`Danny the Red' targeted Wilson Tip-off warned Wilson of `wreckers'

Public Records 1968: As unrest swept Europe, Tony Benn confronted CND and Harold Wilson put troops on stand-by

HAROLD WILSON'S government became obsessed with security when an international wave of student protest in 1968 saw students and agitators targeting government figures and buildings.

It was a year of intense student unrest throughout the world. In Paris, strikers joined students to man barricades in the streets in May. A huge, violent demonstration against the Vietnam War took place outside the US embassy in Grosvenor Square, London, in October.

The Prime Minister's security files for 1968, some of which are released today, reveal tip-offs from members of the public of disruption by students of events attended by the Prime Minister. In June, Mr Wilson received a confidential letter from a senior member of staff at an English language school in London, warning him of a plan, organised by the German student leader "Danny the Red" Cohn-Bendit, to "wreck" an appearance by the Prime Minister at a university award ceremony. The letter revealed: "Two French students attending this school - both from the Sorbonne university and of good family and prospects - inform me that you are to preside at some ceremony at Bradford University sometime next month. It would appear that the gangster `Danny the Red' has given instructions that the ceremony should be wrecked."

The letter was handed over to Special Branch and, amid special security precautions, Mr Wilson presented an honorary degree at Bradford to M Roche, reader at the Sorbonne.

Shortly before, Tony Benn found himself confronting the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) during 1968, ready to oppose it "with whatever force was necessary" to stop protesters penetrating Britain's nuclear weapons factory. But Mr Wilson doubted that he was up to the job. Mr Benn - who has supported the campaign for most of the years since then - was the Minister of Technology in a Labour Cabinet at the time. His department oversaw the development of nuclear energy for war and peace.

Between these two events, the Cabinet gave urgent consideration to what might happen during CND's traditional Good Friday march from London to the Royal Ordnance Factory at Burghfield, Berkshire, and the nearby Atomic Weapons Research Establishment (AWRE) at Aldermaston.

Mr Benn told the Cabinet preparations had been made to resist any protest invasion at Burghfield, where Polaris nuclear missile warheads were manufactured. His permanent secretary had already sent a note to 10 Downing Street, saying all the conventional explosives and fissile (radioactive) materials used to make the weapons were being moved into the maximum-security magazines and bunkers in the factory's fortified core.

Any protesters who managed to penetrate the perimeter and outer defences would be blasted by firemen's hoses and have police dogs set on them.

But the Prime Minister was unconvinced, and urgent talks were held between ministers on the day before the 12 Aprilmarch, both within Cabinet and outside it. With three forces involved - the AWRE's, the Ministry of Defence's force and the civilian, Thames Valley force - he complained to Cabinet that the ultimate responsibility for controlling any attempted invasion by protesters was unclear. He ordered his Home Secretary, James Callaghan, to meet Mr Benn and the Defence Secretary, Denis Healey. He insisted military helicoptors should be put on stand-by to ferry in extra police and even troops if needed.

Mr Callaghan warned the Cabinet that extreme left-wing foreign students, especially West Germans, were likely to infiltrate the march, intent on provoking confrontation.

He blamed them for the "new and more violent tactics", seen at the Grosvenor Square demonstration. In the end, the march was more heavily policed than ever before and there was little disorder.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Development Manager

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Service and Installation Engineer

£22000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: SEO / Outreach Executive

£20000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is a global marketin...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Estimator

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?