The story of a plant rescued as a “symbol of hope” by a Montrose resident in the aftermath of the Iranian Embassy siege has brought back memories to one of the SAS heroes who stormed the building after a six-day siege.
On April 30 1980, six armed men burst into the Iranian Embassy in South Kensington in London, demanding the release of a number of prisoners in foreign jails.
The building next door was the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), and working there that day was Dr James Smith, who had been accompanied to London by his wife Margaret, who now lives in Montrose.
The RCGP building was used as a base by the authorities, including members of the elite Special Air Service (SAS).
Robin Horsfall was one of the SAS troopers who was stationed in the RCGP as they waited for the command to re-take the embassy.
The SAS set up an intelligence centre on the second floor and began to study the layout of the building which, at 54 rooms, was substantial.
Part of the assault preparations included studying photographs of those inside, in order to separate the “bad from the good” when they went in.
Mr Horsfall said:” At 1913 hours, four shots exploded from the interior of the embassy and a few seconds later, the body of Lavasini (one of the hostages) was thrown on to the front steps, in full view of the world’s media.”
It was at this point that then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher gave the order to hand over control to the military.
Mr Horsfall said: “Around me team members moved into position calmly and without undue haste.
“I looked up as three bullet holes appeared in the window above my head.”
Looking into the gas and smoke-filled room, Mr Horsfall identified one of the hostages, PC Trevor Locke, and guided him to colleagues before returning to his position.
On command, Mr Horsfall and his partner lunged into the building and helped get the hostages to safety.
However, a shout alerted the team that a gunman was among the hostages.
Mr Horsfall said: “One of the assault team hit the man with the butt of his weapon and launched him down to where the stairs cornered sharply to the right.
“He stumbled around the corner and down the last few steps.
“It was Faisal, and he held a grenade in his right hand.
“Without hesitation, I fired one short burst of four rounds at his chest.
“All four of the team in the foyer also opened fire.”
The terrorist was shot 27 times.
With the building on fire, the teams evacuated the embassy.
After a siege that had lasted six days, storming the embassy, and rescuing the hostages had taken just seven minutes, and after the teams had regrouped and handed control back to the police, the job of the SAS was done, and only 17 minutes had elapsed.
Mr Horsfall said: “The siege continues to attract a lot of interest, and I was not aware that the plant in Montrose had been rescued from the garden.
“I’m glad that it is still going strong and gives people so much pleasure.”
How the flower was rescued
Mrs Margaret Smith, who still lives in Montrose, recalls the siege and rescuing the plant from the debris-strewn garden.
She said: “After the sound of gunfire, police came to the building and instructed everyone to leave as best they could.
“The police were marvellous and escorted everyone out.
“It was a year later when we went back to the Royal College of GPs to look at the damage.
“The wreckage had killed off almost all of the vegetation, but a beautiful, small flower remained, and I undertook to save it.
“Someone provided me with paper and I wrapped it up and took it back to Edinburgh and replanted it, and when we moved to Montrose, it came with us.”
The plant continues to thrive in the in the garden of Dorward House in the town.
Robin Horsfall – Life after the SAS
After leaving the army in 1984 at the age of 27, Robin Horsfall was employed as a high-level bodyguard, as well as serving as a ‘contract soldier’ abroad.
In 1993, after many years studying martial arts, Horsfall began to teach karate professionally in London, where he focused on developing self-esteem and confidence in his students.
Following a neck fracture, Robin retired from martial arts and turned his attention to education, completing a degree in English Literature with Creative Writing at Surrey University in 2015.
He has published three books. His autobiography, Fighting Scared, published in 2002 continues to attract strong sales, along with his two anthologies of philosophical proverbs, short stories, maxims and poetry under the title of “The Words of the Wise Old Paratrooper” and “More Words of the Wise Old Paratrooper”.
With another book in the pipeline, Robin has also entered politics and is now the leader of the fledgling Veterans and People’s Party, which is looking to field candidates in forthcoming elections.
He is married to Heather and has a large family.