Operation Flavius (1988)

Operation 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.

Bomb Plot

The 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 Sunday.

The SAS 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.

McCann 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.

IRA Response

On 18 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.

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