Home      Discussion      Topics      Dictionary      Almanac
Signup       Login
Operation Flavius

Operation Flavius

Overview
Operation Flavius was the name given to an operation by a Special Air Service
Special Air Service
Special Air Service or SAS is a corps of the British Army constituted on 31 May 1950. They are part of the United Kingdom Special Forces and have served as a model for the special forces of many other countries all over the world...

 (SAS) team in Gibraltar
Gibraltar
Gibraltar is a British overseas territory located on the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula at the entrance of the Mediterranean. A peninsula with an area of , it has a northern border with Andalusia, Spain. The Rock of Gibraltar is the major landmark of the region...

 on 6 March 1988 tasked to prevent a Provisional Irish Republican Army
Provisional Irish Republican Army
The Provisional Irish Republican Army is an Irish republican paramilitary organisation whose aim was to remove Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom and bring about a socialist republic within a united Ireland by force of arms and political persuasion...

 (IRA) bomb attack. The IRA Active Service Unit
Active Service Unit
An active service unit was a Provisional Irish Republican Army cell of five to eight members, tasked with carrying out armed attacks. In 2002 the IRA had about 1,000 active members of which about 300 were in active service units....

's (ASU) members, Danny McCann
Daniel McCann
Daniel "Danny" McCann was a volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army who was killed by British Army Special Air Service soldiers in Operation Flavius.-Background:...

, Seán Savage
Seán Savage
Seán Savage was a volunteer of the Provisional IRA who was shot and killed by British Army Special Air Service soldiers in Operation Flavius.-Early life:...

 and Mairéad Farrell
Mairéad Farrell
Mairéad Farrell was an Irish volunteer of the Provisional Irish Republican Army . She was killed by SAS soldiers during Operation Flavius, a British Army operation to prevent a bombing in Gibraltar.-Early life:...

, conspired to detonate a car bomb
Car bomb
A car bomb, or truck bomb also known as a Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device , is an improvised explosive device placed in a car or other vehicle and then detonated. It is commonly used as a weapon of assassination, terrorism, or guerrilla warfare, to kill the occupants of the vehicle,...

 where a military band assembled for the weekly changing of the guard at the governor’s residence. Although the operation was meant to be an arrest operation, it ended with all three members of the ASU dead.

The IRA members planned to hide the bomb in a car to kill the band members of the Royal Anglian Regiment
Royal Anglian Regiment
The Royal Anglian Regiment is an infantry regiment of the British Army, part of the Queen's Division.The regiment was formed on 1 September 1964 as the first of the new large infantry regiments, through the amalgamation of the four regiments of the East Anglian Brigade.* 1st Battalion from the...

 that would assemble for the parade.
Discussion
Ask a question about 'Operation Flavius'
Start a new discussion about 'Operation Flavius'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Unanswered Questions
Encyclopedia
Operation Flavius was the name given to an operation by a Special Air Service
Special Air Service
Special Air Service or SAS is a corps of the British Army constituted on 31 May 1950. They are part of the United Kingdom Special Forces and have served as a model for the special forces of many other countries all over the world...

 (SAS) team in Gibraltar
Gibraltar
Gibraltar is a British overseas territory located on the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula at the entrance of the Mediterranean. A peninsula with an area of , it has a northern border with Andalusia, Spain. The Rock of Gibraltar is the major landmark of the region...

 on 6 March 1988 tasked to prevent a Provisional Irish Republican Army
Provisional Irish Republican Army
The Provisional Irish Republican Army is an Irish republican paramilitary organisation whose aim was to remove Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom and bring about a socialist republic within a united Ireland by force of arms and political persuasion...

 (IRA) bomb attack. The IRA Active Service Unit
Active Service Unit
An active service unit was a Provisional Irish Republican Army cell of five to eight members, tasked with carrying out armed attacks. In 2002 the IRA had about 1,000 active members of which about 300 were in active service units....

's (ASU) members, Danny McCann
Daniel McCann
Daniel "Danny" McCann was a volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army who was killed by British Army Special Air Service soldiers in Operation Flavius.-Background:...

, Seán Savage
Seán Savage
Seán Savage was a volunteer of the Provisional IRA who was shot and killed by British Army Special Air Service soldiers in Operation Flavius.-Early life:...

 and Mairéad Farrell
Mairéad Farrell
Mairéad Farrell was an Irish volunteer of the Provisional Irish Republican Army . She was killed by SAS soldiers during Operation Flavius, a British Army operation to prevent a bombing in Gibraltar.-Early life:...

, conspired to detonate a car bomb
Car bomb
A car bomb, or truck bomb also known as a Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device , is an improvised explosive device placed in a car or other vehicle and then detonated. It is commonly used as a weapon of assassination, terrorism, or guerrilla warfare, to kill the occupants of the vehicle,...

 where a military band assembled for the weekly changing of the guard at the governor’s residence. Although the operation was meant to be an arrest operation, it ended with all three members of the ASU dead.

Bomb plot


The IRA members planned to hide the bomb in a car to kill the band members of the Royal Anglian Regiment
Royal Anglian Regiment
The Royal Anglian Regiment is an infantry regiment of the British Army, part of the Queen's Division.The regiment was formed on 1 September 1964 as the first of the new large infantry regiments, through the amalgamation of the four regiments of the East Anglian Brigade.* 1st Battalion from the...

 that would assemble for the parade. To ensure a parking space in the busy town area, it was necessary to occupy it on the preceding Sunday.

The SAS team was informed that the IRA had already placed their bomb and were ready to detonate it. The three conspirators were stopped as they walked near the Shell filling station in Winston Churchill Avenue
Winston Churchill Avenue
Winston Churchill Avenue is an arterial road in the British overseas territory of Gibraltar.It is the only road in and out of the territory, connecting it with Spain. Once the customs are crossed, the avenue becomes the dual carriageway CA-34 .The road intersects the runway of the Gibraltar...

, the busy main road leading to the airport
Gibraltar Airport
Gibraltar Airport or North Front Airport is the civilian airport that serves the British overseas territory of Gibraltar. It is owned by the Ministry of Defence for use by the Royal Air Force as RAF Gibraltar. Civilian operators use the airport; currently the only scheduled flights operate to the...

 and the frontier with Spain
Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

. McCann was then shot as the SAS claimed he made an 'aggressive move' towards a bag he was carrying. They stated that he was intending to trigger a car bomb using a remote control
Remote control
A remote control is a component of an electronics device, most commonly a television set, used for operating the television device wirelessly from a short line-of-sight distance.The remote control is usually contracted to remote...

 device. After McCann was killed, it was claimed that Farrell made a move towards her handbag and was shot on similar grounds. SAS members again claimed that Savage moved his hand to his pocket and the SAS killed him also.

McCann was shot five times, Farrell eight times, and Savage between 16 and 18 times. All three were subsequently found to be unarmed, and without any kind of remote trigger. Materials for a bomb, including 64 kg of Semtex
Semtex
Semtex is a general-purpose plastic explosive containing RDX and PETN. It is used in commercial blasting, demolition, and in certain military applications. Semtex became notoriously popular with terrorists because it was, until recently, extremely difficult to detect, as in the case of Pan Am...

, were later found by the Spanish police in a car in Marbella
Marbella
Marbella is a town in Andalusia, Spain. It is situated on the Mediterranean Sea, in the province of Málaga, beneath the La Concha mountain. In 2000 the city had 98,823 inhabitants, in 2004, 116,234, in 2010 approximately 135,000....

, 46 miles away in Spain, identified by keys found in Farrell's handbag.

Milltown Cemetery attack


Ten days later, at the funeral of the three killed in the operation, a Ulster Defence Association
Ulster Defence Association
The Ulster Defence Association is the largest although not the deadliest loyalist paramilitary and vigilante group in Northern Ireland. It was formed in September 1971 and undertook a campaign of almost twenty-four years during "The Troubles"...

 (UDA) loyalist gunman (Michael Stone
Michael Stone (loyalist paramilitary)
Michael Stone is a Northern Irish loyalist who was a volunteer in the Ulster Defence Association . Stone was born in England but raised in the Braniel estate in East Belfast, Northern Ireland. Convicted of killing three people and injuring more than sixty in an attack on mourners at Milltown...

) went into the cemetery and shot dead three people and injured dozens with grenades.

Death on the Rock


The following month ITV
ITV
ITV is the major commercial public service TV network in the United Kingdom. Launched in 1955 under the auspices of the Independent Television Authority to provide competition to the BBC, it is also the oldest commercial network in the UK...

 broadcast a Thames Television
Thames Television
Thames Television was a licensee of the British ITV television network, covering London and parts of the surrounding counties on weekdays from 30 July 1968 until 31 December 1992....

 documentary Death on the Rock
Death on the Rock
Death on the Rock is a British Academy Television Award-winning episode of Thames Television's current affairs series This Week, first aired by the British television network ITV on 28 April 1988. On 6 March 1988, three Irish Republican Army members, Danny McCann, Sean Savage and Mairéad Farrell,...

reflecting concerns about the shootings, which led to criticism of the British government. British tabloids attacked the character and credibility of some of the witnesses in an attempt to discredit their statements, which eventually led to successful libel actions by Carmen Proetta
Carmen Proetta
Carmen Proetta was an independent witness to Operation Flavius, a controversial British Army operation in which the Special Air Service shot dead three unarmed Provisional IRA members in Gibraltar on 6 March 1988...

 against several newspapers, including The Sun and The Sunday Times.

Reviewing this documentary The New York Times
The New York Times
The New York Times is an American daily newspaper founded and continuously published in New York City since 1851. The New York Times has won 106 Pulitzer Prizes, the most of any news organization...

(13 June 1989) stated: "Events leading up to the Gibraltar killings are depicted in a reconstruction made for a British television documentary. Questions abound. Was the IRA trio, carefully followed for days, in fact lured into Gibraltar? Why did the police fail to photograph the bodies or gather forensic evidence? Why was the press—Britain's tabloids were jubilant—told lies about a huge car bomb being defused and about the three suspects having died in a gunfight? This documentary's understated observation: 'There was a strong air of Government cover-up and disinformation.'"

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher, was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990...

 denounced the documentary as "trial by television".

IRA retaliation


On 18 September 1990 the IRA attempted to kill Air Chief Marshal
Air Chief Marshal
Air chief marshal is a senior 4-star air-officer rank which originated in and continues to be used by the Royal Air Force...

 Sir Peter Terry
Peter Terry
Air Chief Marshal Sir Peter David George Terry GCB is a retired senior Royal Air Force commander.-Royal Air Force career:...

 at his Staffordshire
Staffordshire
Staffordshire is a landlocked county in the West Midlands region of England. For Eurostat purposes, the county is a NUTS 3 region and is one of four counties or unitary districts that comprise the "Shropshire and Staffordshire" NUTS 2 region. Part of the National Forest lies within its borders...

 home in revenge for his part in Operation Flavius. Terry had been Governor of Gibraltar
Governor of Gibraltar
The Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Gibraltar is the representative of the British monarch in the British overseas territory of Gibraltar. The Governor is appointed by the British Monarch on the advice of the British Government...

 during the Operation and had authorised the SAS to pursue IRA members. The attack took place at 9 pm at the Main Road house. The gunman opened fire through a window hitting him at least nine times and injuring his wife Betty, Lady Terry, near the eye. The couple's daughter, Liz, was found suffering from shock. Terry's face had to be rebuilt as the shots shattered his face and two high-velocity bullets lodged a fraction of an inch from his brain. Margaret Thatcher later said that she "was utterly appalled and deeply grieved" by the shooting.

Inquest


An inquest was held in Gibraltar. An Irish radio expert disputed whether a remote-controlled explosive device was technically feasible with then-current technology, casting doubt on the justification given. This was further disputed at the European Court of Human Rights
European Court of Human Rights
The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg is a supra-national court established by the European Convention on Human Rights and hears complaints that a contracting state has violated the human rights enshrined in the Convention and its protocols. Complaints can be brought by individuals or...

  (see below).

Captain Edwards, a member of the Royal Corps of Signals
Royal Corps of Signals
The Royal Corps of Signals is one of the combat support arms of the British Army...

 with experience in VHF/HF radio in combat net radio spectrum carried out tests which showed it was possible to receive both voice communication and a single audio tone at the site of the shootings from the assembly area.

The car bomb found in Marbella
Marbella
Marbella is a town in Andalusia, Spain. It is situated on the Mediterranean Sea, in the province of Málaga, beneath the La Concha mountain. In 2000 the city had 98,823 inhabitants, in 2004, 116,234, in 2010 approximately 135,000....

 was a conventional timer controlled device. An article after the inquest in the magazine Wireless World
Wireless World
Wireless World was the pre-eminent British magazine for radio and electronics enthusiasts. It was one of the very few "informal" journals which were tolerated as a professional expense.- History :...

proved mathematically that it was theoretically possible for it to be radio-controlled.

The jury at the inquest returned a verdict of lawful killing by a 9-2 majority.

European Court of Human Rights


In 1995, the European Court of Human Rights
European Court of Human Rights
The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg is a supra-national court established by the European Convention on Human Rights and hears complaints that a contracting state has violated the human rights enshrined in the Convention and its protocols. Complaints can be brought by individuals or...

 ruled by a majority verdict ten votes to nine that "the Court is not persuaded that the killing of the three terrorists constituted the use of force which was no more than absolutely necessary in defence of persons from unlawful violence within the meaning of Article 2 para. 2 (a) (art. 2-2-a) of the Convention." Therefore there had been a breach of the above article of the European Convention on Human Rights
European Convention on Human Rights
The Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms is an international treaty to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms in Europe. Drafted in 1950 by the then newly formed Council of Europe, the convention entered into force on 3 September 1953...

 in relation to the deprivation of life.

It also ruled that the three had been engaged in an act of terrorism
Terrorism
Terrorism is the systematic use of terror, especially as a means of coercion. In the international community, however, terrorism has no universally agreed, legally binding, criminal law definition...

, and consequently dismissed unanimously the applicants' claims for damages, for costs and expenses incurred in the Gibraltar Inquest and the remainder of the claims for just satisfaction.

In February 2008, the Irish media carried reports alleging the Garda
Garda Síochána
, more commonly referred to as the Gardaí , is the police force of Ireland. The service is headed by the Commissioner who is appointed by the Irish Government. Its headquarters are located in the Phoenix Park in Dublin.- Terminology :...

 (Irish police) had passed on information about the three's movements to the British security services prior to their departure to Gibraltar.

Examination of MI5 records


Professor Christopher Andrew, the official historian for the Security Service, was given access to MI5's
MI5
The Security Service, commonly known as MI5 , is the United Kingdom's internal counter-intelligence and security agency and is part of its core intelligence machinery alongside the Secret Intelligence Service focused on foreign threats, Government Communications Headquarters and the Defence...

 records to prepare a book for the centenary of the organisation. Andrew said he was "confident" that there was no shoot to kill
Shoot-to-kill policy in Northern Ireland
During the period known as "the Troubles" in Northern Ireland, the British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary were accused of operating a shoot-to-kill policy, under which suspects were alleged to have been deliberately killed without any attempt to arrest them...

 policy in operation and that MI5 had made a mistake in assuming that McCann, Savage and Farrell were carrying a means of causing an explosion when shot.

The book also contains a surveillance photo of Siobhán O'Hanlon
Siobhán O'Hanlon
Siobhán O`Hanlon was a Provisional Irish Republican Army member and Sinn Féin official who routinely assisted Sinn Féin president and Member of Parliament Gerry Adams.-Family:...

 taken in Gibraltar prior to the shootings, and a map of her movements. The files state that she noticed Spanish intelligence following her in Spain and returned to Ireland. O'Hanlon was a Sinn Féin
Sinn Féin
Sinn Féin is a left wing, Irish republican political party in Ireland. The name is Irish for "ourselves" or "we ourselves", although it is frequently mistranslated as "ourselves alone". Originating in the Sinn Féin organisation founded in 1905 by Arthur Griffith, it took its current form in 1970...

 official and an aide to Gerry Adams
Gerry Adams
Gerry Adams is an Irish republican politician and Teachta Dála for the constituency of Louth. From 1983 to 1992 and from 1997 to 2011, he was an abstentionist Westminster Member of Parliament for Belfast West. He is the president of Sinn Féin, the second largest political party in Northern...

. Some British newspapers have accused her of being involved in the attempted bombing. She died in 2006.

Andrew had access to all files created by MI5 since it was founded but was limited in what he could publish. He was required to enroll in the Security Service in order to be given access to the archives, which drew criticism from some historians and commentators prior to the writing of the book. In general, these criticisms suggested that he was too close to MI5 to be impartial, and that his link with the Service made him a "court historian" instead of a clear-eyed and critical examiner of its past.

Further reading