37 years after British diplomat Percy Norris was shot dead in Mumbai, family still seeking answers

A file photo of Percy Norris. Photo courtesy Collection of Martin Norris  

The family of a high-profile British diplomat who was assassinated in Mumbai 37 years ago has said it will “welcome” a reinvestigation of the case by British and Indian authorities. Madeleine and Martin Norris, children of slain Deputy High Commissioner Percy Norris, insist that the case has not been investigated thoroughly.

“We would very much welcome a proper investigation into the assassination,” Madeleine Norris told The Hindu in response to a question.

She had accompanied her parents Angela and Percy to Mumbai, where her father was appointed Deputy High Commissioner of the United Kingdom in October 1984. The assignment in Mumbai was crucial, as the Margaret Thatcher Government wanted to reach out to the new generation of Indian entrepreneurs and increase bilateral trade.

Born to a carpenter father and seamstress mother, Percy Norris was a self-made professional. Former Mumbai Police Commissioner Julio Ribeiro remembers him for his enthusiasm.

“He did not fit the usually formal image of the British officials that we had. He was very lively and social,” recounted Mr. Ribeiro, one of the few officials who came into contact with Norris during his fateful stay in Mumbai.

According to family records, Percy Leonard Norris began his career in Solomon Islands during 1956-58 and served in a number of postings, including in Malaysia and Dubai, before being posted to head the Deputy High Commission in Mumbai.

His appointment coincided with the visit of the English cricket team, which had continued with the Test series despite the general deterioration of law and order in the backdrop of the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and the anti-Sikh riots that followed in the first week of November.

On the night of 27 November, the Norrises hosted a party for the visiting cricket team. Apart from Mr. Ribeiro, the party was attended by Sunil Gavaskar, the then Home Secretary of Maharashtra R.D. Pradhan and the entire English cricket team led by David Gower and vice-captain Mike Gatting.

Cricketer Pat Pocock is among those who wrote about the lively evening they spent with Norris. One of the main topics of discussion was the match to be played at Wankhede stadium the next day.

The next morning, Ms. Madeleine Morris saw her father leave for his office at 8 a.m., and that was the last time she saw him alive. As the Deputy High Commissioner’s car neared Flora Fountain, rush-hour traffic slowed down the vehicle. That was when two bike-borne shooters came close and shot Percy Norris dead.

The clinically executed operation was claimed by an obscure outfit called Revolutionary Organisation of Muslim Socialists. Interestingly, the organisation was in the news when Kenneth Whitty, Cultural Attaché of the British Embassy in Athens, was murdered earlier that year. It is believed that this outfit worked as a front for Abu Nidal Organisation, which was part of the same international network that included the Irish Revolutionary Army.

The traumatic incident cast a shadow on the Norris family, which remains in the dark about what prompted the killing. The violent death of Norris was condemned by the highest officials of the United Kingdom and India but the Norris family did not receive satisfactory answers to its questions.

A number of people expressed suspicion about the manner of the death. Mr. Ribeiro, in his autobiography, said, “We got the feeling that there were facts that the British government was not going to disclose to us, and we respected their silence.”

Mr. Martin Norris, however, believes that after the regimes in Libya and Iraq were overthrown, there is new information about how terrorist groups operated in the 1970s and the 1980s, supported by the governments, and wishes a renewed investigation into the case, saying “One key issue is that, since 1985, my sister and I have heard nothing further on the matter at all. Unlike other terrorism-related cases, to the best of our knowledge, nothing more in the way of investigation has ever been pursued.”

The assassination of Norris is a tragic landmark, as it is the only such incident involving a British diplomat after India attained Independence in 1947.

Mr. Ribeiro, who met the late Mrs. Norris in London years later, recollected that even she had sought answers to the unsolved case.

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Printable version | Apr 11, 2021 4:35:05 PM |

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