'We have been in pretty close touch with the South African government throughout, right up to De Klerk's level, and found ready agreement from him that the two should be arrested in the UK, and even charged if necessary,' said a British source. 'The only reason that proved impossible was because of insufficient evidence on the British side, so they were booted out instead.'
It was clear that Britain was making a point of emphasising the co-operation they had enjoyed from Mr de Klerk since the plot to assassinate a South African defector was uncovered in April. The emphasis on Mr de Klerk as 'Mr Clean' was especially crucial as the United Nations Security Council was meeting yesterday to debate international action on South Africa; Britain wants to prevent calls for sanctions and any intervention by the UN that Mr de Klerk does not want.
But publicity for an assassination attempt in Britain planned by serving South African security agents spotlights Mr de Klerk's lack of control. It provides the South African president with a test of his will - to bring the security forces under control by sacking key officers or call yet another inquiry and do little. Mr de Klerk's announcement that 32 Battalion, the veteran counter-insurgency unit of the South African Defence Force, would be disbanded will not calm ANC anger over the recent violence or draw them back to negotiating.
British attempts to protect Mr de Klerk were condemned at a conference on political violence in South Africa organised by the UN Special Committee against Apartheid and the Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM). 'There is now enormous evidence of state complicity,' said Abdul Minty of the UN Special Committee. 'If De Klerk doesn't know what is going on then how can he negotiate South Africa's future, because he's clearly not in control.'
Mr Minty said that evidence of illegal behaviour by South African agents had not been acted upon because Western countries did not want to put Mr de Klerk under pressure. 'The right wing know that, so they continue to do whatever they like and De Klerk does nothing to stop them.'
Robert Hughes, chairman of the AAM, said he would ask the Government in parliament why the South African agents and their Irish contacts were not charged and what protest had been lodged with South Africa. 'I will also ask the Home Secretary to investigate South African security operations in the UK,' said Mr Hughes.
The conference called for international action to monitor and investigate political violence in South Africa and to force the South African government to take steps to stop the violence.