The West German police, the RAF manhunt and the killing of a British citizen: Reading the (slim) FCO file on the death of Iain Macleod

This is the draft of a paper that I presented at the online conference of the Australasian Association of European Historians last year. It is a reading of the rather slim FCO file on the death of Iain Macleod, a British citizen who was killed by the West German police during a raid on a suspected Red Army Faction safehouse in Stuttgart in 1972. I have also written this about the problems with piecing together the information surrounding his death.

I am hoping to combine these two papers into something more substantial soon, with a colleague based in Germany coming on to the project to look through the German archives and analyse the German language sources. 

I think this is an interesting case in the history of counter-terrorism in Western Europe in the early 1970s, as both Britain and West Germany grappled with the problem of international terrorism. 

Guardian reporting on the investigation into Macleod’s death, 9 October, 1972

Early in the morning of 25 June, 1972, West German police officers raided a suspected safehouse of the Red Army Faction (colloquially known as the Baader-Meinhof Gang). The flat was being rented by someone who allegedly rented another residence and phoneline used by people associated with the RAF. In a series of dawn raids, the police entered the flat and upon seeing someone coming from the bedroom, fired twice through a closing door. The individual, who was unarmed, was fatally shot in the neck and back. It soon emerged that this individual was Iain Macleod, a British national from Scotland, who had previously worked for the British Consulate in Stuttgart and was now representing a UK business in Germany.

Coming a few weeks after the capture of the leaders of the RAF, Andreas Baader, Ulrike Meinhof and Gudrun Ensslin, the German authorities were keen to widen their manhunt. According to the Public Prosecutor in Stuttgart (cited by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office):

Two police officers went to Macleod’s flat early on 25 June to execute a warrant for his arrest on suspicion of aiding the Baader-Meinhof Group. The police expected several other wanted people to be in Macleod’s flat and hoped to surprise them in their sleep.[1]

An article in The Times further cited the argument put forward by the German authorities (which they claimed were ‘well-placed sources’) for the raid:

These sources said that [Macleod] was also the tenant of another flat in Stuttgart which had been unoccupied for some time. Calls between Herr Baade and Fraulein Ensslin were said to have been made from it.

A secret letter from Fraulein Ensslin to Frau Meinhof, which was smuggled out of prison after Fraulein Ensslin’s capture and before that of Frau Meinhof, made reference to someone called ‘Mac’ who, from the context, appeared to be some importance to the gang.

According to the sources, a key to Mr Macleod’s second flat was found among Fraulein Ensslin’s possessions after her arrest in a Hamburg store earlier this month. It appears that the police had been tapping the telephone for which Mr Macleod had been paying the bills.[2]

Upon hearing of the shooting and the German version of events, the FCO made enquiries with the Consulate in Stuttgart, who reported that Macleod had ‘continued to enjoy excellent and close relations with the Consulate General and with the British community in Stuttgart’.[3] It had been flagged that he ‘had been detected seeking information on NATO installations in the vicinity of Verona in 1969’, to which Macleod replied when questioned about this, ‘he had been a member of a team selling an American encyclopedia to US Forces in Central Europe’.[4] The telex message concluded that it was ‘decided by security authorities in Germany that this did not justify the classification of Macleod as a security threat’.[5]

The British press also reported on the unlikeliness of Macleod being involved with the RAF, stating ‘his friends said he was a ‘highly respected’ member of the British community whose interests were mostly ballet and art’, adding he allegedly ‘had no interest in politics and had given no indications of “Left-wing thinking.”’[6]

Despite the context provided by the German authorities, the FCO was not entirely convinced. While stressing that the FCO did not want to anticipate the German investigations into the shooting and Macleod’s allege links to the RAF, a telex message from the British Embassy in Bonn stated, ‘On the evidence so far available to use, the conduct of the police officials who went to arrest Macleod was deplorable.’[7] A telex message the following day expressed more concerns about the ‘unsatisfactory features’ of the German narrative of events, calling out the ‘apparently unjustified and indiscriminate use of fire arms by the police’ and the ‘implication in the statement by the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office… that Macleod had provoked the shooting’.[8] They were also sceptical of the German argument that the ‘Mac’ referred to in the communication from Ensslin to Meinhof meant Macleod. Another telex message sent that day approvingly quoted the Frankfurter Allegemeine Zeitung that:

Nobody should be shot merely because he might be dangerous. A shot fired through a closed door, at random, as illegal. The question at issue here was not the search for Baader/Meinhof, but the killing of a human being.[9]

Frustrated with the narrative being put forward in public by the Public Prosecutor in Stuttgart, the FCO deliberated whether to leave the investigation with the Public Prosecutor, make a formal request for information to the Land Minister President or make an approach by the British Embassy at federal level.[10] Of the three options, leaving it with the Public Prosecutor had, in their eyes, ‘the advantage of keeping the general temperature down’, but also acknowledged that ‘this might lay us open to criticism for appearing to treat the matter too much as a routine case.’[11] Regarding an approach to the federal authorities, a perceived advantage was that ‘it would remove the enquiry from the field of consular activity and place it on the diplomatic level’, but recognised that this path may ‘make it a tiresome issue in Anglo-German relations’.[12] ‘On the other hand’, the telex message from Bonn stated, ‘interest in the case in the UK may make it an issue in that sense in any case.’[13] A suggestion was thus made for a formal approach the Land Minister President ‘asking for clarification of the circumstances of Macleod’s death and the causes of the shooting’, while an informal approach was to be made at the federal level.[14] Any approach, it was stressed, would need to be accompanied by a note that ‘there is a British interest involved and that we should be grateful for restraint and circumspection in public comments until investigation have been completed’.[15]

Senior British diplomat Christopher Audland communicated to the German Ministry for Foreign Affairs (MFA) that the FCO was unpleased with the way that the investigation into Macleod’s death was unfolding. Alongside disapproval of the public statements made by the German authorities, Audland criticised the actions of the police leading up to the shooting, as well as what occurred at Macleod’s flat. Audland told the MFA representative that the raid on the flat ‘appeared on the evidence so far published, to have been executed on a basis of inaccurate or even misleading information’.[16] He also heavily criticised the police involved in the shooting and was quoted as saying:

The police officials who entered the flat appeared to have exercised inadequate fire discipline, in view of the fact that they were faced by a man who was alone and unarmed…

It was difficult to reconcile this with the Stuttgart Public Prosecutor’s reference to ‘putative notwehr’ (an imagined need for self-defence).[17]

Audland reportedly concluded that the British press ‘had so far been restrained, but it would be surprising if restraint continued to be exercised’.[18]

As the days went by, the story told by the police and the Public Prosecutor seemed to be on increasingly shaky ground. A telex message on 1 July noted that a report from the MFA only explained the very circumstantial evidence used as a pretext to raid Macleod’s flat, but it did ‘not suggest, as previous official statements have, that an involvement between Macleod and the Baader-Meinhof Group is proved.’[19] Over the next few weeks, more details emerged of why Macleod’s flat was targeted by the police in the hunt for members of the RAF. The FCO explained:

(a) A Swiss helper’s helper of the Baader-Meinhof Group who was in direct contact with the leading members of the gang , Andreas Baader and Gudrun Ensslin, and who had agreed to deliver to them weapons, munitions and ignition gear for bombs, had maintained contact with the gang through a telephone number which had been allocated to Iain Macleod, living in Stuttgart, Seidenstrasse 71.

(b) Iain Macleod had registered as the person living in the flat in the accommodation registration office.

(c) The nameplate of Macleod was affixed to the door bell of this flat.[20]

The phone number was being used by an RAF contact with the code name ‘Gabi’ (allegedly identified as Irmgard Moeller) who would lead the Swiss contact to a flat in Stuttgart where weapons were being stored (Obere Weinsteige 96, not registered to Macleod).[21] But as the phone number was registered in Macleod’s name at Seidenstrasse 71, he came under suspicion. Macleod did not actually live at this address (although this could not be confirmed as the owner of the flat was on a sea voyage), but from December 1971, he was also registered as having another flat in Stuttgart, Asenwald 60 (where the shooting took place).[22] Raids at all three addresses were executed by the police on 25 June, 1972. The Obere Weinsteige property had been evacuated, while the police found an arsenal of weapons at Seidenstrasse.[23]

However it emerged that when Macleod had moved to Asenwald 60 in December 1971, he had given up the flat and ‘had nothing to do with its further letting’.[24] The FCO added:

it was possible that the re-registration of the telephone, and the removal of the name-plate from the door had been omitted out of negligence, and it is a fair assumption that this negligence had been consequently used by the gang for camouflage.

Therefore, the FCO concluded, ‘there is no basis for suspicion against the deceased Macleod.’[25]

But at the same time, the German authorities still maintained that the shooting was an understandable error. A report by the Ministry for Justice of Land Baden-Wuerttenberg noted that while ‘objectively a situation requiring self-defence did not exist’, it would ‘not be possible to disprove that at the moment of firing [the police officer] was erroneously under the impression of being attacked himself, and he therefore acted in an imagined situation of self-defence’.[26] Having arrested several members of the RAF in recent weeks, the police expected the possibility of violence when executing these raids on the alleged safehouses and thus to catch the RAF unaware, these raids were to be carried out to surprise them in their sleep. The MoJ report added, ‘the timing and the organisation of the search gave rise to such a strong expectation that the surprise which was being sought would be achieved, that unheralded the opening of the door, the sudden appearance of the man, and his cry, surprised [the accused police officer] and gave him a considerable shock’,[27] which may have led to the above mentioned imagined situation of self-defence. The police officer himself as quoted in the Daily Telegraph as saying:

Suddenly I faced a man in the door… I thought he was going to attack me… I fired. I do not know why. It was all too quick to remember details.[28]

By the next month, the Baden-Wuerttenberg Ministry of the Interior had rejected a formal complaint against the officials responsible for the operation which led to the shooting on Iain Macleod, with the Minister reportedly asserting that ‘the planning and preparation of the operation at Macelod’s flat were not open to criticism’ and that ‘he accepted the police view that the facts of the case justified them in anticipating violence’ during the raid.[29] The FCO expressed concern that this decision would mean that the only person possibly held responsible for the shooting was the officer who fired the fatal shots. The Embassy in Bonn warned:

Attempts were now being made to pass the responsibility downwards. Whoever condoned such action not only denied the necessity for care before such massive police operations were ordered but also ignored the existence of levels of responsibility.[30]

This is as far as the record goes in the FCO file that is available. The Guardian reported in November 1972 that Detective Sergeant Wolfram Koglin, who had shot Macleod, was to stand trial for negligent homicide.[31]But in July 1973, the newspaper briefly reported that the trial would not go ahead.[32]

The FCO file is quite thin and follows the office trying to establish what happened to Macleod and the information being provided by the German authorities in the weeks following the shooting. They reveal that there was obvious British sympathy with the German pursuit of the RAF, who were seen as dangerous terrorists, and there was acknowledgment that previous police operations against the RAF had involved gun violence and the shooting of police personnel. The FCO were hesitant to publicly criticise the Germans, beyond Christopher Audland’s frank words to the MFA, as mentioned above. This may be because the British had similar counter-terrorist concerns at this time, particularly concerned about militant Irish republicanism and its links to international terrorism in the early 1970s.

It has been suggested that the file held at the National Archives in Kew might be thin because all of the intelligence documents that it might have held at some point have been removed (although there is no explicit mention of this in the file, unlike other FCO files dealing with Middle Eastern and North African terrorism which detail which folios have been excised). One of the rumours in both the German and British radical press was that Macleod was ‘a British agent who had infiltrated and was working with the Red Army Faction.’[33] As intelligence files from the Cold War era are notoriously difficult to access, historians may not be able to ever confirm this. There are two closed files in Germany on the case, but these may possibly be opened upon request.

[1]FCO TELEX NO 264 to Berlin, 26 June, FCO 90/1, The National Archives (hereafter TNA).

[2] The Times, 26 June, 1972, p. 1.

[3]FCO TELEX NO 264 to Berlin, 26 June, FCO 90/1, TNA.

[4]Ibid.

[5]Ibid.

[6] The Daily Telegraph, 27 June, 1972, p. 17.

[7]FCO TELEX NO 265, 26 June, 1972, FCO 90/1, TNA.

[8]FCO TELEX NO 875, 27 June, 1972, FCO 90/1, TNA.

[9]Cited, FCO TELEX NO 873, 27 June, 1972, FCO 90/1, TNA.

[10]Ibid.

[11]Ibid.

[12]Ibid.

[13]Ibid.

[14]Ibid.

[15]Ibid.

[16]FCO TELEX NO 878, 28 June, 1972, FCO 90/1, TNA.

[17]Ibid.

[18]Ibid.

[19]FCO TELEX NO 964, 1 July, 1972, FCO 90/1, TNA.

[20]FCO TELEX NO 1345, 21 July, 1972, FCO 90/1, TNA.

[21]Translated report of the Federal Public Prosecutor, 4 July, 1972, FCO 90/1, TNA.

[22]Ibid.

[23]Ibid.

[24]FCO TELEX NO 1345, 21 July, 1972.

[25]Ibid.

[26]Translation of a Report by the Ministry for Justice of Land Baden-Wuerttenberg, 21 July, 1972, FCO 90/1, TNA.

[27]Ibid.

[28] The Daily Telegraph, 28 June, 1972, p. 15.

[29]FCO TELEX NO 1127, 10 August, 1972, FCO 90/1, TNA.

[30]Ibid.

[31] The Guardian, 9 November, 1972, p. 4.

[32] The Guardian, 12 July 1973, p. 1.

[33]Tony Bunyan, The Political Police in Britain (London: Julian Friedmann, 1976) p. 190.

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