Piecing together the death of Ian Macleod: The responses in West Germany and Britain

How Macleod's death was first reported in The Times

How Macleod’s death was first reported in The Times

Early in the morning of June 25, 1972, the West German police raided a supposed ‘safehouse’ of the Red Army Fraction (RAF), also known as the Baader-Meinhof gang, in Stuttgart. There had been supposed telephone communications between the flat in question and a group of Swiss anarchists who had allegedly been in contact with Andreas Baader. During the raid, Ian Macleod (also spelt as ‘Ian Mcleod’ or Iain Macleod’) was shot in the back of the neck. Macleod, a UK citizen, was naked and unarmed when he was shot. Since then, the West German police (now obviously just the German police) have argued that Macleod had some connection to the RAF, whilst others have alleged that the police had shot an innocent man and this grave mistake by the police was covered up.

I came across the response by the British government to the shooting in some files at the National Archives whilst doing research on the UK’s counter-terrorist strategies in the 1970s and I have been interested in how the media and government in both countries reacted to the death of a foreign national in a high profile counter-terrorist manhunt. The Times first reported the death on page 1 on 26 June, 1972, largely based on accounts from officials in Stuttgart and Bonn. It reported that:

According to well-placed sources in Stuttgart tonight, Mr Macleod was suspected by the police of being at least a contact man for the gang.

However over the next few days, the newspaper was reporting that these contacts might not have existed and that the police shooting was unwarranted. On June 27, the newspaper stated:

The West German authorities have so far been unusually tight-lipped over the shooting.

The following day, the paper went further:

Lawyers and newspapers in West Germany today attacked the police for unnecessarily killing Mr Iain Macleod, a British businessman, as the official case against him began to disintegrate

Several newspapers here have underlined the impression Mr Macleod must have had when he opened the door and saw what was apparently a civilian brandishing a machine gun at him first thing on a Sunday morning. He screamed and slammed the door, whereupon the policeman fired two shots. 

While reporting that the police accepted that they acted ‘negligently’, The Times also remarked that the police’s case against Ian Macleod was ‘at best highly circumstantial’ and there nothing in the police account to reject the notion that Macleod’s actions (that caused the policeman to open fire) were:

the frightened reaction of someone awakened by noises in his home who finds a man with a machine-gun at his bedroom door at 6.30 on a Sunday morning.

The newspaper reported that the British Consulate in Bonn was liaising with the West German government and the National Archives has part of this correspondence. The only official statement I have been able to locate by the British Government was in Parliament in late July 1972:

Mr. Arthur Lewis

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what action he has taken or intends taking to protest to the West German Government at the shooting of Mr. Jain Macleod, a British businessman, by a West German policeman on 25th June, 1972 in Stuttgart; and whether he will demand compensation from the West German Government for Mr. Macleod’s next of kin.

Mr. Kershaw

Soon after Mr. Macleod’s death we expressed our concern to the Federal German authorities and asked for a report as soon as possible. We have been kept fully informed by the German authorities on the course of their inquiries, the latest state of which show no basis for suspicion against Mr. Macleod. But the case is still under investigation and until this has been completed, it is not possible to say what action Her Majesty’s Government intend to take.

I haven’t had a chance to look at other British media outlets from the time, but I expect that similar reporting could be found in The Guardian and the Daily Telegraph. My next place to look will be The New Statesman, which hopefully covered the case.

How Der Spiegel reported on the case

How Der Spiegel reported on the case

As expected, the West German media covered the case in quite a bit of detail, although sources are not as accessible from Australia (and my German is quite limited). The current affairs weekly Der Spiegel reported that this was the sixth death by the police in the hunt for RAF members and seemed to conclude that Macleod’s death was one of mistaken identity. The same issue of the magazine contained a lengthy interview with two senior policemen in Stuttgart who were involved in the case. An English translation of the interview (thanks to Google Translate) opens with:

SPIEGEL: One of your officers has shot dead last week during the search of an apartment a recognizable defenseless man. Has the fear of the Baader-Meinhof people your police so messed up that it already is holding a naked man who starts up from sleep dangerous?

RAU: Certainly not. But we had to assume that the flat of the Baader-Meinhof people’s lives, had all experiences expected that BM group members ruthlessly shoot – and of weapons and ammunition that cause death. We also know that these people are smart and do not be surprised readily. That our officials did not count on the door so that the door is flung open suddenly and that he then fell into a deep psychologically explicable only state of emergency, of course, is extremely unfortunate.

Further in the interview, the senior police officers tried to explain the use of machine guns in the raid:

SPIEGEL: Why did you have your people equipped with machine guns! For an arrest a rather unusual armament.

RAU: In Baader-Meinhof operations we always take with machine guns.We must orient ourselves to the armament of the enemy – with 7.65 guns our government officials were always inferior in case of emergency. Incidentally, the MP of the shooter was set to single fire. He fired two shot.

SPIEGEL: Even if you wanted to grant him to have fired the first shot with excitement uncontrollably – one must not judge differently the second shot?

FREY: I think this all happened in the same psychological situation. It also went in quick succession: Päng. bang – I heard it on the hallway entrance to the apartment, I was also there. The shooter has explained to me spontaneously that he wanted to reach for the latch as the door was flung open from the inside. He saw only one head – wearing nothing of whether he was naked or – and suddenly the man had moved, as if to bend down. He had assumed that now he shoots, felt a burning sensation in the lower abdomen – “I already have one or I get ‘another’ – pulled the trigger, and as he has.

Weekly newspaper, Die Zeit, reported the following month that the Federal Prosecutor announced there was ‘no reasonable suspicion’ for Macleod and expressed concern that mere suspicion placed the police at Macleod’s residence that Sunday morning, armed with heavy weaponry and faulty intelligence: The suspicion is always a dangerous and too often an unreliable ally.”

Der Spiegel announced in July 1973 that the case had now been deliberated on by prosecutors in Stuttgart and the case against the policeman who shot Macleod had been dropped.

In 2007, two MPs from left wing party Die Linke (‘The Left’) requested information from the Bundestag (German Parliament) on the deaths of people at the hands of the police, prisons and the criminal justice system in the state’s fight against the RAF. In their request, they specifically mentioned the death of Macleod, stating that the full details of his death were still not known. The response by the Bundestag stated that 7 suspected RAF members had been killed between 1970 and 1998, with another 15 people injured.

In 2013, a former journalist from a local Stuttgart newspaper wrote that questions still needed to be answered about the case:

In July 1972, federal prosecutors closed the file McLeod. The Ninth Criminal Chamber of the Stuttgart Regional Court decided to not open a criminal trial of the gunman. The 36-year-old Detective Chief Master had acted in putative self-defense. The Labour MP Gavin strand of the Edinburgh constituency, from the Ian McLeod came, had called for an acknowledgment of the innocence of the murdered compatriot by the German authorities. He has received a diplomatic embellished with flourishes final report. The mother was offered a compensation of 135 000 marks, which she accepted a little later.

The police has been the case McLeod never worked. The newspaper did not also. My attempt to talk to the now 93-year-old Kriminaldirektor Frey about these past has failed, and the now 77-year-old gunman silent. From the former police leadership has only Günther Rathgeb (79), then head of the police, expressed at the time. He says:.. “In reality, politicians and security forces were taken by surprise, were not prepared and were sometimes completely helpless the events against a rule, barely stayed opportunity to actively and preventively to influence events almost exclusively one could only respond, had be wide awake, often take emergency decisions without guarantee of success and trust to luck. “

Where Ian McLeod is buried, I could not find out.

A German website dedicated to the history of political opposition in Germany has a page dedicated to the death of Macleod, with a lot of contemporary material from radical German groups and their responses to the death, as well as to the RAF more broadly. I enquired last year with the German State Archives about material relating to Macleod’s death. I was told that there are two closed files, which I can apply to have opened, although my success at gaining access is probably rather limited. But then again, I may apply to see them later in the year.

A radical interpretation of the events

A radical interpretation of the events

I have not mentioned what the FCO files from Kew say as I am hoping to put together a journal article on this case eventually. Anyone knows of any other potential sources should get in touch. I would also be interested in hearing from any German/German speaking historians who might be interested in working on this project with me – Google Translate can only help me so much!

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