Rushing to the Princess’s assistance, Mr Russell, a married father of two from Strood, Medway, engaged her armed assailant with his fists, was fired upon, and then acted as her human shield. Now 72 years-old and living in Bristol, he recalled: “I honestly thought that I was going to die. But I didn’t care. I still believe that the life of a member of the Royal Family is much more important than mine. I just stood rigid and braced myself, waiting for the shot I expected to come and hit me in the back” (Daily Express, 23 May 1974 refers).
At the time Ronnie, who boxed at the Repton Club in Bethnal Green – the same club as the Kray Twins, was Area Manager for Exclusive Office Cleaning, London and that evening, he had been working in Princess Square on Pall Mall, and after finishing work, he set off back home to Kent at about 8:00pm. However for some reason, he drove a different route down to the Mall – it was there that he saw a Royal car, with a blue light on denoting that it had a Royal passenger – a few minutes later by Admiralty Arch a car drove towards him – he thought it was road rage, but then realised it was something more serious and turned back.
The occupants of the Royal car were the Queen’s daughter, the 23-year-old Princess Anne, and her husband of four months, Captain Mark Phillips, who were returning from an official engagement in the City. At the time Princess Anne was the undoubted ‘celebrity’ member of the Royal Family: a talented equestrian athlete, she had won the 1971 BBC ‘Sports Personality of the Year’ award, and her recent wedding had been watched by a global television audience of 500 million. On the night in question she was guarded by just a single Royal Protection Officer.
A report later said: ‘At about 8:00 p.m. on 20 March 1974, Her Royal Highness The Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips were returning to Buckingham Palace from an official engagement. Their car was being driven by Mr. Callender and they were accompanied by Princess Anne’s personal Police Officer, Inspector Beaton, and her Lady-in-Waiting. As the Royal car approached the junction of the Mall with Marlborough Road, a white car swerved in front of it, causing Mr. Callender to stop suddenly. Leaving the vehicle, the driver went to the Royal car and Inspector Beaton, who was seated in the front passenger seat, got out to see what was wrong (see Notes to Editor for full account).
As Mr Russell recalled: “‘At first I thought the limousine had been involved in a road accident. Traffic was still moving past but I pulled my car up onto the kerb and ran across the road. It was then that I saw the man, whom I thought had been arguing with the chauffeur, was holding a gun. He was pulling at the doors and smashing the windows with the butt. I ran up to the man with the gun and punched him on the back of the head. As I did so he turned round and shot at me. He missed, and it hit the windscreen of a taxi that had pulled up behind me, shattering it.
“I ran round the car to the other side and saw an injured policeman still being held up by a uniformed chauffeur. He was trying to use his personal radio. The man was still shattering windows with the gun butt, and there were more shots so I didn’t hang about. I doubled back to the Royal car and saw the gunman get hold of Princess Anne by the arm. He was saying “Come on Anne, you know you’ve got to come.” He had hold of her by the forearm and she looked frightened. She was telling him, “Go away. Don’t be silly. Go away.” Mark had his arm round her waist and was trying to pull her back into the car. I belted round the nearside where the passenger door was open. Anne had slipped the grip and by this time was back in car, and I said “Come this way. You will be safe.”
“She came out and I stood in front of her as a shield facing the gunman. He then ran round the front of the car to get to us and Mark pulled Anne back in. The gunman tried to get between me and the car and I hit him the second time. By this time other police were arriving and there were sirens everywhere. The gunman turned to run and I threw a left hook with all my weight.” (the recipient’s own account, as published in the Chatham Standard, 26 March 1974).
The attempted kidnapper, Ian Ball, who had been armed with a .22 revolver and a .38 revolver, and was carrying four pairs of handcuffs and a ransom letter, subsequently stood trial at the Old Bailey, where Russell appeared as one of the key prosecution witnesses. Found guilty, he was sentenced to life imprisonment for the attempted murder of Inspector Beaton and other offences. The motive for the kidnap was the £3 million ransom that he hoped to extract. For his part in foiling the kidnap of Princess Anne, Russell was awarded the George Medal, one of seven awards made for the incident. He was officially notified of the award at the start of July 1974, and on 5 July received a telegram from Buckingham Palace: ‘We are so pleased and delighted to hear your good news. Anne.’
The ‘magnificent seven’ were presented with their awards by H.M. The Queen at an Investiture at Buckingham Palace on 26 November 1974, and afterwards all seven had a private reception with the Queen, Princess Anne, and Captain Phillips. As Ronnie Russell later recounted, when he received his George Medal the Queen said to him: ‘The medal is from the Queen, but I want to thank you as Anne’s mother.”
The medal will be sold with various archive material, including 10 Downing Street letter to the recipient informing him of the award of the G.M., dated 2 July 1974; telegram of congratulations from H.R.H. The Princess Anne; letter of thanks from Sir Robert Mark, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, dated 15 July 1974; various other letters of congratulations; two letters from the Central Chancery regarding the Investiture; various newspaper cuttings; a number of photographs of the recipient outside Buckingham Palace, and inside being presented to H.M. The Queen, H.R.H. The Princess Anne, and Captain Mark Phillips; and a privately compiled ‘scrapbook’ booklet marking the recipient’s 70th birthday.
Oliver Pepys, Associate Director and Medal Auctioneer at Dix Noonan Webb commented: “We are delighted to be offering this medal in our auction in March – we have sold several George Medals in the past but most have been linked to the Blitz and bomb disposal in the Second World War, so to be offering this peacetime medal, with such a cracking story is a huge honour. A wide variety of gallantry medals were given to the Magnificent Seven after the event on March 20, 1974 but to my knowledge this is the first to come to auction.”
NOTES TO EDITORS:
The London Gazette 27 September 1974 recalled: As Inspector Beaton approached, the man pointed a revolver at him and fired, wounding him in the shoulder. Despite his wound, the Inspector drew his pistol and fired at the man, but the shot missed. He was unable to fire again as his gun jammed, and as he moved to the nearside of the car and tried to clear the stoppage the gunman told him to drop his weapon, or he would shoot Princess Anne. As he was unable to clear the weapon the officer placed it on the ground. The gunman was trying to open the rear offside door of the Royal car and was demanding that Princess Anne went with him, but Princess Anne and Captain Phillips were struggling to keep the door closed. As soon as the Lady-in-Waiting left by the rear nearside door Inspector Beaton entered the same way, and leant across to shield Princess Anne with his body. Captain Phillips managed to close the door and the Inspector, seeing that the man was about to fire into the back of the car, put his hand up to the window directly in the line of the fire to absorb the impact of the bullet. The gunman fired, shattering the window, and the officer was wounded in the right hand by the bullet and by broken glass. Despite his wounds the Inspector asked Captain Phillips to release his grip on the door so that he might kick it open violently to throw the man off balance. However, before he could do so, the man opened the door and fired at the officer again, wounding him in the stomach. The Inspector fell from the offside door and collapsed unconscious at the gunman’s feet.
Mr. Callender meanwhile had tried to get out of the car, but the gunman had put the pistol to his head and told him not to move. Undeterred, he got out of the car at the first opportunity and grabbed the man’s arm in an attempt to remove the gun. Although the gunman threatened to shoot him, Mr. Callender clung to the man’s arm until he was shot in the chest.
Mr. McConnell was travelling in a taxi along the Mall when he heard shots. As a Royal car appeared to be involved, he stopped the taxi and ran back to the scene, where he found the gunman shouting at the occupants of the car. Seeing the gun in the man’s hand, Mr. McConnell went up to him in a placatory manner and asked him to hand over the gun. The man told him to get back, but when Mr. McConnell continued to approach he took aim and fired, wounding him in the chest. Mr. McConnell staggered away and collapsed.
Constable Hills was on duty at St. James’s Palace when he heard a noise and saw the cars stationary in the Mall. Thinking there had been an accident, he reported by personal radio and went to the scene. He saw a man trying to pull someone from the back of the car and touched his arm, whereupon the man spun around, moved a few feet away, and pointed the gun at the officer. As Constable Hills moved forward to take the gun, the gunman shot him in the stomach and returned to the rear of the car. The officer staggered away and, using his personal radio, sent a clear and concise message to Cannon Row Police Station reporting the gravity of the situation and calling for assistance. As he walked round the back of the car he saw Inspector Beaton’s discarded gun, and picking it up returned to the offside of the vehicle intending to shoot the gunman. However, he felt very faint and did not use the weapon as he could not be sure of his aim. He was assisted to the side of the road where he collapsed.
Mr. Martin was also driving along the Mall and when he saw the situation, he drove his motor car in front of the gunman’s car to prevent any possible escape. He then went to the Royal car to render assistance, but the gunman pushed a gun in his ribs. At this point Constable Hills intervened and was shot, and it was Mr. Martin who assisted him to the side of the road.
Mr. Russell was driving along the Mall when he saw the gunman attempting to open the door of the Royal car. He stopped and as he ran back he heard shots. Arriving at the car, he saw the man with the gun in his hand and Police Constable Hills being assisted to the side of the road. Regardless of the obvious danger, and seeing that the gunman was holding Princess Anne by the forearm and trying to wrest her from the car, Mr. Russell ran up and punched him on the back of the head. The man immediately turned around and fired at him, but
fortunately the shot missed. Mr. Russell then tried to get Constable Hills’ truncheon, but hearing more commotion he returned to the Royal car from which the gunman was still trying to drag Princess Anne with one hand, while pointing a gun at her with the other and threatening to shoot if she refused to come. While maintaining her refusal, Princess Anne managed to delay the gunman and to distract his attention by engaging him in conversation. Captain Phillips kept his arm firmly round her waist and was trying to pull her back into the car. Mr. Russell now ran around to the other side of the car, and saw that Princess Anne had broken free from the gunman and was about to leave by the nearside door. She was almost out of the car when the gunman came up behind Mr. Russell and once again tried to reach Princess Anne. Captain Phillips promptly pulled her back into the car and Mr. Russell punched the man on the face. At this point other police officers began to arrive in response to Constable Hills’ call for assistance and the gunman ran off.
Constable Edmonds was one of the first police officers on the scene, and he saw the gunman running away with the gun still in his hand. Without hesitating the Constable gave chase shouting to the gunman to stop, but the man continued to run and pointed the gun directly at the officer. Completely undeterred, the Constable charged the man and knocked him to the ground. Other police officers who had also given chase immediately threw themselves on the man and disarmed him.
All the individuals involved in the kidnap attempt on Princess Anne displayed outstanding courage and a complete disregard for their personal safety when they each faced this dangerous armed man who did not hesitate to use his weapon. It is entirely due to their actions - as well as to the calmness, bravery, and presence of mind shown by both Princess Anne and by Captain Mark Phillips in circumstances of great peril - that the attack was unsuccessful.’
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Dix Noonan Webb – a brief history
In 1991, its first year of trading, the company held three medal auctions and sold 1,200 lots for a total hammer price of £553,000. Two years later it opened a coin department which also auctions commemorative medals and tokens and in 2015 DNW added jewellery to its sales calendar. In 2018, it set up a standalone banknotes department and expanded into premises next door and in the same year, DNW achieved a total hammer price of £11,676,580 and the total number of lots across all departments was 20,273. To date the company has sold in excess of 300,000 lots totalling £155 million.
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