01/03/2018 09:19 GMT | Updated 01/03/2018 12:00 GMT

Queen Assassination Attempt In New Zealand Revealed In Secret Documents

Police told crowds the gunshot was a car backfiring

REUTERS/Mary Turner
A teenager tried to assassinate Queen Elizabeth II during a trip to New Zealand

A teenager tried to assassinate Queen Elizabeth II during a visit to New Zealand  in 1981, the country’s intelligence agency has confirmed for the first time. 

Documents released on Thursday by the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (SIS) reveal Christopher Lewis, then 17, shot at the Queen as she exited her vehicle on the way to a science fair in Dunedin during an eight-day tour.

“Lewis did indeed originally intend to assassinate the Queen, however [he] did not have a suitable vantage point from which to fire, nor a sufficiently high-powered rifle for the range from the target,” said a 1997 SIS memo.

Documents relating to the event on 14 October 1981 were declassified in February and sent to the Reuters news agency on Thursday, following a request by Fairfax Media.

Lewis, described by the documents as a “severely disturbed” youth, was not charged with attempted murder or treason, stoking suspicion that the incident was downplayed at the time to prevent embarrassment. 

Lewis was instead charged with unlawful possession and discharge of a firearm and was sentenced to three years jail.

Bystanders and journalists in the crowd in Dunedin heard the shot, but were initially told by police it was a car backfiring.

“Current police investigations into the shots have been conducted discreetly and most media representatives probably have the impression that the noise was caused by a firework of some description,” said a November 1981 memo from SIS, also released on Thursday.

According to intelligence documents, police kept a close eye on Lewis during a 1986 visit by the Queen to New Zealand, fearing that he was still a risk.

More than a decade after the incident, in November 1996, Lewis was charged with the brutal murder of an Auckland mother and the abduction of her baby daughter, who was later abandoned at a nearby church.

Lewis reportedly electrocuted himself while in prison in 1997 awaiting the murder trial, denying the charge in a suicide note.

New Zealand has been independent of British rule since 1947, but retains the Queen as its constitutional monarch and head of state as part of the Commonwealth. She has visited the country as monarch 10 times, most recently in 2002.