Belfast Telegraph

Balcombe Street siege negotiator who went on to lead Met dies at 84

By Staff Reporter

Peter Imbert, the police officer who played a key role in ending the Balcombe Street siege and later became chief commissioner of the Met, has died aged 84.

Imbert's role in the stand-off involving the IRA in December 1975 revealed not a only a skilled counter-terrorist investigator and diplomat, but also a policeman prepared to take risks.

Four IRA men under surveillance had fired shots into Scott's restaurant in Mayfair, London, and were then chased by police in a commandeered taxi cab.

Reaching Balcombe Street in Marylebone, they forced their way into a flat and took two elderly occupants, John and Shelia Matthews, hostage.

Two of the gang had assassinated Ross McWhirter, a right-wing activist, nine days before.

The official line was that there would be no concessions.

However, Imbert, then a detective superintendent in the anti- terrorist branch, had different ideas.

Ignoring instructions, he sent food to the flat.

When the gunmen initially refused to accept the delivery, he told them: "This is a public pronouncement.

"The Press will know that the food is for the hostages and you are ignoring it."

He stood outside the flat or chatted down a special landline to the leader of the group, 'Tom' - otherwise known as Joe O'Connell - day after day.

The rapport he achieved was a crucial factor in the decision by the gunmen to surrender after six days.

A more controversial episode in Imbert's career was highlighted towards the end of the subsequent trial when O'Connell addressed the court.

"We have instructed our lawyers to draw the attention of the court to the fact that four totally innocent people - Carole Richardson, Gerry Conlon, Paul Hill and Paddy Armstrong - are serving massive sentences for three bombings, two in Guildford and one in Woolwich, which three of us and another man now imprisoned, have admitted that we did."

Imbert had been part of the team that had interrogated the Guildford Four, and insisted that he believed their confessions.

He later gave evidence for three officers charged with perverting the course of justice in connection with the case, and told the court that his notes relating to the questioning of Armstrong were "as accurate as one could humanly make it".

The cold, difficult days in the public eye in Balcombe Street were Imbert's stepping stone to a higher office.

They underlined his belief in personal relations and his preparedness to take an unorthodox line.

According to The Times, he went on to become the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, issuing a number of reforms - including changing its name from the Metropolitan Police Force.

The Real IRA attempted to catch up with him in 1990 at a conference on terrorism he was due to address when a bomb was found under the lectern.

Had he known about the device, Imbert said, he would have worn an old suit.

He died of undisclosed causes on November 13.

Belfast Telegraph


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