All You Need to Know About the Assassination Attempt on Queen Elizabeth in the '80s

The attempt was subsequently covered up by the New Zealand government.

A disturbed New Zealand local has been revealed to have attempted to assassinate Queen Elizabeth in the 1980s. The news of the incident was broken by Hamish McNeilly in a six-part investigation for Stuff.

While assassination attempts on royals aren’t new, one so recent and aimed at the Queen is quite shocking. Here’s everything you need to know about the assassin, the subsequent cover-up that took place, and other grim details.

The enactor was a disturbed 17-year-old, Christopher John Lewis.

Lewis was born in Dunedin, New Zealand. Though his mother doted on him, his stepfather was a physically abusive disciplinarian. As a young boy, he idolized notorious criminals such as Ned Kelly and Charles Manson. According to a draft autobiography, Lewis considered himself an “outsider,” who didn’t fit in and harbored anger from his childhood.

From the beginning, Lewis was clearly troubled. The NZ Herald reports that a former schoolmate watched the would-be criminal decapitate a sparrow. He eventually ended up getting kicked out from school for a mix of reasons. The expulsion sent Lewis on a downward spiral that included a series of petty crimes, an armed robbery, and the founding of a guerilla army (the National Imperial Guerilla Army).

For his age, Lewis was quite cunning.

After robbing a gun shop, Lewis and his guerilla army conspired to kill the Queen for their cause to be recognized.

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On October 14, 1981, Lewis walked up to the seven-story Adams Building with his .22 rifle and holed up in a restroom to wait for the Queen's motorcade. A few minutes after, he spotted the Queen’s Rolls-Royce and fired a shot that ultimately missed.

The attempt was subsequently covered up by the New Zealand government.

Bystanders heard a loud crack during the Queen’s motorcade, but the government was quick to say that it was a council sign that had simply fallen over. Still, British news outlets were suspicious, and police offered another excuse, this time blaming it on fireworks. Behind the scenes, Lewis was placed in police custody after police connected the gun shop robbery to the firing. A later search of his flat revealed a detailed map of the Queen’s route that day titled “Operation = Ass QUEB.”

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Lewis was never charged for the assassination attempt.

Former Dunedin detective Tom Lewis (no relation), who was witness to the whole cover-up, shares that the government had been scared the assassination would irreparably damage U.K. relations. Lewis was tried for the robbery for which he plead guilty, but he was never charged with the assassination.

In his memoir, Lewis wrote he was essentially threatened to keep quiet. “If I was ever to mention the events surrounding my interviews or the organisation, or that I was in the building, or that I was shooting from it – that they would make sure I ‘suffered a fate worse than death,’” he wrote.

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Lewis tried to assassinate Prince Charles on another visit.

For his crimes, Lewis was jailed for three years, spending the last year at a psychiatric hospital. In 1983, Prince Charles visited New Zealand (with Princess Diana and then-one-year-old Prince William) during which Lewis unsuccessfully attempted to escape from the psychiatric ward.

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The Wales in New Zealand

When the Queen visited again, the government sent Lewis on an all-expense paid “vacation.”

Lewis was eventually released after serving his sentence. The government, confident that the international scandal would never come to light, expected Lewis to live a quiet life. But he was still shipped off to Australia's Great Barrier Island in the Hauraki Gulf during the Queen's 1995 New Zealand visit where, after a few days, he wrote that he “started to feel like royalty.”

Christopher John Lewis in 1987

Lewis' life ended in prison.

Lewis went on the police's radar again after he was charged with the murder of Tania Furlan and the kidnapping of her child. On September 23, 1997, he was found dead in prison after electrocuting himself. Up until his death, he maintained that he was being framed and was completely innocent.

It is unclear whether Lewis suffered from a mental disorder.

Lewis' mother told the NZ Herald that her son suffered from an untreatable mental illness, choosing to use the phrase “psychologically disturbed.” She says doctors failed to diagnose and treat him properly.


In his memoir, Lewis states that he never intended to hurt the monarch. “I felt that giving her a scare somehow, that the issues and problems that were evident in New Zealand might be finally brought into the public attention and as a bonus if the Queen would look at these issues–she might well take notice,” he wrote.

h/t: Stuff

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Paolo Chua
Paolo Chua is the Associate Style Editor of Esquire Philippines.
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