Chief negotiator during 1980 Iranian Embassy siege dies

The Metropolitan Police’s head negotiator who helped the SAS save the lives of 19 hostages during the 1980 Iranian Embassy sieged has died.

Chief Superintendant Max Vernon was part of a six-man team charged with negotiating the terrorists who besieged the South Kensington building.

His smooth-talking bought the SAS B Squardon time they needed to storm the Embassy, with millions watching on TV as the soldiers tossed stun grenades.

During the 17-minute raid, all but one of the six gunmen were shot and killed. a second hostage was shot dead by the gunmen and two others serious wounded.  

Vernon had experience of sieges, having been involved at Balcombe Street five years previously, when the IRA held two hostages for six days before surrendering.

The Met Chief Superintendant recalled: ‘I watched them negotiate at Balcombe Street and thought the guy who did it made a right cock-up. 

‘He insulted them. I don’t want a rapport with any bloody villain, but I do want communication. You don’t get that if you’re rude. Negotiation is a fencing match, you can’t afford to be on the back foot.’ 

Rusty Firman, who was a Lance Corporal in the Squadron, claimed without Vernon’s ‘the outcome could have been very different’.

Today Good Morning Britain host Piers Morgan led tributes, tweeting: ‘RIP Max Vernon, head police negotiator during the 1980 Iranian Embassy siege.  

Chief Superintendant Max Vernon successfully mediated with the six armed terrorists and bought the SAS B Squardon time they needed to storm the South Kensington building

Chief Superintendant Max Vernon successfully mediated with the six armed terrorists and bought the SAS B Squardon time they needed to storm the South Kensington building 

Armed police outside the Iranian Embassy in London in 1980

Armed police outside the Iranian Embassy in London in 1980

‘Rusty Firmin, one of the SAS leaders that day, said: ‘Max was the true hero, he bought us enough time to plan & prepare for the mission to rescue the hostages.’ Max was played by Mark Strong in 6 Days.’ 

Firman told the Mirror: ‘Max Vernon was the head negotiator. He kept them talking for six days and bought us time.

‘He deserves more credit than he ever got. Without that extra time the outcome could have been very different.’

Six gunmen forced their way into the embassy in West London in April 1980, demanding independence for part of southern Iran and taking 26 hostages.

The front page of the Daily Mail reporting the rescue

The front page of the Daily Mail reporting the rescue

They killed a hostage after six days, which led then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to order the SAS to storm the building.

The SAS teams, who had arrived secretly in London from their Hereford base carried out rescue mission Operation Nimrod.

Millions of watched on television in awe as they tossed stun grenades into the building to begin their assault.

The raid lasted just 17 minutes and all but one of the six gunmen were shot and killed. A second hostage was shot dead by the gunmen and two others seriously wounded.

Mr Vernon said he knew of the grave threat if he said the wrong thing.

He said he was not seeking rapport with the terrorists, adding: ‘That type of individual I detest because of what they were doing. All I wanted to do was control the situation and communicate.’

Another part of Mr Vernon’s heroism during the attack saw him volunteer to ferry cigarettes to the front door of the embassy to get pictures of the criminals inside.

He admitted they could have shot him or added him to their hostage list, adding it was not pleasant to look down to barrel of a machine gun.

In candid remarks, Mr Vernon noted the pressure it caused his family escaped him at the time.

He said his wife switched off the television in front of his children saying ‘if dad is going to get himself killed, I don’t want to see it’.

The Iranian embassy siege: The day the SAS emerged from the shadows

The siege began when a group of six gunmen stormed into the Iranian embassy in South Kensington, London, on April 30th 1980.

They took mostly embassy staff hostage but among them was BBC sound recordist Sim Harris who was at the embassy to get a visa.

PC Trevor Locke, a member of the diplomatic protection squad and on duty at the building, was also among those held at gunpoint.

The terrorists demanded the release of prisoners in Khuzestan Province in southern Iran during a series of tense negotiations with the police who sealed off the embassy and surrounding streets. The gunmen also demanded safe passage out of the Britain.

The veteran was among those who took part in the famous SAS raid of the Iranian embassy in 1980

The veteran was among those who took part in the famous SAS raid of the Iranian embassy in 1980

After becoming frustrated with the lack of progress over five days they shot one of the hostages and threw his body out of the embassy.

The death was the signal for the SAS – motto Who Dares Wins – to be sent in.

The SAS teams, who had arrived secretly in London from their Hereford base, were given permission by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to carry out a rescue mission given the code name Operation Nimrod.

On the evening of May 5th TV news cut into normal programming to broadcast the beginning of the end of the siege as the SAS soldiers all clad in black abseiled down the front of the building.

Millions watched in awe as they tossed stun grenades into the building to begin their assault.

BBC cameraman Sim Harris was captured scurrying to safety, jumping over a balcony, while smoke billowed from the building after a curtain caught fire.

What was unseen by cameras were the other teams – including Horsfall and Firmin – sweeping through the building in a race to free the hostages before they were shot.

The raid lasted just 17 minutes and all but one of the six gunmen were shot and killed.

A second hostage was shot dead by the gunmen and two others seriously wounded.

The televised raid was the first time the British public had ever seen the Special Forces soldiers in action and elevated them to superstar status. 

Fawsi Najad, the surviving gunman, was jailed for life and freed in 2008 after serving 27 years. He was granted leave to remain in the UK.

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