A Very English Scandal

Laura White
Laura White

A new BBC drama reignites interest in Britain’s biggest political sex scandal.

This is a story of intrigue, plotted in the smoke filled rooms of the House of Commons and a conspiracy to murder that ended with the trial of the century; a sensational court case at the Old Bailey.

Jeremy Thorpe, the MP for North Devon, was the charismatic leader of the Liberal Party who had a homosexual

affair with male model Norman Scott, at a time when it was illegal.

A three-part drama – A Very English Scandal – is to be aired this month with Hugh Grant as Thorpe and Ben Wishaw as Norman Scott. The scandal arose when Scott made persistent allegations that he had had a homosexual relationship with Thorpe who was now leading a resurgent Liberal Party and was seen as a possible member of the cabinet in a coalition government.

Attempts to silence Scott were unsuccessful until a hired hitman, pilot Andrew ‘Gino’ Newton, was employed to kill Scott. In 1975 Newton lured Scott to a remote area of Exmoor where Newton had dug a grave. First he shot Scott’s Great Dane Rinka, Newton then put the hand gun to Norman Scott’s head and pulled the trigger but the gun had jammed.

“I can almost still feel the muzzle of the gun. What you have to realise is that had Rinka not been with me he would have killed me,” Norman Scott told The Times in a recent interview given at his
Dartmoor home. The gunman then panicked and fled leaving Scott by the roadside with his dead dog until he flagged down a passing AA patrolman.

The whole story blew open and a subsequent trial of the four defendants, including Jeremy Thorpe, took place in the glare of publicity at the Old Bailey where all four were found not guilty. Jeremy Thorpe’s political dreams were left in tatters.

A Panorama programme made by the BBC reporter Tom Mangold was pulled by the BBC in 1979 and the then Director General Ian Trethowan ordered that all tapes of the programme be handed over or destroyed but reporter Tom Mangold kept one copy.

The programme is to be shown for the first time on BBC4 after the last episode of A Very English Scandal and sheds light on the cover-up at the highest level of a political murder-plot.

“It was the Establishment looking after itself,” said Mangold, “particularly when you go back to the early 1960s when Thorpe was being investigated by the Met Police and MI5, who did nothing. But this was the time of (John) Profumo and spy John Vassell and the defection of Kim Philby to Russia. The last thing they wanted was another scandal.”

It has recently been discovered that Robert Kennedy, the US attorney-general in his brother President Jack Kennedy’s administration, found out about Jeremy Thorpe’s homosexuality 16 years before his career unravelled. This information came to light in a four page letter to a man named Bruno who lived in San Francisco, who Thorpe met in 1961.

The letter was intercepted by the FBI. Robert Kennedy informed someone at the House of Commons of the content of Thorpe’s letter.

In the letter Thorpe said “If I am driven out of public life in Britain I shall settle in SF.” He went on to say: “I must get on to some SF mission, which the British or American taxpayers will pay for.”

The letter was released to the BBC under American freedom of information law.

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