Chris BishopBy Chris Bishop|May 16, 2022|7 Minutes|In Editor's Desk

Editor’s Desk

How a teenage assassin came within a twitch of killing the Queen.

Queen Elizabeth II is everywhere right now in the build-up to completing 70 years on the throne in June every time I look at her picture, I cant help thinking how her reign could have been cut short in a split second of violence. How very close she came to bleeding to death from a bullet through her head on a pavement far from home.

It is exactly 35 years, this month since I broke a story about an assassination attempt on the Queen and people ask me about it until this day.

It made headlines around the world for weeks and embarrassed more than a few police and government officials. Fleet Street newspapers called it a “Day of the Jackal” attempt on her life.

It all began when I joined a manhunt for bank robber Christopher John Lewis in dense New Zealand bush on its remote  West Coast on the South Island.

Lewis had knocked over a post office and evaded police by escaping by leaping into a river – giving rise to the story that he possessed Ninja warrior skills. You can imagine how that excited the news desks.

A police sniper squad was on his tail and I managed to talk my way into going with them on the search. The only problem for me was – the hunt was to be carried out on horseback. There were no roads in the bush. I had no clue how to ride a horse but had to learn in 10 minutes

.Luckily, I happened upon a kindly steed – strangely enough, a retired racehorse – who carried me safely through the deep rivers and jagged rocks.

It was a harrowing trip; a gunman was out there and every minute we were on edge. At least once every half hour we would hump from our horses and lie facedown waiting for a bullet from the brush.

We didn’t find him; as it turned out, Lewis jumped a train and hitchhiked his way to Auckland at the other end of the country.

As a journalist, what interested me was that these hardened policemen were treating this lone young man like he was a cross between Rambo and Claude Van Damme. It was clear to me that they feared him .

I Investigated further and found a retired detective, by the name of Tom Lewis (no relation), who apprehended the young Lewis years before in the wake of another armed robbery.

During interrogation Lewis – a paranoid psychopath spat out this remarkable story corroborated by his partners in crime – of how he planned to kill the Queen during her visit to Dunedin, in New Zealand, in 1981.

Lewis may only have been a mere teenager, but he planned every detail like an assassin. He cut a map out of the newspaper showing where the Queen was going to walk through the crowds in the Octagon, in Dunedin, and drew a diagram of his field of fire. In it, he calculated how many seconds she would be in range so he could time his rifle shot to perfection.

On the day, the lanky ginger-haired youth pedaled his bicycle with precision to arrive in the right place at the right time. He had acquired the keys to an office – belonging to a friend’s father – overlooking the Octagon.

As the Queen walked smiling through the cheering crowds, Lewis lay with his rifle cocked and her head in his sights. As his trigger finger twitched fate intervened in a split second; two policemen climbed onto the roof to get a better view of the Queen and blocked Lewis’s shot.

There is no doubt in my mind that Lewis,  who was a crack shot, could have killed the Queen in that instant. Undeterred, he found another position, and because he couldn’t get a clear shot, fired in frustration – everyone heard the rifle crack, but nobody knew what had happened.

Detective Lewis recommended that Lewis be charged with treason for a clear attempt to murder the Head of the Commonwealth and sent a report to headquarters in Wellington. It came back with a recommendation to keep quiet about it: the revelation made the New Zealand Police look like idiots with lax security – there was a fear that Royal tours would end.

In the years that followed, police took Lewis seriously enough to fly him out of the country when Prince Charles visited– another Royal he had threatened to kill.

It was all swept under the carpet until May 1987 when my story, born on horseback in the bush, hit the headlines. High-ranking police officers were embarrassed to say the least.

Lewis suffered a sad life in and out of prison before taking his own life at the age of 33. Clearly, a lifetime of abuse made him the psychopath he was; in some ways, the system failed him.

I often wonder how a slightly bigger twitch in his right trigger finger could have changed history.


Image source: