Sunday, March 19, 2017

Greek Embassy, London, occupied: April 1967

Among several spectacular actions organised and carried out by member of Solidarity and the residual Committee of 100 in the 1960s was the occupation of the Greek Embassy in London one week after the "Colonels' coup" that inaugurated a 7-year dictatorship. 
For the 50th anniversary, this post presents a compilation of accounts of the event.

Photograph from the Solidarity article as below.
In the National Archives there are at least three relevant files:

MEPO 2/11073 Affray and forced entry into the Greek Embassy on 28 April 1967 by 42 people demonstrating ag[a]inst military coup which led to downfall of Greek leader George PAPANDREOUS 1967-1974 30-yr.-2004/5 (The Met file, seen 24-3-05).
Summary (from notes) - 
This large box-full tells the gripping yarn from the police point of view, with some extras like press cuttings and photos of the location, also a print of a picture that was on ITN News and in the Daily Express, of people surging out of a van.
There are lots of details including names, addresses, occupations etc., of those charged, how and by whom they were arrested, who stood bail for them, property they had on them, telex and phone numbers they had, and 51 charge-sheets (Form 609: nine or 10 of these seem to have been dropped, plus another later) with 'previous' where applicable.
Those charged were 30 men and 12 women. At first eleven (2 women) were designated as the 'Principals' on the basis of being political activists, 'well known agitators': famous left-libertarian/peace-movement names here included Terry Chandler*, Andy Anderson, Ron Bailey, Del Foley, Mike Randle, Heather Russell.

The file was closed for 30 years from 1974, when one of the 42 people charged was on an assault charge in Leicester and they dug up this one. (A document at the front of the file when this was seen, about a murder in 1987, name of Knowles, looks like a mis-file.) 
* It was Terry Chandler who wrote on 13-6-63 to ask permission for Trafalgar Square to be used for a demonstration against the Visit of Greek royals,, 9-12 July 1963. The application was refused. (File WORK 20/360 Application to use Square for a public meeting by "Save Greece Now" organisation 1962-1963 seen 24-7-07).
A correspondent added with reference to the above file notes [25-3-05]Interesting memory jogger... Three of us from Glasgow... flew down on the night for 'action' (which they would not tell us about till we got to London) - as a result we were unprepared for it and acted only as 'lookouts' outside Embassy.

DPP 2/4381  Central Criminal Court Summer Session 1967.  Overy, Robert (24) and 41 others: 'closed until 2003';  'accelerated opening'. (Director of Public Prosecutions file, seen 13-8-04) 

Contains: Names; 30 m , 12 f.; handwritten notes re outcomes.
West End Central:  particulars of those arrested with address, occupation, age, d.o.b. (JN refused to disclose hers), arresting officer. All but 4 (bailed) refused finger-printing, which was then ordered; remanded to appear 6-5, Chandler in custody because no bail application [at this stage] - charge, forging US$.

Report by Dept Supt A Butler.  
Letter handed to butler, not available as immediately dispatched to Greece by embassy staff who can't or won't disclose contents. The girl with flowers asking to see Ambassador, crowd pushed passed her, up stairs; had large quantity of food etc., prepared for prolonged stay.  Au pair scared, also Ambassador's two young daughters who hid under a bed at one stage.   Secretary and cleaning woman were also on premises, police have been unable to see them, but plenty of other evidence: 

p.7 photos by NR, "also obviously a sympathiser", cine film, summonsed; had sold to ITN but they returned it; tape-recording of broadcast made by person living opposite.   

p.8 par.15. general turmoil and broken doors, but it must be admitted that most of the damage was caused by Police trying to get at the crowd; several cameras iinside but most film destroyed during general melee. Had hoped to obtain plan of interior but Ambassador unlikely to agree [did later].
par.19  charge of assault on PC Lilley - Chandler, most aggressive; PC taken to hospital, not seriously hurt (shoulder etc. - noted he was shut in a room at one point and had to break open the door). 

par.20  organisation obscure - most C100 or CND, on this occasion Save Greece Now. Some well known as Political agitators and would join anything likely to cause disorder. Principals listed.  
Question of possible charges - affray; could argue Greeks were "put in fear" but not "Queen's subjects"; note disorders have occurred whenever these individuals have appeared in court.
TC bailed at £200 on own recognisance + 2 sureties of £500.     

Schedule of previous convictions, dates, including at least one harking back to the Brighton "indecent behaviour in church" action.

List of exhibits; holdalls, tools, provisions; transcript of broadcast; phone nos including venue of a 'Solidarity meeting' and that of Nicolas and Ruth Walter.

Return of personal property:  D S Franklin p.6 saw KW and returned to him his personal property, retaining 2 screwdrivers, 1 torch, 2 batteries, 2 packets of tea and an ear phone wire and Weller said "They are my working tools. I am an electrician."                    
p.7 JN was asked Why so much food? - said "I needed it"; about dollar notes, said they were hers, just had them. GW was also asked about food, said 'Didn't know when I would eat next.'

Witness statements, indexed.  
p.12 Lilley: pushed some of them away from 5th floor; saw KW on 3rd floor, told him I was arresting him, he made no reply.
pp.51-2  Hanna, re JN: description age c23, blonde hair, clothes inc grey sandals & black mini-skirt; refused name, said "You can put Mary Smith, I'll tell the magistrate".
p.55  Williams, re GW: Found her sitting on floor with others; she said 'I'm pregnant' [underlined in pencil]; with other officers, I carried her to a police van. 

Peace News carried the story with a picture of "Ken Weller's pregnant wife" being shifted down the stairs.

FCO 9/225 Deals with diplomatic and international repercussions of Greek Embassy occupation 28-4-1967, one week after the Colonels' coup. (Foreign & Commonwealth Office file, seen 13-8-04)

Several documents are dated 29-4-67 (the day following the event):
  • Greek Ambassador suggested quite unofficially, not telling Athens, that Sec of State issue statement deploring hooligan acts - told him in middle of the night that SoS greatly regretted....   message sent.
  • formal statement in advance of protest note may seem over-egging.
  • raised questions: what happened, how many got in, how they got in, what precautions to prevent similar in future; report being prepared. 42 including principal trouble-makers arrested so no further trouble likely.
  • to Athens: 1 Greek girl, others all Brits; police say they're a mixed bag including anarchists, Trotskyists and C100, and many are "professonal agitators".
  • Ambassador: said such things did not happen even in Cuba and Albania.  Story that 15 escaped from unlocked police van invention, denied by police.
  • police had been alerted to possible trouble but had no advance indication; 2 were on duty with a 3rd in reserve.  Intruders got in by a ruse.  Alleged threat to kidnap Ambassador and keep as hostage; events in Greece.
  • relationship between credibility of political evolution in Greece and effectiveness of agitation.
  • to Athens: you may wish to take precautions against possible counter-demos.   
  • only casualty was a policeman, not serious.
A lingering and variegated aftermath (in approximate reverse chronological order, noted from the same file)

1-6-68 to Norwegian section Amnesty International re sentences imposed on Chandler and Randle.  Home Sec has considered.. no grounds on which he can justify recommending any special remission.    8-5-68 from Norwegian section AI: do not approve what they did but penalty unnecessarily harsh.

29-4-68  Confidential memo (PM brief) on the various organisations - Greek Committee Against Dictatorship et al. re reply to Joan Lestor MP c/o 21st April Freedom Rally. Members of Govt have expressed concern.... approach being made to European Court of Human Rights by Scand & Netherland govts., seems right way.  
21-4-68 Resolution of Greek Freedom Rally.
22-4-68  FO to Athens. Summary of impressions of rally by I T Boag: c5,000; message read, speakers inc Prof Spraos, smuggled out; quiet & well-handled, repeated appeal not to stop at Embassy and not to go to Downing St., although a delegation did hand in the resolution at No. 10;  attempts to start chants, slogans (& handouts in draft) but general apathy, lack of involvement: polite applause; students, tourists (demo part of visit to London).  Nothing to justify fears of Mr S (ambassador) as in your telegram. 

17-4-68 Telegram - Ambassador wants to know if police have plans to protect embassy; fears re Cypriot CP, London Greek Cypriots; has heard they may have lethal weapons (intelligence sources).  Sir M Stewart : said there could be no question of banning the demo but would warn police.     
8-4-68  Aide-memoire from Greek embassy re GCAD giving their address, tel no, bank account no.; Prof J Spraos; alleged contacts with Br govt.

25-1-68  Report of incident at inquiry desk.  5 men and two girls arrived about 12.15, from 'Save Greece [Now]', saw Mr Lucas who after discussion (said to be amicable, reasonable) told them to go, said receptionist must get rid of them.  Police officer came in to see if we were all right as they had had trouble at the Home Office, tried to reason with the students, then police reinforcements arrived and carried them out 'one by one'.  No abuse or rudeness from any but they were obstinate about leaving. - Phoebe Moon.   Lisa Baker: I saw the end of the incident, alerted by some of my staff; in fact the second leader called police bastards, a remark repeated several times by him and one of the young women present.
22-1-68 Reply re/to Save Greece Now (draft 18/1).          Mr Brown apologised to the Ambassador over invasion. Chandler, Foley and Randle 15, 6, 12 mths.  Home Sec (J Callaghan) has asked Mr Brown fro views re commuting sentences.  Par. 8  SGN (Save Greece Now) has strong connections with the C100 and the proscribed (footnote: by the LP) league for Democracy in Greece.                            
14-1-68  SGN letter, signed by E Rodker on behalf of himself, Andrew Papworth, Bob Overy.
3-1-68  To person in Mallorca: we can only use Royal Prerogative if fresh facts, not the case here [lies]. 

21-12-67  Home Sec considering releasing youngest (DF); has been discussed at official level, but would not wish to do so if it would cause embarrassment to the FO - actually not, might help presentationally with 'unpopular things to come' (- Rodgers) .       HO officials not inclined to recommend reduction.
21-12-67  HS's Note: in view of severity of sentences, have been wondering whether I should not as an act of clemency and considering developments with the King...
Speaking notes:  clemency only, foreign policy grounds shd not be mentioned.  Breaching immunity of diplomatic premises is an activity we all deplore.
21-12-67 'Fowley' due for release 1st Feb., HS still not sure what is the right thing to do; no question re other two, professional agitators.
2-12-67  K Struwe letter: freedom of speech, conscience-directed action.
21-12-67  Home Sec. had seen a large and impressive volume of correspondence which led him to think about reconsidering... We can advise use of the Roy Prerogative in any case but convention has grown that do so only if fresh material; perhaps we have enough to justify this; HS seemed inclined to take this course.

Resistance, magazine of the National Committee of the Committee of 100, vol.4 no.4. p.5
20-12-67  Macrae, Central Dept, to Br Emb Washington:  short account of what happened - 100-200 went to Gr Emb about 8 p.m. 28-4-67, got in and barricaded themselves on 1st floor, equipped with tools and loud-speaking equipment. 42 arrested after 10-15 mins., 38 remanded in custody, 4 [who gave fingerprints voluntarily, inc DF] bailed and bound over. Greece made formal protest, For Sec expressed regret, apologies.  41 committed for trial charged with riotous assembly, conspiracy to trespass (forcible entry charge dropped mainly because of the Ambassador's scruples about allowing the 3 prinicipal witnesses to testify); 26 conditional discharge [inc GW], 12 fined btwn £20 7 £100 [KW £40); 3 gaoled.  Appeals not upheld though beliefs recognised to be sincere; recently HS had declined to advise Roy Prer.  Correspondence columns of press esp Guardian and New Statesman have been full of protests but very few letters received at FO so no standard form of reply, might help to have a copy of the Lord Chancellor's.
15-12-67 Br Emb Washington to FO: enclosing 3 letters of protest, from different parts of US - probably WRI connection (Randle), they will have asked supporters to write so this may be the start of bulky correspondence.  11-12-67  letter 1, connecting with Vietnam - R Quick    others 9-12, 8-12 (E Deutsch)
15-11-67  House of Lords, Gardiner Chancellor?  Now that matter no longer sub judice, can reply; action obviously carefully planned etc.  £100 fine was a rich man, famer and industrialist.  List appended of Chandler's previous.  14-12-67 Hansard cols 611-2, Oral answers> Rose, Winnick.    
31-10-67  Guardian  Two refuse to pay fines as protest (A Papworth, Valerie Dickson - "all equal participants")                    16-10-67  from War Resisters in Israel.  
17-10-67  Guardian  letter from Nic & Ruth Walter. 
10-8-67 Lucas, Cent Dept. Reasons for not calling witnesses - butler Yugoslav, could be trouble.  It seems students and those who played minor part may get off with fine or even caution but ring-leaders and professional agitators could get 9 months or more. 
26-7-67 from Bridges, Athens: keep me posted re new charge etc. - Greeks taking an interest
22-7-67  Guardian editorial: making charge fit alleged crime - conspiracy to trespass an out-dated legal rarity. .           Times 6-6-67  1381 charge (f.e.) rejected.
6-6-67  from FO: Mr Secy Brown greatly regrets this intrusion...              
2-6-67 advise no ref to indemnification - Greek Note reserves right to claim compensation for damage [caused by police action - see DPP]
22-5-67  Ambassador's attitude re witnesses something of a mystery.                
17-5-67  Greek Embassy formal protest: premises invaded by raiders...

One of the "professional agitators" the authorities were out to get (and did), Michael Randle, gave his own account of what happened as he remembered it, in The Blake Escape (co-written with Pat Pottle - who was luckier on this occasion), 1989. 


The action led to a short discussion in Parliament:
Foreign Embassies (Protection)
HC Deb 22 June 1967 vol 748 cc1929-30 [col.]1929
§10. Mr. Tapsell asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps he takes to protect foreign embassies in London.
§15. Mr. Walters asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is satisfied with the present arrangements for the protection of foreign embassies in London; and if he will make a statement.
§Mr. Roy Jenkins The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis is responsible for deciding the degree of protection to be given to embassies in London; he is satisfied that the present arrangements, which involve a substantial deployment of manpower, are adequate.
§Mr. Tapsell I thank the right hon. Gentleman. Does not he agree, particularly in view of the actions which have been permitted to take place in a number of foreign countries, that it is all the more important that we should set an example of civilised behaviour by protecting embassies in London? Does not he further agree that any failure in this respect should be taken very seriously?
§Mr. Jenkins In general, I agree with what the hon. Gentleman has said, and I know that the Commissioner attaches importance to this aspect of the matter. At present, two sergeants and 111 constables are employed full-time on this duty, but clearly there has to be some limit to the amount of manpower so used.
§Mr. Walters Bearing in mind how strongly we feel, quite rightly, about demonstrations and violence against our embassies or any other embassies abroad, should we not ensure that incidents such as that which took place at the Greek Embassy—
§Mr. Speaker Order. That matter is sub judice. The hon. Gentleman may put a general question but not refer to that specific case.
§Mr. Walters —should we not make sure that incidents of any kind against any embassy in London do not take place?
§Mr. Jenkins I agree that it is very undesirable that incidents should take place.

In 1963 the Committee became involved in marches and demonstrations organised under the ad hoc Save Greece Now committee, from the Greek royal visit in summer 1963, through to the invasion of the Greek Embassy on 2 April 1967. As the decade progressed the political initiative passed to the anti-Vietnam War movement and nuclear disarmament shifted down the political agenda. The London Committee disbanded in January 1968 and the National Committee followed in the September.

And others
Greek Committee Against Dictatorship 1967-1974;
Campaign for Release of Political Prisoners in Greece
'Inside the Greek Embassy Case', by Andy Anderson

UPDATE: Maria Styllou has also told her story, April 2017, in Socialist Worker online.

Solidarity of course also produced its own account of the event and the consequences for those who took part, in vol. 4 No.8, July 1967, pp.1-4 POLICE MOB SEIZE EMBASSY! by "Dan Thersites".

"...[I]t was only logical that a group of people should come together at the news of the recent coup in Greece, with a view to effective counter-action."

"Our reporter met with a discreet and judicious silence when probing for details
concerning the prior organisation of the demonstration."

The police were very violent... About 60 demonstrators entered the embassy...
There was a huge response to the action.
[Lessons include] that demonstrations can still have an impact,
and that internationalism is not dead...
The big stick of the police must not be allowed to deter future action.