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On the evening of 20 March, 1974, Princess Anne, the only daughter of Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain, left the royal home of Buckingham Palace to attend a charity film screening. Just a few hours later, she would be the victim of Britain's first (and so far only) serious attempt at the kidnapping of a member of the Royal family.
So, What Happened?
Anne's limousine left the cinema and headed back towards Buckingham Palace. Anne was accompanied by her husband1, Lieutenant Mark Phillips2 of the Queen's Dragoon Guard and her personal bodyguard, Inspector James Beaton. As the vehicle made its way along Pall Mall, a car swerved to block its way and its driver, later identified as Ian Ball, stepped out and fired six shots which hit Inspector Beaton3, the vehicle's chauffeur, a journalist called McConnell who was following the vehicle and a passing policeman from nearby St James' Palace. Ball tried to gain entry to the vehicle but then fled the scene. Another police officer chased Ball and managed to wrestle him to the ground and arrest him.
Ball was prosecuted for the attempted murder of the princess's detective, and various offences under the Offences Against the Person Act, but he was not, perhaps surprisingly, charged with treason; threatening the life of, or kidnapping, the Sovereign's daughter with the intent of extorting money from the Royal family is not treasonable in the absence of an actual violation.
Princess Anne was famous for her cutting remarks; she certainly didn't suffer fools gladly (she once bluntly told a journalist to 'naff orf'). It's little surprise then, that, on being told of the abduction attempt, her father Prince Philip was alleged to have said:
If the man had succeeded in abducting Anne, she would have given him a hell of a time in captivity.
Why Did He Do It, Then?
Shortly before Ball's unsuccessful abduction attempt, the self-titled 'Symbionese Liberation Army' kidnapped heiress Patricia 'Patty' Hearst as part of a wave of attacks on wealthy figures in their long-term mission to start World War III. Some reports suggest the well-financed Ball was part of this campaign. Ball himself initially claimed his intention was to hold Princess Anne for a £3 million ransom to feed the poor, though he later claimed it was a bid to draw attention to Britain's lack of satisfactory mental care facilities. Ball was given the opportunity to experience such facilities first-hand when he was sentenced to life imprisonment and placed in a mental hospital.
In 1983, however, Ball wrote from his room in Broadmoor Hospital to James Lamond, the then-MP for Oldham East, a Lancashire constituency. In the letter, Ball claimed that the whole thing had been an elaborate hoax, saying:
I pleaded guilty because the object of the exercise was to get publicity to increase the sales of my autobiography and, if I had pleaded not guilty, I would have got no publicity at all as the newspapers knew it was all a joke... So, rather than admit they had been deceiving the public, they would have quietly buried me.
Ball asserted that had been framed for the attack on the Princess and had been physically assaulted while in custody. His letter went on to explain that he believed his story could discredit the present Tory government, at the time riding high in the popularity polls thanks to the events in the Falkland Crisis. Despite his 'startling' revelation, his sentence was not repealed.
Whatever the reason behind it, Ball's attempt to kidnap Princess Anne remains the nearest anyone has ever been to abducting a member of the Royal Family.