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Who was Michael Fagan and why did he break into the Queen’s bedroom?

The Londoner was able to scale the walls of Buckingham Palace and get into the Queen’s private apartments without being stopped

Sophie Gallagher
Thursday 26 November 2020 07:16 GMT
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After a long lockdown wait, the fourth season of The Crown has arrived on Netflix. Last season ended with the resignation of Harold Wilson, the attempted suicide of Princess Margaret and questions about the relevance of the royal family as the Queen reached her Silver Jubilee.

The new season, which focuses on the 1980s, brings further turmoil for the monarch with Margaret Thatcher’s premiership, the Falklands War and the arrival of Princess Diana into the firm as Prince Charles’ wife - a union that would end in the Queen’s much-cited annus horribilis.  

Olivia Coleman, Tobias Menzies, and Helena Bonham Carter are among the stars to resume their roles, while new actor Emma Corrin joins the cast as the Princess of Wales. Bringing with her a dramatic storyline that served to upset the well-maintained public facade of the family.  

Princess Diana wasn’t the only disturbance within the palace walls in the 1980s. The series will also touch on the Buckingham Palace break-in orchestrated by Michael Fagan in the summer of 1982. The incident - seen to be one of the greatest breaches of national security in modern history - even led to the attempted resignation of the home secretary Willie Whitelaw.

But who was Michael Fagan and what did we want from the Queen when he stumbled in through her bedroom window?

Who was Michael Fagan?

Born in August 1948 in Clerkenwell, London, to Michael and Ivy Fagan, Fagan had two younger sisters, Margaret and Elizabeth. He attended a local school in Compton Street, Islington, and then left home aged 16 to work as a painter and decorator.  

In 1972 he married wife Christine, with whom he had four children. The pair split just weeks before the incident at Buckingham Palace but eventually got back together some years later.

Fagan’s brief stint with fame, and being splashed across the world’s newspapers, came as a result of his actions on Friday 9 July 1982. Described as an “unlikely criminal mastermind”, Fagan was able to scale the walls of the palace and end up face-to-face with Her Majesty. 

The night in the Queen’s bedroom

Following the event, Scotland Yard issued a full report on the security breach detailing exactly how Fagan was able to circumvent all security measures and get into the palace.

It described how Fagan was seen on the railings near the ambassador’s entrance at around 6.45am. He climbed over the railings and concealed himself behind a temporary awning. He then entered a room on the ground floor through an unlocked window.

This room housed the Royal Stamp Collection, but unfortunately for Fagan all the doors were locked so he was denied access to the rest of the building. He came out through the same window and went to a drainpipe to climb to the first floor above.

He then removed his shoes and socks and entered another window left open by a housemaid (there were highs of 28 degrees on that day) into the office of the Master of the Household, Sir Peter Ashmore. For the next 15 minutes he moved around the corridors totally unchallenged.

Fagan then made his way to the private apartments, first to an anteroom where he smashed a glass ashtray into pieces. He then entered the Queen’s bedroom at 7.15am carrying a piece of the ashtray. “He has said that he intended to slash his wrists in the presence of Her Majesty,” reported Scotland Yard. Although “he had not entered the palace with this intention”.  

Once in her room, he went and opened the curtains by the Queen’s bed - at which point she pressed the night alarm bell. But, in accordance with protocol, the overnight police sergeant in the corridor outside had gone off duty at about six o’clock.

Other members of staff including the footman and maid were out exercising the dogs, and cleaning, so the night bell did not attract anyone’s attention. Her Majesty then used the bedside phone to call for police.

In a 2012 interview, Fagan told The Independent that the Queen was wearing a knee-length Liberty print nightdress in a double bed and said to him: “Wawrt are you doing here?!'" before running out of the room to get help. 

In the official report it says while waiting for the police to arrive Her Majesty managed to attract the attention of the maid, and together they ushered Fagan into a nearby pantry on the pretext of supplying him with a cigarette.  They were joined by a footman before the police arrived.

The piece of glass was subsequently found on the Queen’s bed alongside a bloodstain from a cut on Fagan’s hand. Fagan was arrested and charged with burglary at the palace.  

What was the fallout of the incident?

The incident obviously led to serious questions about how a member of the public could get to the Queen without being challenged. Particularly because there had been a number of issues concerning security in the same year, according to the Scotland Yard report.  

Indeed Fagan himself told reporters that it wasn’t the first time he had broken into the palace, claiming to have broken in a month prior, following the break-up of his marriage. On that occasion he broke into the window of a maid’s bedroom, who told security but no one was found and it was presumed she had imagined Fagan’s appearance. 

He said he was then left to roam and came across both Charles and Diana’s rooms (he says they have name plates on the door) and claimed to have urinated on a bowl of dog food because he couldn’t locate a bathroom.

Preliminary investigations into Fagan’s July break-in suggested a total breakdown in security was to blame. “While he was in the stamp room, Fagan set off an alarm which was not acted upon.”  

Going forward it was arranged that the Queen would have a police offer on protection duty at all times, not in partial shifts. It also led to the introduction of new beam systems, radio personal alarms, barrier fences, and the installation of CCTV.

Home Secretary Willie Whitelaw also offered his resignation as a result of the incident and mishandling of security but the Queen refused.

What happened to Fagan?

Trespassing into the Queen’s bedroom was only a civil offence at that time, not criminal (it became criminal in 2007 as part of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005). So Fagan was charged with theft (of some wine) but charges were dropped when he was committed for psychiatric evaluation. 

He went on to release a version of “God Save the Queen” with the Bollock Brothers in 1983, before later being in more trouble with the law.

In 1987 he was found guilty of indecent exposure in Essex (although he claimed that was a misunderstanding). Then in 1997, Fagan and his wife, Christine, were charged with conspiracy to supply heroin. Fagan went to prison for four years.

The Queen has never spoken publicly about the incident.

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