Operation Flavius (1988)
Flavius was the name given to an operation by a Special Air
Service (SAS) team in Gibraltar on 6 March 1988 tasked with preventing a
Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) bomb plot. The IRA Active Service Unit‘s (ASU) members, Danny McCann,
Seán Savage and Mairéad Farrell, conspired to detonate a car bomb where a
military band assembled for the weekly changing of the guard at the governor’s
residence. Although the operation was meant to be an arrest operation, it ended
with all three members of the ASU dead.
IRA members planned to hide the bomb in a car to kill the band members of the
Royal Anglian Regiment that would assemble for the parade. To ensure a parking
space in the busy town area, it was necessary to occupy it on the preceding
team was informed—incorrectly—that the IRA had already placed their bomb and
were ready to detonate it. The three conspirators were stopped as they walked
near the Shell filling station in Winston Churchill Avenue, the busy main road
leading to the airport and the frontier with Spain. McCann was then shot as the
SAS claimed he made an ‘aggressive move’ towards a bag he was carrying. They
stated that he was intending to trigger a car bomb using a remote control
device. After McCann was killed, it was claimed that Farrell made a move
towards her handbag and was shot on similar grounds. SAS members again claimed
that Savage moved his hand to his pocket and the SAS killed him also.
was shot five times, Farrell eight times, and Savage between 16 and 18 times.
All three were subsequently found to be unarmed, and without any kind of remote
trigger. Materials for a bomb, including 64 kg of Semtex, were later found by
the Spanish police in a car in Marbella, 46 miles away in Spain, identified by
keys found in Farrell’s handbag.
September 1990 the IRA attempted to kill Air Chief Marshal Sir Peter Terry at
his Staffordshire home in revenge for his part in Operation Flavius. Terry had
been Governor of Gibraltar during the Operation and had authorised the SAS to
pursue IRA members. The attack took place at 9 pm at the Main Road house. The
gunman opened fire through a window hitting him at least nine times and
injuring his wife Betty, Lady Terry, near the eye. The couple’s daughter, Liz,
was found suffering from shock. Terry’s face had to be rebuilt as the shots
shattered his face and two high-velocity bullets lodged a fraction of an inch
from his brain. Margaret Thatcher later said that she “was utterly appalled and
deeply grieved” by the shooting.