New Zealand’s Security Intelligence Service (SIS) have released documents confirming that a New Zealand teenager attempted to assassinate Queen Elizabeth II while she visited the Commonwealth nation in 1981.


The then-17-year-old Christopher Lewis shot at the Queen as she exited her vehicle on her way to a science fair on Oct. 14, 1981, as part of her eight-day tour of the country. According to a 1997 SIS memo, which was declassified and given to the press on Thursday, “Lewis did indeed originally intend to assassinate the Queen, however did not have a suitable vantage point from which to fire, nor a sufficiently high-powered rifle for the range from the target.”

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In an attempt to prevent embarrassment for New Zealand while hosting a royal visit, the government downplayed the incident. When members of the crowd in the city of Dunedin heard the shot, police assured them that it was noice from a falling sign or a car backfiring. SIS documents describe Lewis as a “severely disturbed” youth, but he was not charged with neither murder nor treason. Instead, he was charged with unlawful possession and discharge of a firearm.

“Current police investigations into the shots have been conducted discreetly and most media representatives probably have the impression that the noise was caused by a firework of some description,” read a Nov. 1981 SIS memo. According to later documents, the police kept a close eye on Lewis during a 1986 royal visit by the Queen.

More than a decade later, Lewis was charged with the murder of a mother and the abduction of her baby daughter, who he then dropped off at a nearby church. Lewis electrocuted himself in 1997 while in prison awaiting his murder trial. He denied the murder charge in his suicide note.

New Zealand has been an independent country since 1947, but retains the Queen as its head of state and constitutional monarch. She has visited the nation 10 times during her reign, most recently in 2002.

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