 1920
Died22 March 1979
Den Haag, The Netherlands
Spouse(s)Ann Georgina Sykes
ParentsBrig. A. C. Sykes, CBE, DSO
EducationWellington College
Alma materChrist Church, Oxford
Military service
AllegianceUnited Kingdom
Years of service1940-1946
UnitRoyal Signals
Battles/warsSecond World War
Place of the assassination of Richard Sykes, at the Westeinde in The Hague. Inside the gate, to the left, was the door from which Sykes exited his residence. The door to his Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow was being held open by his Dutch valet Karel Straub. At that moment two gunmen fired eight shots from the street (front) at both Sykes and Straub.

Sir Richard Adam Sykes KCMG MC (8 May 1920 – 22 March 1979) was the British Ambassador to the Netherlands, who was assassinated by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) in The Hague in 1979.

Early Life[edit]


Sir Richard Sykes was born on 8 May 1920 to Brigadier A. C. Sykes. For his schooling he attended Wellington College before going up to Oxford University where he attended Christ Church College.[1]

Military Service[edit]

During the Second World War, Sykes served in the British Army with the Royal Signals from 1940 to 1946. During his service he attained the rank of Major.[1] In 1945 he was awarded the Military Cross as well as the Croix de Guerre by France.[2]

Diplomatic Service[edit]

Sykes joined HM Foreign Service in 1947 and served at the Foreign Office from 1947 to 1948. He then served in Nanking (1948–50), Peking (1950–52) and returned to the UK to serve at the Foreign Office (1952-56).[1]

His next overseas postings took him to Brussels (1956–59), Santiago (1959–62) and Athens (1963–66) before returning to the Foreign Office (1967–69).[1]

The first posting as an Ambassador came with a posting to Havana (1970-72) before moving to be a Minister at the British Embassy in Washington D.C. (1972-1975. From there he returned to the Foreign Office as Department Under-Secretary between 1975 and 1977. Sykes was then appointed as Ambassador to the Netherlands in 1977.[1]

Ambassador to the Netherlands[edit]


Sykes was leaving his residence in The Hague at 9 am and was getting into his silver Rolls Royce limousine when he was shot The car door being held by Karel Straub, a 19 year old Dutch national who worked at the Embassy. Staub was also shot in the attack.[3]

His chauffeur, Jack Wilson, was uninjured and drove Sykes to Westeinde Hospital where he died two hours later. Straub was transported by ambulance to the same hospital where he also died.[3]

Police reported that the shots came from around 10 yards by two assailants wearing business suits who escaped on foot following the attack.[3]

Suspects for the assassination were Palestinians or Iraqis, although no evidence was ever put forward. It was ultimately confirmed that the PIRA had carried out the killings.[4]

The IRA claimed responsibility for the assassination in February 1980. In a statement they said of Sykes -[5]

[he was] not just a Brit propagandist, as are all British ambassadors, but because he had been engaged in intelligence operations against our organisation.

The 'intelligence operations' mentioned in the statement related to a government report written by Sykes following the assassination of Christopher Ewart-Biggs. Ewart-Biggs was the British Ambassador to the Republic of Ireland and was killed by the IRA in 1976. Sykes produced diplomatic security guidelines as part of his report.[5]

Sykes' position as ambassador to the Netherlands had been strained due to certain Dutch groups which were sympathetic to the IRA, and consequent arms smuggling activities.[6][7][8][9]


Married to Ann, Lady Sykes (née Fisher). The couple had three children: Philip; Andrew; and Rachel. Lady Sykes died in 2018.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Sykes, Sir Richard, (8 May 1920–22 March 1979), HM Diplomatic Service; Ambassador to the Netherlands, since 1977 | WHO'S WHO & WHO WAS WHO". doi:10.1093/ww/9780199540891.001.0001/ww-9780199540884-e-160110. Retrieved 2019-03-24.
  2. ^ "The Military Cross". The London Gazette (Supplement - 37302). 9 October 1945. p. 4999.
  3. ^ a b c Downie Jr., Leonard (23 March 1979). "British Envoy To Netherlands Shot to Death". The Washington Post.
  4. ^ BBC coverage of Sykes/Straub assassinations, accessed 30 August 2014.
  5. ^ a b Lost lives : the stories of the men, women and children who died as a result of the Northern Ireland troubles. McKittrick, David, 1949- ([Rev. ed.] ed.). Edinburgh: Mainstream. 2001. ISBN 184018504X. OCLC 46944614.CS1 maint: others (link)
  6. ^ The Guardian coverage of Sykes/Straub assassinations,, accessed 30 August 2014.
  7. ^ Straub profile,; accessed 6 August 2014.
  8. ^ Assassination details,; accessed 6 August 2014.
  9. ^ Report on assassinations,; accessed 6 August 2014.
  10. ^ [SYKES Ann Georgina (Née Fisher)]
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Ernest John Ward Barnes
UK Ambassador to the Netherland
Succeeded by
Sir John Taylor