BY LAUREN HUBBARD NOV 16, 2020
The intruder snuck into Buckingham Palace in 1982 and created one of Britain’s biggest security scandals.
Buckingham Palace is no stranger to visitors. Thousands of people walk the halls of the royal residence every year for state events, receptions, and tours, not to mention the veritable army of staff that keeps the palace running and, of course, the royal family themselves. Uninvited visitors, though? That’s another matter altogether.
Breaking into the home of the British monarch, let alone Her Majesty’s bedroom while she sleeps, should be no mean feat; which is why when a man managed to do just that with relatively little effort in 1982, it kicked off one of the biggest security scandals in British history.
The IntruderBorn 1950 in Clerkenwell, London, Michael Fagan was the oldest of three children. He attended Compton Street School until the age of 16, when he left home. From there, he got a job as a painter and decorator which he worked on an off throughout the years. In 1972 he married his wife, Christine, with whom he would go on to have four children.
The Break In: According to the police, shortly before 7 a.m. on the morning of July 9, 1982, Fagan scaled his way into royal history as, after a night of drinking, he climbed over the fence of Buckingham Palace and made his way up a drainpipe and onto the roof.
Removing his shoes and socks (he later told the Independent that they were returned to him two years later by palace staff, who found them up there), he entered the royal residence through an unlocked window.
From there, he spent some time wandering through the palace, including twice triggering the alarm system while he perused King George V’s stamp collection. Evidently assuming the alerts were a glitch, the police on watch turned the alarms back off. Likewise, in a plan for his eventual exit,
Fagan told The Sun that he broke one of the palace ashtrays to get a piece of glass to use to cut through pigeon netting on the roof, accidentally cutting himself in the process.
Ultimately, Fagan made his way into the residential wing of the palace and, apparently unwittingly, to the bedroom of none other than the Queen.
“They say she must have been frightened. I didn’t frighten her too much but I was quite shocked,” he told The Sun of the moment he pulled back the bed curtains to discover Queen Elizabeth asleep in her bed. “She used a phone on the bedside table to call security but when nobody came she got out of bed.” He added, “Her nightie was one of those Liberty prints and it was down to her knees. She said, ‘Just one minute, I’ll get someone,’ swept past me and ran out of the room, her little bare feet running across the floor.
“Shortly, footman Paul Wybrew was summoned, who then escorted Fagan across the corridor the the Queen’s pantry. “The man seemed very tense and I said: ‘Would you like a drink?'” Wybrew said in a statement at the time, according to The Guardian. “Immediately he became more affable and replied: ‘Yes please, I’ll have a scotch.'” Fagan was arrested shortly thereafter.
As a result of the incident, which caused a major scandal in the public eye, the UK Home Secretary William Whitelaw reportedly offered the Queen his resignation; however, she declined.Over the years, Fagan has given various accounts of his reasons for breaking into the palace that morning.
According to a story from The Guardian following the incident, he initially told the police that he broke in to see the Queen because he was in love with her, but on other occasions he has suggested that he thought the Queen might be able to help him in some way, per The Sun, or, as he told the Independent, that the decision was fueled by a prolonged reaction to taking hallucinogenic mushrooms several months before.Regardless of his motivation, Fagan may have taken his courage that night from a previous success; after all, July 9, 1982 wasn’t the first time he illegally entered Buckingham Palace.
The First Break: In Several weeks before Fagan was arrested at the royal residence, he actually broke into the palace using a similar method.
On that occasion, according to the The Guardian, Fagan slipped in through the open window of the room of one of the royal housemaids, Sarah Carter, who was actually in her room reading at the time. Startled, Carter ran to fetch help, but by the time she returned, Fagan had moved on to another part of the palace and security believed that she had imagined the incident.
“I walked straight in. I was surprised I wasn’t captured straight away,” he told the court at a related hearing for burglary in 1982. “I could have been a rapist or something. I knew I could break the security system because it was so weak.”
In a 2012 interview with the Independent, he said that while he was exploring the palace, he tried out several of the thrones and ultimately decided to leave after no one came to find him.
“It was harder to get out than get in. I eventually found a door and walked out into the back gardens, climbed over the wall and walked down the Mall, looking back and thinking ‘ooh,'” he told the Independent. “I hadn’t thought about going in there until that last second when it came into my head to do it, so I was shocked.”
After The Arrest, Fagan wasn’t charged with the trespass at Buckingham Palace on July 9, 1982 because under British law it was considered a civil offense, not a crime, and would require the Queen to personally press charges. He was later brought to trial for burglary relating to the first time he broke in.In September of 1982, he was charged with stealing a bottle of Prince Charles’s wine from among a collection of gifts sent by the public in anticipation of the birth of Prince William. Fagan himself admitted drinking the wine while in Charles’s staff’s office, saying on the stand, “I was waiting to be captured. I drank it because I was waiting for someone to come,” according to The Guardian. After consuming about half of the bottle, he told the court, he got tired of waiting and decided to leave. The jury deliberated on the case for 14 minutes before acquitting Fagan.
It wasn’t his last time in court. During his interrogation about the July 9 break in, Fagan apparently revealed his role in an unrelated car theft, for which he was charged and ultimately convicted in October 1982. He was committed to a mental hospital at sentencing, but by the following January a medical tribunal at the hospital determined that he no longer needed to be detained, according to the New York Times.In 2020, The Sun reported that he suffered from a heart attack and was also diagnosed with COVID-19, but survived both.
Culled from Town And Country Mag