The trial of Jeremy Thorpe

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Jeremy Thorpe | Uncredited Photo/Independent | 14359

Jeremy Thorpe, politician, was the flamboyant leader of the UK Liberal Party. He was brought down by allegations of homosexuality, which he denied, and conspiracy. His political career was damaged when an acquaintance, Norman Scott, claimed to have had a love affair with him during the years when homosexual acts were illegal in Britain. He was tried at the Old Bailey for the attempted murder of Norman Scott. Thorpe denied the charges and was acquitted of them all on 22 June 1979, shortly after losing his seat in the general election. The case is a graphic demonstration of how allegations of a person’s sexuality can cost them their job, livelihood and reputation.

Gay groups demonstrated at the Trial, claiming that homosexuality was being portrayed in an unfair light. Mr Thorpe did not appear best pleased.

Mr Thorpe has never made a public statement about his sexuality, and is still alive; he is known to suffer from Parkinsons’ Disease. Thorpe first married interior decorator Caroline Allpass (1938-–1970) in May 1968. Their son Rupert was born in 1969. Caroline Thorpe was killed in a car crash in June 1970. Thorpe then married Marion Stein in 1973. She is the former wife of the 7th Earl of Harewood, a first cousin of Queen Elizabeth II.

Rumours about Thorpe’s sexuality dogged his political career. Norman Scott met Thorpe in 1961 while working as a stable lad. He later claimed that he and Thorpe had had a homosexual relationship between 1961 and 1963, when homosexual acts were still illegal in Britain. The claims led to an inquiry within the Liberal Party in 1971, which exonerated Thorpe but did not quieten Scott.

In October 1975 Andrew Newton collected Norman Scott from where he was living in North Devon, and drove him to Porlock Hill, Exmoor where they stopped and got out of the car. Newton then shot Scott’s dog Rinka, a Great Dane, before turning the gun on Scott. When the case came before Exeter Crown court in March 1976, Scott said that the gun jammed and that Newton then drove off, leaving him alone beside the dead dog. Newton always maintained that his intention was only to frighten Scott, who, he alleged, possessed incriminating photographs of Newton. Newton was convicted for the illegal possession of a firearm and an intent to endanger life.

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During his court appearance, Scott (left) repeated his claims of a relationship with Thorpe, and alleged that Thorpe had threatened to kill him if he spoke about their affair. Scott also sold letters to the press which he claimed to be love letters from Thorpe. One of these included the memorable line “Bunnies can and will go to France”, which supposedly showed Thorpe using his ‘pet-name’ for Scott in connection with a promise to find Scott a well-paid job in France. Thorpe was forced to resign as Liberal Party leader on 9 May 1976.

Thorpe faced trial at Number One Court, the Old Bailey on 8 May 1979, one week after losing his Parliamentary seat. He was charged with attempted murder and conspiracy to murder. One chief prosecution witnesses was Peter Bessell, who claimed to have been present while the murder plot was discussed within the Liberal Party. Bessell agreed to appear as a witness in exchange for immunity from prosecution. His credibility was damaged because he had sold his story to The Sunday Telegraph for a fee that would double from £25,000 to £50,000 if the prosecution was successful.

Thorpe did not testify but his counsel, led by George Carman QC, argued that although he and Scott had been friends, there had been no sexual relationship. Carman claimed that Scott had sought to blackmail Thorpe, and that although Thorpe and his friends had discussed “frightening” Scott into silence, they had never conspired to kill him.

Getty | 14361

After 15 hours of deliberation, the jury reached a verdict of Not Guilty. The four defendants were all acquitted.


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