A Brief History of Political Scandals


Here is a short selection of some of the more notable political scandals to have enveloped the British establishment in the last 40 years.

The Stonehouse scandal

The scandal: John Stonehouse was a Labour MP in the ’70s who became a minister despite accusations that he was a spy for Czechoslovakia.

On 20 November 1974, a pile of clothes was found on a beach in Miami and he was presumed dead.

However, it later emerged that Stonehouse had faked his own death to escape business debts and begin a new life with his mistress and former secretary Sheila Buckley, whom he later married, in Australia.

He was caught and extradited to England but, surprisingly, continued to sit as an MP.

Stonehouse was tried on 21 charges of fraud, theft, forgery, conspiracy to defraud, causing a false police investigation and wasting police time.

The outcome: Stonehouse was convicted, resigned as an MP, and served seven years in prison. He died in 1988.

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The gay Liberal, aka "Rinkagate"

The scandal: The Liberal party leader Jeremy Thorpe was regularly the subject of rumours that he was homosexual during the 1970s, at a time when gay sex was still illegal in Britain.

Norman Scott, a former male model, claimed to have had a homosexual relationship with Thorpe and the comments led to a party inquiry which cleared its leader but Scott continued to make his claims.

Then, in October 1975, Scott accepted a lift from a man claiming to have been secretly assigned to protect him. As they drove across Exmoor, in Devon, the man produced a gun and tried to shoot Scott but the Great Dane he had with him, called Rinka, got in the way.

The former model claimed in court that Thorpe had threatened to kill him and the politician was later charged with conspiracy to murder.

Before he was tried at the Old Bailey he lost his parliamentary seat in the 1979 General Election.

The outcome: Thorpe found not guilty but was later diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and retired from public life.

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Jeffrey Archer: trials and prostitution

The scandal: The then-Tory MP Jeffrey Archer was accused of having sex with a prostitute by a newspaper in 1987. He brought a libel action and won, getting £500,000 in damages.

Mr Justice Caulfield had given a memorable description of Archer’s wife to the jury, saying: "Your vision of her probably will never disappear. Has she elegance? Has she fragrance? Would she have, without the strain of this trial, radiance?"

He had continued of her husband: "Is he in need of cold, unloving, rubber-insulated sex in a seedy hotel round about quarter to one on a Tuesday morning after an evening at the Caprice?"

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In 1999, it was disclosed that the politician, who had by now been awarded a peerage, had fabricated his alibi for the 1987 trial and he was charged with perjury.

The outcome: Lord Archer was jailed for four years but remains a peer and continues to publish novels.

Cash for questions

The scandal: MP Neil Hamilton was accused with fellow Conservative Tim Smith of taking large sums of cash in brown envelopes from Mohamed Fayed, the Harrods owner, to ask questions in the House of Commons.

Smith admitted to the payments and resigned immediately but Hamilton protested his innocence and launched a libel suit against The Guardian, which had published the accusations.

The subsequent furore became known as the "cash for questions" affair but no police investigation was launched.

The outcome: Hamilton dropped the case but was eventually forced to resign as corporate affairs minister. Smith took no further part in politics.

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March 24, 2010