The Boothby Scandal



Robert Boothby in 1945 | Public domain | 15405

In 1964, a major scandal threatened to engulf the UK’s Conservative Government when it was made aware of an alleged relationship between Robert (Bob) Boothby and gangland leader Ronnie Kray. Born in 1900 and educated at Eton and Oxford, he trained as an officer in the Brigade of Guards (but was too young for active service in the first world war). He then became a stockbroker and was first elected to Parliament in 1924.

Boothby married twice: between 1935 and 1937 he was married to Diana Cavendish and he married again in 1967 to Wanda Sanna. He is rumoured to have had children with other ladies under the noses of their husbands.

By 1964 Boothby had been given a life peerage and was a member of the House of Lords. He had previous held a Scottish seat of Parliament until he was elevated to the Lords in 1958. Then MI5 gained intelligence that Boothby was in a relationship with his chauffeur Leslie Holt and London gangster Ronnie Kray. The intelligence came from The Sunday Mirror which had allegedly acquired a photo of Boothby with Holt and Kray. MI5 concluded that Boothby’s private life was of no concern, since he had no access to classified secrets. It may not have had security implications for the country, but the affair had all the hallmarks of a potentially devastating political scandal – just months after the Profumo scandal – which would show the government yet again in a bad light.

MI5 files now declassified under the 50 year rule and released by the National Archives allege that the men went to “homosexual parties” together and were “hunters” of young men. The relationship between Boothby and Kray caused such concern within Downing Street that the then head of MI5 was summoned to the Home Office. The government was worried about a scandal greater than the so-called Profumo Affair. As well they might. The newspapers had information that from 1930 he had a long affair with Lady Dorothy Macmillan, wife of the Conservative politician Harold Macmillan, who was Prime Minister until he stood down through poor health in 1963.

Boothby was faced with the allegations and the alleged photograph. He said the photograph showed them discussing “business matters”, dismissing rumours about his personal life as a “tissue of atrocious lies”. The Sunday Mirror, which had not printed the photo or the story, ended up paying £40,000 damages to Boothby.