It had been an exceptional autumn, with day after day of blue sky, bright sun, and temperatures that warmed the hearts of workers in Whitehall, who walked along the paths of Hyde Park at mid-day, and linger with sandwiches on the grass. Then, in the second week of November, a low pressure zone began to form over the North Sea. At first, almost imperceptibly, then turning clockwise in an immense gyre
until it brought the portents of winter: dark cloud, showers of cold rain, and a troubled surface to the Thames.
Islington Police Station
It was early evening in London, Sunday the 22nd of November, 1970.
Islington Police Station slumbered in Lord’s Day torpor. With CID and senior officers off duty, blinds were drawn on the first and second floors, and much of the building, a Victorian relic, stained black with age, was deserted.
The rear courtyard, and a second station building beyond, which was occupied during the week by certain police services, lay shrouded in silence. The narrow cobbled laneway, which gave passage to police vehicles to the street behind, was barred by a locked gate.
Jutting into the courtyard was a one-storey brick building, the cell block. Through the frosted-glass windows came a ghostly light.
At the adjacent petrol station, on the far side of a twelve-foot brick wall, the attendant was counting the days receipts. On the other side of the station, over a second twelve-foot wall, the black sign with white lettering declared service at Unity Church to be at 11:00 am, on the third Sunday of each month; baptisms, marriages, and funerals, were “by arrangement”.
Outside 277 Upper Street, Islington’s main thoroughfare, pale light spilled from the bay window of the Station Office and fell onto the sidewalk, where the gusting wind drove fallen leaves skittering across the pavement, into the gathering darkness.
It was time for tea
It was time for tea. Sergeant Lewis Moquett rose from his desk in the Station Office, lifted a set of brass keys from the wall, and stepped into the corridor. PC Robertson followed, carrying a tray with four cups, four aluminum plates with the evening meal, and a pot of tea. They walked to the rear of the station, where they crossed the deserted Detention Room, and stopped before a heavy steel door. Moquett chose one of the keys, and unlocked and opened the door. They entered the short passageway that led to the cell block.
There were eight cells, four on either side of a narrow corridor, each with a solid metal door with wicket; a folding-cot along one wall; at the far end, a sliding steel door, painted institutional green, and a toiled; a barred window with frosted glass. The first cell on the right was the Property Room, where prisoner effects were kept. Across from the Property Room, out of view from the other cells, was the Female Cell, normally reserved for women. That day, it was occupied a man, a 25-year-old Canadian by the name of Richard Bros.
Moquett rapped the door of Bros’ cell with a key. The sound echoed from the concrete walls, and disappeared into silence. Moquett opened the wicket gate, looked in, and found the cell empty. He turned to Robertson. “You had better come with me”, he said, as he unlocked the door and stepped inside. It was 5:55 pm.
The kidnapping of James Cross
Six weeks before in Montreal, early on the bright and sunny morning of Monday, the 5th of October. A black taxi sped along Pine Avenue, high on the slopes of Mt. Royal, and turned onto Redpath Crescent, in an exclusive residential area of the city. Inside the vehicle, which had been stolen that morning, were four young men. A gardener paused from raking leaves and watched as it slowly passed by, then reappeared moments later after circling the crescent. It stopped in front of number 1297, the three-storey luxurious grey stone house that was the home of James Cross, the British Senior Trade Representative to Canada. Three men emerged from the taxi, one with a choir-boy face, tousled hair, in a trench coat, carrying a gift-wrapped package in red tissue and red ribbon. They looked about, in all directions. The man with the package, followed by a second man, climbed the steep flight of stairs to the front door, and rang the doorbell. Moments later, he rang again. The maid answered.
Upstairs, in the third floor bathroom, James Cross, in shorts, shirt and socks, paused from shaving. He asked his wife, who was in the adjacent bedroom reading the morning newspapers, with Brolly, the family Dalmatian, on the bed beside her, Who could it be at such an hour? Probably someone from the electric company, she replied.
A birthday gift for Mr. Cross
Downstairs at the entrance, the man held out the package “A birthday gift for Mr. Cross.” He insisted she sign for it. “I don’t have a pen,” she said, and went to the table by the entrance.
“I have one”, said the second man. He reached into a pocket and pulled out a small black pistol. He pointed it at her. The other man tore open the package and took a rifle with cut-off stock.
“Where is Mr. Cross”, asked the man with the pistol.
“He has already left”, she said in a loud voice, to raise the alarm.
They did not believe her. The man with the pistol climbed the stairs, and found Cross in the bathroom. He pointed the pistol at him.
On the floor or you’re fucking dead
”On the floor or you’re fucking dead,” he said.
From the adjacent bedroom came the growl of Brolly the Dalmatian. The man told Barbara Cross that if she let the dog move, he would shoot it.
Cross lay down on his stomach. The man handcuffed him. He had Cross stand up, and helped him put on his trousers. He yelled down the stairs, ‘Robert’, and the man with the choir-boy face appeared with a rifle, pushing the maid before him, who carried her four year-old child in her arms, into the bedroom. He found Barbara Cross still in bed, where she had been reading the morning newspapers. “We are from the FLQ”, he said, and pointed the rifle at her.
The English kidnapper
Barbara Cross looked at him carefully, forcing every detail to memory. He was slightly built, with tousled hair and a choir-boy face. She noted with surprise that he spoke with an English accent that might be heard any day on Oxford Street. They ripped the telephone from the wall beside the bed and warned Barbara Cross not to call the police for an hour. They began forcing Cross toward the stairs.
“You must let me say goodbye to my husband”, she said, walked over, and kissed him. (James Cross, British Diplomatic History Programme interview, Churchill Archives Centre, file DOHP 19, p.4.)
They led James Cross downstairs, where a third man had appeared. The man with the choir-boy face draped a trench coat over Cross’s shoulders. They led him out the door, down the stairs, and over to the taxi.
Across the street, the gardener watched and saw that one of them ‘walked strangely, in a kind of crouch’.
They forced him into the rear of the taxi, and forced him to lie on the floor. The covered him with a dark blanket. The taxi made a quick U-turn, and sped off toward the city.
The maid called police from the telephone in the kitchen. With her Portuguese accent, prominent with the stress, the policeman who answered misunderstood, and sent a car to the Greek embassy. It took twenty minutes before the error was corrected, and police arrived at the Cross home. Blockades were set up on the bridges leading to the island of Montreal; police were certain the kidnappers were still in the city, in a hideout that they had prepared in advance.
The demands of the kidnappers
That afternoon, an anonymous telephone call led police to a university campus, and to a communiqué, with an accompanying manifesto, from the Liberation Cell of the Front de Libération du Québec (FLQ), the terrorist movement that had bedeviled Canada for almost a decade. It listed seven demands to be met “In order to preserve the life of the representative of the ancient racist and colonialist British system.” They included the reading of the manifesto over television, the release of 23 FLQ from prison, free passage to Cuba or Algeria for them and the kidnappers, and provision of $500, 000 in gold. If the demands were not met within forty-eight hours, the communiqué warned, Cross would be “eliminated”.
They would not hesitate to execute him
The following day, the FLQ delivered a second communiqué “to the authorities in place”. If the authorities did not act, it declared, they would not hesitate to execute Cross.. (Detailed Chronology – Canada FLQ, RCMP file IA 310, p. 864.)
It was accompanied by a letter from Cross to his wife:
Barbie darling, I am alive and being well looked after. I love you my darling so much and hope to see you again soon. All my love to Susan too. Don’t worry I am sure I will be all right. My own sweet one Love your own Jasper Pooh. (Dossier COSSETTE-TRUDEL, 01 009689 78).
Origin of the FLQ
The kidnapping of James Cross was only the latest in a long series of FLQ violent acts that began in the spring of 1963, when persons unknown firebombed three military establishments in Montreal. The letters “FLQ” were found painted on nearby wall, and amongst the debris police found a fragment of a communique that warned “we will do it again.” The promise was kept in a series of bombings over the following weeks that terrorized the city. A security guard picked up a suspicious package behind a recruiting office, it exploded in his hands, and he died on the pavement in a pool of blood. When an army demolitions expert lifted a bomb from a letter box in exploded in his face. He lost an arm, an eye, much of the vision in his second eye, and movement on one side of his body. For weeks he lay in a hospital bed, hovering between life and death.
Three months after it began, police succeeded in penetrating the movement with an informant, and arrested twenty-three youths, most of whom were college students, driven by the nationalist currents sweeping Quebec, and the revolutionary currents sweeping the world.
In the years that followed, the FLQ returned in successive waves. Montreal Police established a counter terrorist squad to combat this new and terrifying phenomenon. The RCMP, which traditionally had focused on the Communist Party, set up a specialized unit with both CID and Security Service officers, to better share intelligence. They began the laborious and lengthy work of placing informants in the nationalist and radical movements active in Quebec.
But any success fighting the FLQ was temporary, fed as it was by international revolutionary ideologies, anti-colonialism, opposition to the growing war in Vietnam, and the nationalist impulse of the largely French-speaking province of Quebec. The FLQ was sustained by wide-spread labour violence and civil unrest. On two occasions in the 1960s, the Quebec government was forced to ask for the intervention of the Canadian military to restore order. On the eve of the Canadian general election of 1968, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau faced down a violent mob that tried to drive him from a reviewing stand, in a riot in which several hundred were arrested. The event was televised, and Trudeau won the election with a large majority.
Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau
Along with a razor-sharp and erudite mind, and an implacable hatred for the FLQ, Trudeau had that essential quality for combating terrorism: the instinct of a street-fighter. The kidnappers of James Cross soon learned that Trudeau was in no way inclined to bend to threat. “You can’t let a minority group impose their views on a majority by violence”, Trudeau declared. He added, “It is a difficult decision when you have to weigh a man’s life in the balance, but certainly our commitment to society is greater than anything else.” He categorically refused to meet the FLQ demands, and the Canadian government began to play for time. The Department of External Affairs set up a Special Operations Centre on the second floor of the Gothic-towered East Block of Parliament Hill, immediately below the Cabinet Offices. It was headed by Claude Roquet, Special Assistant to the Under-Secretary of State for External Affairs, Ed Ritchie.
The ‘friends’, MI5 and MI6
For several years External and the Security Service had cooperated in watching the FLQ abroad, particularly in Cuba, Algeria, France, Belgium Switzerland and Britain. For that, they needed the assistance of MI5 and SIS. In the western intelligence network, Western Europe was essentially a fiefdom of SIS. If the Canadians were to have cooperation from the Belgian, Swiss, or other services, they would have to go through SIS. For concerns about FLQ in Britain, they would of course need the cooperation of MI5. On the morning of 16 January, 1970, RCMP Commissioner Len Higgitt and the recently-appointed head of the RCMP Security Service, John Starnes, met with Prime Minister Trudeau. With the Prime Minister’s imprimatur, they travelled to London, for Starnes to be introduced to ‘UK friends’ at MI5 and SIS. On the last day of their visit, Canadian High Commissioner Charles Ritchie and Starnes met with the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Burke Trend. (Charles Ritchie agenda, RG 25, acc. 88/89-002, box 1).
The French problem
The Canadian government and the RCMP Security Service were especially worried about the French government of Charles De Gaulle. De Gaulle had expressed support for Quebec separatism in a speech in Montreal in 1967. The speech led to new wave of separatist enthusiasm, civil unrest, and FLQ violence. The Security Service even suspected that the French intelligence service, SDECE, of giving clandestine support to the FLQ. Swiss, Belgian and Luxembourg authorities had similar concerns. A violent separatist movement had recently appeared in Belgium amongst the French-speaking Walloons. Luxembourg, once a Duchy of France, suspected that the pan-francophone movement directed from the Elysée Palace was the cover for a plan Luxembourg to the Hexagon. The Swiss were anxious about the separatist movement in the French-speaking Jura, which lately had turned violent. The Front de Liberation Jura (FLJ), responsible for several bombings, even had a striking resemblance to FLQ The Swiss and the Canadians wondered if there was a connection, and where such a connection might lead.
The Canadians wanted a net put over FLQ and Quebec separatists who turned up in Europe, particularly in Britain, Belgian, Luxemburg, Switzerland or Britain. For that they needed the help of MI5 and SIS, and clearance from the highest levels of the British government, which they now had. Upon the return of Higgitt and Starnes to Canada, the RCMP Commissioner recorded it had been ‘a very useful trip indeed.’.(STARNES diary, HIGGITT diary).
Special Operations Centre
Roquet had directed the collection, reporting directly to Under-Secretary Ritchie. He was the perfect person to head the Special Operations Centre in the struggle to come.
FLQ communiqués, letters from James Cross, RCMP messages, virtually every communication related to the kidnapping flowed into the SOC, to be carefully analyzed by Roquet and other specialists, who came from several departments and from the RCMP, some with long experience with the FLQ. Each morning they would met at 9:00 to discuss the overnight developments and the latest reports, and ponder upon strategy. The centre was a five-minute walk from the grey and black marble modernist building that housed the British High Commission.
British High Commission
High Commissioner Peter Hayman and other senior British officials would attend the morning briefing, then return to the High Commission to prepare the high-priority encrypted telexes to the American Department of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), and to Number 10 Downing Street. The Head of Chancery, Lord Dunrossil, went to Montreal for the duration of the crisis, to assist Barbara Cross, and to coordinate communications and relations with police. His brief included assessment of how successful the RCMP, Montreal Police, and the Sûreté du Québec (SQ) were in working together, and how effective they were in the search for Cross.
The RCMP, Montreal Police, and the SQ began a feverish search through their dossiers for the names of suspects.
That evening in Quebec City, the provincial Cabinet of Premier Robert Bourassa met for three hours in emergency session. Bourassa, a slender young economist with a vulnerable air, accentuated by looking at the world through heavy-rimmed glasses, had been in office only since June. His government had been immediately thrown into a maelstrom of civil unrest, labour violence, rising separatist sentiment, and FLQ violence, of which the kidnapping of James Cross was only the latest, and most dramatic, example. Attorney General Jérome Choquette suggested they try to gain time, even a day, for the situation to clarify.. (Rapport sur les événements d’octobre 1970, p. 41). At the close of the meeting, Deputy Premier and Minister of Labour Pierre Laporte told reporters: “There is a wind of madness blowing across the province. I hope it won’t last long…”.
At the press conference that followed, Choquette told reporters that the Quebec and Canadian governments were in close communication, and would take decisions jointly.. (The Montreal Star, 10.10.70, p. 1).
The question of joint decisions pointed to a problem: in the Canadian federation, the provinces are responsible for the administration of justice. While the Canadian government was ultimately responsible for the security of diplomat James Cross, it would be the Montreal Police and the Sûreté du Québec (SQ), with RCMP assistance, who would find him, and ensure his safe return. Meanwhile, back in London, Number 10 Downing Street, the FCO and MI5 looked on anxiously.
Prime Minister Edward Heath
That evening in London, Canadian High Commissioner Charles Ritchie telephoned Number 10 and spoke with Prime Minister Heath about the kidnappers’ demands. If the demands were not met within 48 hours, Ritchie told the Prime Minister, Cross would be killed.
Heath was no stranger to terrorist threat. A month before, guerrillas of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) high jacked four airliners and forced them to fly to a remote airfield in Jordan, taking 256 passengers and aircrew hostage. They demanded the release of their guerrillas imprisoned in Germany and in Switzerland. The next day, two guerrillas attempted to highjack an El Al aircraft on a flight from Amsterdam. Armed guards overpowered the hijackers, killing one and wounding the other, a woman by the name of Leila Khaled. The aircraft landed safely at Heathrow, where police arrested Khaled and jailed her at a London police station.
Three days later, Heath informed his Cabinet that it was not possible to rescue the hostages, and that British authorities were negotiating with the PFLP. Days later, Khaled was flown to Beirut on an RAF Comet aircraft. Germany and Switzerland released the FLP guerrillas they held, which brought the return of the hostages.
On the very day of the Cross kidnapping, the Egyptian newspaper Al Ahram published an interview with Khaled. She said she had been “very well treated”, and that police had told her, “we have arrested you in order to free you”.
For advice on dealing with the Canadians, Prime Minister Heath relied principally on three men.
The first was Cabinet Secretary Sir Burke Trend, whose broad brow, grey hair and discrete bookish manner gave the appearance of a donnish mandarin. The appearance was deceptive, for Trend was involved in the most delicate and secret matters of state, including those involving MI5 and MI6.
Sir Denis Greenhill
The second was the Permanent Under-Secretary at the FCO, and Head of the Diplomatic Service, Sir Denis Greenhill. With his heavy-set build, tousled white hair, and steady gaze, he stood apart from other Whitehall mandarins. Unlike those others who were given to subtlety, Greenhill had the direct attitude that one might expect of the engineer that he was.
Greenhill spent the war in Army Corps of Engineers, At the outbreak of war he joined the Royal Engineers, which brought postings to Egypt, North Africa, India, Army and South-East Asia. He met his wife in Cairo, when she was at the MI6 station there, which suggests that Greenhill too had some acquaintance with secret intelligence. On the other hand, he was mentioned in dispatches three times, showing was at the front lines also. At the end of the war, he joined the Foreign Office, on ‘special assignments’. His first diplomatic posting, to Bulgaria in 1947, was cut short after two years when he was accused of spying, and thrown out of the country. Later, he was Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) Far East, and later Chairman of the JIC in London. For a time supervised MI6 at the FCO, and was offered the post of ‘C’, as the head of MI6 is traditionally known, but turned it down. Upon becoming Permanent Under-Secretary, Sir John Rennie, the specialist in deception and psychological warfare who was head of MI6, reported to him as Deputy Under-Secretary.
As Permanent Secretary, Greenhill was the senior advisor on foreign policy to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Sir Alec Douglas-Home. He was also top administrator at FCO, and Head of the Diplomatic Service, making him responsible for the well-being of British diplomats, such as James Cross.
FCO is directly across from Number 10 Downing Street, in the most unusual building in Whitehall. It has been described as having ‘the atmosphere of an eccentric Italian museum… you walk along a hall of purple wallpaper, along long arched corridors and crumbling mosaic floors, past a room filled with ancient pneumatic tubes, till you come face to face with a marble grand staircase, with two tall alabaster statues at the bottom. At the top of the staircase are huge faded frescoes… a third shows a buxom girl pointing with a flourish to the word ‘Silence’.( Anthony Sampson, ‘The New Anatomy of Britain’ (New York: Stein and Day, 1980), p. 294).
The FCO had much to be silent about.
Director General of MI5, Sir Martin Furnival-Jones
The third man was Director General of MI5, Sir Martin Furnival-Jones, who was well-known to Greenhill from their time together on the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC). F-J was a man of few words, whose hobbies of gardening and bird-watching did prevent him from acquiring a reputation for “a streak of determination, if not ruthlessness”. (Peter Wright, ‘Spy Catcher: the candid autobiography of a senior intelligence officer’, Toronto: Stoddart, 1987, p. 153).
The Director General of MI5 reported to the Home Secretary, but with important qualifications. In the words of a 1952 directive, “the Director General will be responsible personally to the Home Secretary. The Security Service is not, however, a part of the Home Office. On appropriate occasion you will have right of direct access to the Prime Minister.” There was a further qualification: “You and your staff will maintain the well-established convention whereby ministers do not concern themselves with the detailed information which may be obtained by the Security Service in particular cases, but are furnished with such information only as may be necessary for the determination of any issue on which guidance is sought.” (Nigel West, The Circus, (New York: Stein and Day, 1983), ISBN 0 8128 2919 0, p. 185-186).
MI5 answers to no-one
At Leconfield House, a seven-storey red-brick building on Curzon Street, Mayfair, that housed MI5 headquarters, recruits were told: ‘The Security Service cannot have the normal status of the Whitehall Department because its works very often involves transgressing propriety or the law.” (Peter Wright, ‘Spy Catcher: the candid autobiography of a senior intelligence officer’, Toronto: Stoddart, 1987), p. 43.There was only one commandment: ‘Thou shall not get caught.’
MI5 could do more or less what it pleased, following only the most general policy guidance, with no higher supervision, or even knowledge, of its operations.
In Canada, an ex-colony with which relations were long-viewed as domestic, MI5 had primacy over MI6, and had strong ties with the RCMP Security Service. Each service had a Security Liaison Officers (SLO) accredited to the other.
In practical terms, whatever British measures to be taken to help James Cross was in the hands of Furnival-Jones and MI5, who would answer to no one at all as to what those measures might be.
Two days after her husband was abducted at gunpoint by the FLQ, Barbara Cross and the maid were taken to police headquarters, where they looked at seven kidnap suspects through a one-way mirror as they were paraded one-by-one. They did not recognize any of them. But they had no difficulty, however, identifying a man in a photograph, who had appeared in the upstairs bathroom that morning, pistol in hand, about 5’ 6″ tall, with slicked-back dark hair, hollow cheeks, and dark brown eyes: 25 year-old Jacques Lanctôt.. (Archives Canada, RCMP file IA 310, p. 1350).
But where was he?
Canada Special Team and GCHQ
Six Canadian cryptanalysts, along with intelligence officers familiar with Quebec life and with the FLQ, arrived at Quebec Police Headquarters with computers and set up as the Canadian Special Team. They were joined by a cryptanalyst from GCHQ.
. PRO file DO 127/137, p. 476. Using their arcane skills, they closely examined the letters from Cross, searching for patterns, hints or allusions that might suggest where he was held. Barbara Cross, other relatives, and co-workers were questioned about long-past events: “have Barbara and Jasper ever lived for any length of time in a flat or caravan? (If so, where?); do they go to the races, specifically, have they been to Blue Bonnets?”
(UK, PRO file DO 127/137, p. 476).
Cross had a degree in literature, and his signature “Jasper Pooh” suggested he might be using a code based on Winnie the Pooh. Days were spent days reading the works of A. E. Milne, and in fruitless textual analysis.
RCMP search team
The RCMP search for Cross was led by two officers from G Operations, the RCMP Security Service’s counter-terrorist section in Montreal, Sergeant Don McCleery and Corporal Rick Bennet. McCleery was a clever and street-wise officer who knew the hard side of counter-terrorism, and Bennet was known to be able. But they had a problem: astonishingly, after almost a decade fighting the FLQ, the Service did not have a list of FLQ suspects. McCleery and Bennet were reduced to searching warehouses and abandoned buildings across Montreal, following up suggestions from the Special Team, and from letters from supposed clairvoyants. (LAC, Daily Log, RG 146, vol. 2417, op. cit., p. 296).
Soon, there would be other letters to consider.
The tragedy of Pierre Laporte
At 6:10 in the evening of the 10th of October, Quebec Minister of Labour Pierre Laporte was playing catch with his nephew on the street in front of the Laporte home when a green Chevrolet stopped abruptly beside him. Two doors on the right side opened and two men emerged. One wore a blond wig, and a red ski mask, while the other wore a brown wig and a blue ski mask. They carried rifles, and the man with the red ski mask pointed his rifle at the side of Pierre Laporte and said “This is not a joke. Get in”. Laporte stepped back, then got in the rear of the car, which then sped away.
The following day, a communiqué in the name of the Chenier Cell of the FLQ repeated the demands made for Cross. It was accompanied by a letter from Laporte to Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa that said, ‘Décidez ou ma vie ou ma mort’. It ended with a postscript that had implications for the life of James Cross: “I repeat to you, put an end to the searches. And that the police not continue without your knowledge. The success of this search would be death for me.” (The Montreal Star, 12.10.70, p. 7.)
That same day, a further communiqué from the Liberation Cell warned that they had dynamite, and that, if the police should intervene, Cross would be the first to die.
The kidnapping of Pierre Laporte, coming hard upon that of James Cross, greatly shocked Canadians, who began to imagine a wide-scale terrorist assault upon the nation. It also unsettled those at the highest levels of the Canadian government, who began to ask questions about the competence of the RCMP Security Service, who had been watching the FLQ for almost a decade. Astonishingly, the FLQ communiqué released by the kidnappers of James Cross was almost identical to a draft communiqué discovered months before in a police raid. But it was not only the Canadian government that was disturbed. British authorities were angered to learned that the RCMP and Montreal Police had thwarted two diplomatic kidnappings earlier that year, that Jacques Lanctôt had been implicated. Inexplicably, Montreal Police released Lanctôt on bail, upon which he promptly fled into hiding. More disturbing, the RCMP had not been warned the High Commission of the obvious threat to their diplomats such as James Cross.
At the FCO, MI5 and at Number 10, officials began to wonder about the capacity of the Canadians to deal with the FLQ.
We will start killing people
As the days and weeks passed, MI5 passed a warning to the RCMP:
If you don’t soon find James Cross, we will start killing people.
War Measures Act Invoked
On the 16th of October, faced with the growing prospect of civil unrest in Quebec, and a rise in support in Quebec for FLQ aims, the Canadian government invoked the War Measures Act. The Act established a state of exception in which police could make arrests without warrant; habeas corpus was suspended. Arrests of suspect FLQ, and of hundreds of persons who had no connection to or sympathy for FLQ terrorism, but merely association with popular movements deemed subversive, were picked up from their homes and put into detention for questioning.
The body of Pierre Laporte
Next day, shortly after midnight, an anonymous telephone call led police to a green Chevrolet, abandoned outside the gate of a military base on the island of Montreal. Under the cold blue light of an arc lamp, the boot was forced open. Inside was the body of Pierre Laporte, wrists bandaged in bloody rags, and the mark of a ligature about his neck. The autopsy revealed that he had been strangled with his sweater, and the chain with Saint Christopher medal that hung about his neck.
The search for James Cross became desperate.
All very fine
Meanwhile, British authorities began to wonder if the RCMP and other Canadian services quite knew what they were doing in the search for Cross, as shown by the following internal letter of the Foreign and Colonial Office:
Letter from CD WIGGIN, Head, American Department, FCO, to Mr. SIMONS, Permanent UnderSecretary’s Department.[i]
“4. This is all very fine but it does not help us to answer questions. We have a Security Liaison Officer accredited to Ottawa who visits there regularly. Canada House have a full-time RCMP officer accredited here. We have close intelligence liaison with the Canadians generally. Yet, so far as I know, we were never informed that the any specific threat or rumours of threat to foreigners existed.
5. Nor have we had any real information in this department as to what the RCMP and the Canadian police generally have been doing. I cannot help wondering whether the Canadian security and police authorities are in fact on top of their job.
6. Be all as it may, I hope that the head of the Security Service will be briefed to try to obtain some ammunition on all this which we can use later if necessary.
[i]. PRO file FCO 7/1767, folio 410.
But finding James Cross was not the only problem. Canadian and British authorities feared the Liberation Cell would kill Cross when they learned they had been located, or when police intervened. Finding him was just a matter of time.
The unease was heightened when the French newsmagazine L’Express published an interview with an FLQ member in exile in France, Mario Bachand, about the fate of Cross. “He will be freed alive without condition, when we choose”, Bachand said, “when police have well lost face. At least, as long as police do not find him by chance. In which case, he would die.”( L’Express, 20 November 1970)
For James Cross, in a darkened room in an apartment somewhere in Montreal, the nights were the longest. Nights of staring into the darkness, the fear gathered around him like a cloak. He would turn his mind to when he was a boy, in Ireland, and the three-quarter mile walk to school. When he first began the exercise, his recollection was vague and imprecise: his mother’s wave from the doorstep, the narrow country road, emerald-green fields with the smell of earth and fresh-cut hay, then the red-brick school and the shouts of children. Now, nearing a month since they had taken him, in his minds eye he could see each blade of grass on the way. It helped him to not think of the metal ring in the floor, the handcuffs, the roll of adhesive tape, and the man in the corner with the pistol, the black 7.65 calibre Beretta that the man had pointed at him that morning, as he stood in shirt and underwear in his bathroom, and shouted “Get on the floor or you are fucking dead”.
In the bright sun of that early morning, a lifetime ago, as they led him out the door, he saw a gardener across the street pause from raking leaves and look at him. They led him to a black taxi that was waiting in the drive with engine running, a fourth man at the wheel. They pushed him to the floor, and covered him with a blanket; the car made a tight U-turn, and drove off. Five minutes later – he kept the count as best he could, and tried to memorize the turns – they pulled into what seemed to be a garage. They told him to keep his eyes closed, pulled a gas mask with painted eyepieces over his head, and pushed him onto the floor of a second car. Twenty minutes later, they entered a second garage. They led him up a flight of stairs to a room. The mask was removed and replaced with a hood, with slits at mouth and eyes. They put the handcuffs at the front and made him lie on a mattress. Later that morning they read him the manifesto, with seven demands to be met “In order to preserve the life of the representative of the ancient racist and colonialist British system.”
I must compose myself for death
In forty-eight hours, if the seven demands were not met, they would kill him. In that case I must compose myself for death”, he said to himself. (James Cross, British Diplomatic History Programme interview, Churchill Archives Centre, file DOHP 19, p.4.)
“You have no chance, no chance whatsoever”, he told them.
For three days he lay, hooded and handcuffed, on the mattress. From time to time, they read him extracts from the manifesto and from the first communiqué. On the second day, they allowed him to lift the mask a little to watch a television which was in the corner of the room. They began giving him the pills for high blood pressure, which they had somehow obtained. After five days, they allowed him to sit in the afternoon in an armchair and watch television. They adjusted his hood, which had flaps that restricted his vision to an arc of 30 degrees, so he could not see them behind him. There was always a man or woman with a pistol; sometimes there was also a second man or woman with a rifle with a cut-off stock.
To while away the time, they would play with their weapons, idly taking out the magazine, an pulling back the bolt, letting it slam back to chamber a round. He feared ‘Denise’ and ‘Josephine’, the two women, the most, for he was sure they were unaccustomed to firearms, and could shoot him by accident.
During the first days, he had spoken with them about their political ideas, and was surprised to find that they knew very little of revolutionary literature. They had not even heard of Herbert Marcuse, the eminence of the New Left. It seemed they were mostly influenced by Franz Fanon’s “The Wretched of the Earth”, and by Pierre Vallières “The White Niggers of America”.
He would wake at about 1100 am. They took him to the adjacent bathroom to wash and brush his teeth. Every three or four days, they permitted him to shave and to shower. For this, they would remove his hood, while they put on masks so that he could not see their faces. Breakfast would be toast with cheese or peanut butter, and coffee, taken while seated at the small wooden table in the corner of the room. During the day he would listen to the radio, watch television, read the papers, or play endless games of Patience. He had no idea where he was, apart from knowing he was somewhere in Montreal and, because there were no sounds of heavy traffic, in a residential neighbourhood. Occasionally, he heard the bark of a dog. He often heard footsteps from the apartment above, as someone walked back and forth it what seemed a kitchen. Otherwise, except for the newspapers they rushed out to buy each day, which they let him read, and for radio and television newscasts, the outside world might have ceased to exist.
They never threatened him, or mistreated him, at least not physically. The only one to cause difficulty was Josephine, who sometimes did not allow him to shave, and sometimes took perverse pleasure in stopping him when he had half-finished. The only serious tension came after he used ‘prisonner’ in a letter, a misspelling inspired by the French but which caused newspapers to report that he might be trying to communicate his location by code. For three days the kidnappers, particularly Josephine, were hostile. The tension eased when he pointed out that he had no idea where he was, and that they dictated the letters to him.
They told him they would not kill him, but he well knew they would do so, for whatever obscure revolutionary purpose. There was no means of escape, he knew. He was never left unguarded, did not know how many there were, and he did not know the layout of the apartment. He worked out a strategy to survive, one based on his particular strengths: British reserve, extraordinary self discipline, and the capacity, honed over two decades of diplomatic service, to hide his true feelings. He would do what they wanted and obey their orders to the letter. He would not ask for anything, however insignificant, if he thought it might be refused. It was a strategy of two faces. With the visible face, he would be agreeable. With the hidden face, he happily would have killed them all.
On the fifth day, they heard over the radio that Pierre Laporte had been kidnapped. “Laporte is taken! Laporte is taken!”, they shouted, jumping into the air. . James Cross, British Diplomatic History Programme interview, Churchill Archives Centre, file DOHP 19, p.7. Six days later, in the evening, they watched on television an icily calm Prime Minister Trudeau: “I want to assure you that the authorities have the situation in hand and… if, by misfortune, something should happen to the hostages, the government would hunt the guilty relentlessly. To cede to the threats of these kidnappers, who demand the release of prisoners, would provoke an increase in terrorist activity in Quebec. It would, besides, encourage terrorism across the country.. Le Monde, 19.10.70, p. 26.”
Cross overheard Josephine said simply: ‘Laporte est mort’. (James Cross, British Diplomatic History Programme interview, Churchill Archives Centre, file DOHP 19, p.7).
They played for time.
PM Trudeau message to PM Heath
Five days later, Trudeau sent a message to Heath setting the problem out clearly:
My dear Prime Minister,
My colleagues and I and the Quebec Government are doing everything we can to ensure the safe release of Mr. Cross and Mr. Laporte. At the same time we must prevent the undermining of the foundations of government and law in this country.
Late the following evening they were watching television when they heard the news of an abandoned car having been found near St. Hubert military airport. Television cameras appeared, then came the terrible report of a body in the trunk. It seemed to him that they were not surprised, or shocked, at all. As if they knew. Shortly after, it was announced that his own body had been found, outside Montreal. He wanted to shake the television and shout I’m not dead! I’m not dead! He was desperately afraid that his wife would hear the story. For the first time in seventeen years, he smoked a cigarette. He could not sleep that night until, at 4 am, they gave him a sleeping pill. The next morning, they let him write to his wife to assure her that he was still alive. They also had him write a communiqué with the message “The only danger for my life is if the police find out where I am and want to intervene. The FLQ will not give up and I will be the first to die.”. (LAC, RG 146, vol. 2417, wallet, p.447.
He told the kidnapper dictating the message that it must have been terrible for his wife to have heard of the death of Pierre Laporte. “How do you think I feel? I was sick to my stomach when I heard of Laporte’s death”, the man, later identified as Jacques Lanctôt, replied).
He lost all interest in them and their ideas, for which he had utter contempt. He simply wanted to live.
Meanwhile in London, Canada’s High Commissioner to Britain, Charles Ritchie, was busy on the telephone, speaking with Undersecretary of State Ed Ritchie in Ottawa, and Denis Greenhill. One day he added a note to his diary: “I suppose Jasper Cross is dead by now.” (Charles Ritchie, “Storm Signals” (Toronto: Macmillan, 1983), p. 145).
Perils for Richard Bros
Meanwhile, these events brought perils for a second man, Richard Bros, and for little more than an accident of history: he and Jacques Lanctôt were friends. In Montreal in 1963, while the members of the first wave of FLQ were before the courts, Bros, Lanctôt and a third youth, school friends, formed the grandly-named Résistance du Québec. They attempted to set fire to an armoury, set fire to a Canadian National Railway shed, toppled a statue of Queen Victoria, and set bomb a railway bridge that fortunately did not explode. They were quickly arrested. Lanctôt, seventeen, avoided prison. Bros, eighteen, and born in France, which made him an object of particular suspicion, was declared the ringleader. He was sentenced to a year in prison.
In 1966, Richard Bros left Montreal for London, world Mecca for youth culture. He maintained contact with certain friends back in Canada. His mother, with whom he was especially close, died while he was on a visit to Paris. He went back to Sommières for a visit with his aunt and uncle, the Serrano’s. He met Françoise Peeters, a native of Sommières who was visiting from London, where she worked as an au pair. They returned to London, and married the following year. They separated in 1969. In the Spring of 1970, Bros moved into a basement flat at 34 Theberton, Islington. On the morning of the 5th of October, from the events across the Atlantic, he entered a world of terrifying forces quite beyond his control.
The death of Richard Bros
Mockett walked over to the toilet area, on the far side of the cell, and found Bros hanging by the neck by a piece of pink-coloured cloth, attached to the runner of the sliding door between the toilet and the cell. His toes were just above the floor, his knees were slightly bent. Bros’ tongue was hanging out, and his eyes were bulging and lifeless. Robertson pulled a folding knife from his pocket and handed it to Mockett, who hurriedly cut the cloth from Bros’ neck. They laid him down on the floor, and Mockett asked Robertson to telephone the N Division Police Surgeon, Dr. Arnold Mendoza. Mendoza arrived twenty minutes later and examined Bros, still stretched out on the cell floor. He pronounced him dead. It was 6:40 pm.
No reason to believe
The following day, the 23rd of November, the Times and several other British and Canadian newspapers reported the death of Richard Bros on the front page. Why the death was given such prominence was not made clear. The articles were strikingly similar, and were unsigned.
The Times said Bros was arrested “at the weekend on an assault charge”, and found hanging by his shirt from the bars of the cell, “a few minutes before he was due to be interviewed by the Special Branch”. It claimed that Special Branch had become interested in Bros after an FLQ-related newspaper clipping was found in his pocket following his arrest, and wanted to ask him about the Cross kidnapping, in hopes of finding a lead as to where Cross was held. Next day, Scotland Yard issued a statement denying that Special Branch had been interested in Richard Bros: “The true facts are that no arrangements had been made for a Special Branch officer to see Mr. Bross (sic) at about the time he was found dead in his cell or at any other time and no inquiries had been made in Paris or Quebec. No member of the Metropolitan Police, or its Special Branch in particular, has or has had any reason to believe that Mr. Bross was in any way connected with the kidnapping of Mr. James Cross or that he could have known of the present whereabouts of Mr. Cross.”
The Times responded “The information upon which the original report in the Times was based came from a reliable police source and was given in the hearing of an independent witness.”
James Cross is found
On the 25th of November, according to later RCMP statements, police located James Cross in a modest ground-floor apartment in north Montreal. In the early morning hours of December 3, police and soldiers evacuated the neighbourhood, and surrounded the building. At 2:30 am they cut the electricity, letting Jacques Lanctôt and the other members of the Liberation Cell that they had been found. Negotiations between the FLQ and Canadian authorities led to Cross’s release. That evening, following a plan devised weeks before, the Cross kidnappers would be allowed to go into exile in return for the safe return of their hostage, six members of the Liberation Cell, along with Lanctôt’s wife and child, were flown to Cuba in a Canadian military aircraft.
James Cross telephoned his wife and daughter at the British embassy in Berne, Switzerland, where for several weeks they had been staying with friends. He then took calls from Prime Minister Trudeau and Prime Minister Heath. A medical exam at a Montreal hospital found him in perfect health, weighing 22 pounds less than at the beginning of his ordeal. He gave a statement to police. On the 4th of December, Accompanied by British and Canadian officials, he flew home to London’s Heathrow Airport, and home.
Richard Bros 1945-1970
There was a third journey that day, one that had begun at 3:30 on the afternoon of 2 December, when Air France Flight 1391 rose from the runway at Heathrow airport into the cold blue sky, swung east over the Channel, on a heading for Paris. In the cargo bay was a grey aluminum casket, weighing 106 kilograms, that was accompanied by a Coroner’s letter and consular certificate, necessary for removal of human remains from Britain, in this instance, those of Richard Pierre Antoine Bros. Next morning, after a night in the morgue at Orly, the casket was loaded onto to Air France flight 1241 to Mariagne Airport, outside Marseilles. On 4 December, the day on which, in one of those mysterious and dark synchronicities that at times govern events, James Cross was high across the Atlantic, the casket of Richard Bros continued in the back of a hearse, winding its way through the countryside of the French Midi, to Sommières, the village of his birth, the Catholic cemetery, and the plot for the Famille Serrano, his mother’s family, with the white marble sign: Notre Petit Fils, Neveu Regrette, Richard Bros 1945-1970.
Richard Bros, in a manner of speaking, too, had returned home.
The inquest into the death of Richard Bros
The inquest into the death of Richard Bros, which had opened briefly on the 24th of November and then immediately adjourned, resumed at St. Pancras Coroner’s Court in north London, adjacent to the doleful 14th Century St. Pancras Cemetery, on the 22nd of December. Her Majesty’s Coroner, Dr. Douglas R. Chambers, presided. Richard Bros’ widow, Françoise Peeters, testified that she had seen him a week before his death, and that he seemed perfectly all right. She and Richard Bros’ uncle, Pierre Serrano, had identified the body. Inspector Ian Delany testified he had arrested Bros for assault, on a warrant issued by Old Street Magistrate’s Court. He gave no details of the alleged assault. Dr. F. E. Camps, the founder of modern British forensic pathology, an expert in asphyxia who had edited the standard text on pathology, and a book on the detection of murder, reported on his post-mortem examination. Bros ‘died pretty fast’, he said, “and found as described, it was not possible to save him.” Camps made no mention of the small bruise that he had found on Richard Bros’ right shin.
He needed something like this
Sergeant Denis Prendergast testified Bros complained he did not feel well the afternoon of his arrest, about the time Prendergast charged him. Prendergast said he then called the Police Surgeon, Dr. Mendoza, who arrived at 4:45.
Mendoza testified that he examined Bros and that Bros had made no complaint of illness. “He seemed slightly agitated but no sign of depression”, Mendoza told the court. Mendoza prescribed “a mild sedative”. “I thought him fit to be detained”, he added, “but needing something like this”.
After a brief deliberation, the jury returned with an open verdict. Altogether, the inquest into the death of Richard Bros had lasted nineteen minutes.
By which time Richard Bros was in his grave in Sommières. Buried with him were several troubling questions, among them, What connection was there between his death in London, and certain events in far-off Montreal?
This is the story of Richard Bros, and James Cross, the trajectories of two lives, and of how they crossed, fatally, that day in London.
1. Camps, Dr. Francis E., Professor in Forensic Medicine1970 Nov 23. 2. Chambers, Dr. Douglas Robert, Coroner1970 Dec 22. 3. Cross, James R. London Departure.
- Mockett, Sergeant Louis Edward, Islington Police Station, Station Officer. death of Richard Bros. Michael McLoughlin, interview 2002 Oct 21.
- Prendergast, Sgt. Denis SPS 7 ‘N’, Duty Officer, Late Turn 21 November 1970; charged Bros1970 Dec 10.
Islington police station, 277 Upper Street, the North borough of Islington, the 22nd of November,1970. Farquar, who had left for tea at Olive House Station, as Station Officer.
At 5h55, Sgt. Moquet replaced Sgt. Farquar, who left for Olive House Station to take tea at the canteen there, as Station Officer.