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Past Times

The Buchan bodyguard hero who took three bullets for Princess Anne

DI James Beaton from St Fergus was shot in the shoulder and sustained other injuries defending Princess Anne from a kidnap attempt in Pall Mall, London.
Susy Macaulay
Image: DCT Design/Shutterstock
Image: DCT Design/Shutterstock

A royal bodyguard from Buchan took three bullets during a kidnap attempt on Princess Anne on this day half a century ago.

The princess and her husband at the time, Captain Mark Phillips were passing St James’s Palace in London when a gunman forced the royal car to stop by swerving his white Ford Escort in front of it.

He pumped six shots into the rear window of Princess Anne’s car, but miraculously, neither the princess nor her husband was hurt.

RECONSTRUCTION: From To Kidnap a Princess by ITV: DI James Beaton is played by James Lauren and Ian Ball by Russell Mabey. Image: ITV/Shutterstock.

Inspector James Beaton of St Fergus jumped out and fired on the lone gunman, receiving three shots in return.

He was rushed to Westminster Hospital after the incident.

Other casualties

There were many other casualties in the attack.

The chauffeur, Alex Callender was also shot and badly hurt.

One of the bullets in the attack smashed through a passing taxi and hit Sun journalist Brian McConnell in the chest.

A police office on Royal duty at the Palace was shot when he ran to investigate.

Princess Anne leaves Westminster Hospital after visiting her wounded bodyguard, James Beaton. Image: James Gray/Daily Mail/Shutterstock +

After the shooting, the Royal couple were taken to Buckingham Palace, where Princess Anne said: “We are very thankful to be in one piece.

“But we are deeply disturbed and concerned about those who got injured, including our chauffeur Mr Callender, and Inspector Beaton.”

Shock in St Fergus

News of the attempted kidnap drama shocked the village of St Fergus, where Inspector Beaton was well-known.

His parents, Mr and Mrs James Beaton waited anxiously for news at their cottage in Mid Essie.

Father had a bad feeling

Mr Beaton, who worked in Peterhead at the Cleveland Twist and Drill Company said: “I have had a feeling that something like this might happen.

“Things are in a terrible situation throughout the country and it appears Royalty are always in danger.”

Policemen on duty in a taped off section of St James’s park after the attempted kidnap of Princess Anne.  Image: Daily Mail/Shutterstock.</p> <p>

He added: “We were very proud when he took up this job of bodyguard.

“Accompanying the couple on the Royal honeymoon was his first big job.”

The news spread around St Fergus like wildfire.

Shock in St Fergus

The P&J reported: “It was the only topic of conversation in the Seafield Inn where patrons gathered round the television in the bar to hear of the latest developments.”

The reporter spoke to Inspector Beaton’s pal Andrew Bruce, a builder in Aberdeen.

He said: “”This has come as a terrible shock. Everybody was very proud when they heard about Jimmy’s promotion [to Royal bodyguard].

Det Insp James Beaton in 1974. Image: I T N/Shutterstock

“He is a very pleasing and trustworthy chap. One of the best.”

‘Lone wolf’ gunman

It later emerged that the gunman was 26 year old labourer Ian Ball, considered a mentally disturbed ‘lone wolf.’

He threw a ransom note addressed to the Queen onto the back seat, demanding £2 million which he claimed he would give to the NHS for mental health treatment.

He was charged with attempted murder and kidnapping and diagnosed with schizophrenia after assessment.

Sent to Broadmoor

He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 41 years in Broadmoor, the high-security psychiatric hospital in Berkshire, where he remains today.

During the kidnap attempt, Princess Anne uttered the immortal words: “Not bloody likely” when Ball ordered her out of the car.

Mr Beaton after his release from hospital with his wife Ann and daughters Linda, 5, and Shona, 3.  Image: ANL/Shutterstock.</p> <p>

Meanwhile the full extent of Inspector Beaton’s injuries became clear.

He had serious wounds in the chest and abdomen, and a gunshot wound to his hand, sustained when he tried to block Ball’s weapon with his own body, after his own gun had jammed.

He also sustained injuries to his pelvis while trying to disarm Ball.

Bravery recognised

Fortunately, he made a full recovery, and received the George Cross, Britain’s highest gallantry award for civilians, later that year.

The men honoured for protecting Princess Anne and her husband during the attempted kidnap. Insp James Beaton (centre) with  PC Michael Hills (left)and DC Peter Edmonds. Mr Beaton received the highest honour, the George Cross, while Mr Edmonds received The Queens Gallantry Medal and Mr Hills received the George Medal. Image: Daily Mail/Shutterstock.

Mr Beaton also received the Director’s Honor Award of the United States Secret Service in 1974.

He remained part of Princess Anne’s protection until 1979.

Mr Beaton, 81, served with the Metropolitan Police for 30 years between 1962 and 1992, including nine years as the Queen’s Police Officer from 1983 to retirement.

His exceptional service was recognised when he was made a Lieutenant of the Royal Victorian Order in 1987 and promoted to Commander of the Royal Victorian Order in 1992.

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