General Election ‘74
On 18th February 1974 I travelled to Scotland with Prime Minister Edward Heath as part of the campaign tour which I was organising for that election. We flew to Glasgow, and made several constituency visits before ending up in Glasgow for a major rally.
Our first visit, after landing at Paisley Airport, was to a small town called Johnstone, then part of the West Renfrewshire constituency. This was an ‘unplanned’ visit, designed to come as a surprise to the local electors and supporters, a genuine ‘whistle-stop’ and 'walkabout'. It didn’t quite work out like that!
The Special Branch Superintendent who met us at the airport told me he had an intelligence report to expect serious disturbances at the open air meeting already under way in Johnstone, and he asked me to travel with him in the lead police car so that I could listen to messages.
I did so, and as we began our approach to the part of Johnstone for our stop, he received a call to tell him there was no sign of trouble at all, and so we agreed we would continue.
There were already two or three hundred supporters attending a meeting with the Conservative Candidate some distance away from our stopping point across the open space in Houston Square.
We got out of the cars, but within just a few feet we were conscious of a growing crowd around us. No one in this crowd made any noises, but as this crowd of people quickly grew larger we were conscious of coming under pressure and of being pushed back towards the cars and away from the meeting of supporters.
The Special Branch Superintendent decided he didn’t like what was happening, and urged me to link arms with him, his four colleagues, and the two protection officers travelling with the Prime Minister.
We had to work hard to resist the pushing from the crowd, and we experienced a real struggle to get Mr Heath safely to the cars. As one of his protection team began to open the car door, I was aware that a hand was pushing hard between me and the Scottish SB officer.
At once he yelled ‘grab that arm, he’s after my f*****g shooter’, but the arm was withdrawn as quickly as it had appeared, and we got Mr Heath into his car and away. I left moments afterwards in one of our convoy of vehicles, concerned by the way in which we had been forced to abandon our whistle-stop!
Later that night after the rally in Glasgow, I met with the Scottish SB officer in the hotel bar. He invited me to sit down and suggested I took a large swig of the equally large whisky he produced for me.
What he said to me was a real shaker!
‘If I was a supporter of conspiracy theories, I would record what we witnessed today as an assassination attempt. But I do not recognise any such theory, and therefore this has gone down as a major incident, with an attempt to get my weapon. The hand between us was trying to unclip it, of that I have no doubt.’
‘Colleagues tell me that crowd grew to be three to four hundred people, all of whom came literally from nowhere. It was a well-planned, excellently organised effort to disrupt our proceedings. I’ve a pretty good idea who was behind it. If I’m correct then he was after my weapon to embarrass me, and me alone.’
I never heard any more about it, but I did have several disturbed moments when I contemplated what might have been, if that gun had been taken, and if it had been fired!!
The picture below was taken two days later as we progressed through Bolton on another walkabout. There was a noticeable increase in the levels of local protection which was provided. At the time I counted four Special Branch officers in the following group, in addition to Mr Heath's own close protection two. The remaining faces behind us were travelling journalists. The TV crews and individual photographers were always competing for the best shots. As we walked along this particular street, one of the cameramen fell over in front of us.
Third General Election Campaign with Margaret Thatcher click here