Thu, Jan 29, 2009 - Page 3 News List

UK queen escaped train assassination plot: retired cop

GOING OFF THE RAILS? Reports in Britain say Queen Elizabeth II had remained unaware of the incident, which allegedly took place 39 years ago

AFP , SYDNEY

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II escaped possible assassination in Australia nearly 40 years ago when plotters tried to derail her train in mountains near Sydney, a retired detective has claimed

Former detective superintendent Cliff McHardy said a large wooden log was placed on the winding track in front of the train carrying the monarch and her husband Prince Philip to the town of Orange on April 29, 1970.

The royal train hit the log at Bowenfels in the Blue Mountains, 150km northwest of Sydney, but failed to shoot off the tracks and into an embankment as it was going too slowly at the time.

“They put a log on the line, about six or seven feet [1.8 to 2.1m] long,” McHardy, now 81, told Australian commercial radio yesterday.

“The royal train hit it and dragged it about 150 yards [137m] up towards the Bowenfels railway station ... but fortunately it didn’t derail,” he said.

Specialists told police at the time that the queen was only saved from catastrophe because her train was not travelling at full speed.

McHardy, who was a detective sergeant at the time, said he was breaking his silence on the alleged plot, which he said has been kept under wraps for nearly four decades, in a bid to flush out information on the culprits, who were never arrested.

“It was one of the big regrets of my police service,” McHardy told his local paper, the Lithgow Mercury.

“We never came up with any decent suspects because if we interviewed people we seemed to be talking in riddles. We couldn’t disclose what our inquiries were about” because of the secrecy, he said.

Among those targeted in the investigation were suspected sympathizers of the Irish Republican Army, which was waging a violent struggle against British rule in Northern Ireland at the time, McHardy told the Mercury.

He insists the incident could not have been an accident or vandalism as the log was rolled down an embankment and placed on the tracks after a special locomotive had swept them for security, but before the royal train passed.

“It had to be [deliberate] because it was pitch dark and the pilot train went through only an hour before” and there was nothing on the tracks, he told Macquarie radio.

The heavy veil of secrecy that was drawn across the incident to protect the Australian government from embarrassment hindered the investigation, he said.

“Perhaps now that the story has gone public someone might come forward,” McHardy said.

Reports in Britain said the queen had remained unaware of the incident for the past 39 years.

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