A 17-year-old New Zealander came close to killing Queen Elizabeth ll, but police tried to cover it up, an investigative journalist has claimed.
On October 14, 1981, as the queen got out of her Rolls Royce in Otago on New Zealand’s South Island, Christopher Lewis tried to shoot her from the fifth floor of a nearby building using a stolen rifle, Hamish McNeilly reported on the website Stuff.
He missed. Police first explained away the sound of the shot by telling the media that a council sign had fallen over. They later said it could have been someone setting off firecrackers nearby.
They only discovered Lewis by chance while looking for witnesses to an unrelated armed robbery, the report said.
The teen, who had been expelled from several schools, styled himself the leader of his own guerrilla army with some friends, and pledged to become New Zealand’s greatest criminal, was interviewed eight times over 13 days on suspicion of having tried to assassinate the queen, according to police records, but an initial charge of treason was downgraded to possessing, and discharging, an illegal weapon in a public place.
Lewis was sentenced to just three years in prison for those and other charges related to robbery, burglary and arson.
A police annual report from 1981 merely mentioned that “The discharge of a firearm during the visit of Her Majesty the Queen serves to remind us all of the potential risks to royalty, particularly during public walks.”
Quoting transcripts of police interviews obtained under the Official Information Act, McNeilly said Lewis first claimed he had been instructed to “knock off” the queen by The Snowman, an English neo-Nazi activist whom he had wanted to impress. Lewis later said that The Snowman was a figment of his own imagination.
A former police officer from Dunedin, Tom Lewis, who was initially assigned to the case, detailed what he claimed to have been a massive cover-up in a 1998 book titled “Coverups and Copouts.”
He told Stuff, “You will never get a true file on that, it was reactivated, regurgitated, bits pulled off it, other false bits put on it… they were in damage control so many times.” He claimed the cover-up instruction came from then prime minister Robert Muldoon.
“It was feared New Zealand would never get another royal tour and that police would be the laughingstock of the British press,” Tom Lewis said.
Murray Hanan, a former lawyer for Christopher Lewis, told Stuff that the police were not interested at the time in talking about the attempt to shoot the queen.
“The fact an attempted assassination of the Queen had taken place in New Zealand with a nutcase who later said he was trying to establish a new IRA movement… it was just too politically hot to handle,” he said.
Christopher Lewis, the attempted assassin, said in his memoir, “Last Words,” that senior police officers had threatened him with “a fate worse than death” if he ever talked about the incident or the investigation.
Two years later, in a psychiatric hospital, Lewis planned another attack, this time on Prince Charles, who was touring New Zealand with his wife at the time, Princess Diana, and the young Prince William. He tried to overpower a guard to escape.
He spent most of his life in and out of prison.
In 1995, when the queen was due to visit again for Commonwealth Heads of Government talks, police sent Lewis — then living in freedom with a girlfriend — to Great Barrier Island, at the northern tip of North Island, for a vacation to get him as far away as possible from the visit, providing the couple with free accommodation, daily spending money and a vehicle.
At the age of 33, Lewis killed himself in another prison cell after being accused — falsely, he claimed — of murdering a young mother and kidnapping her child.