Former Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe
It’s been a good week for Eric Pickles. On Monday, the Local Government Secretary gave a barnstorming speech at the Conservative Party conference, one that seemed to be composed entirely of Daily Express sub-heads. “I want to stop clipboard-wielding inspectors peering into your children’s bedrooms or nosing about your bathroom,” he inflected, in his curiously small voice. “Did you put a yoghurt pot in the wrong recycling bin? Did you put your bin out at the wrong hour? Watch out! Because nobody expects the Town Hall Binquisition.” Hmm. Reminds us of that famous victim of British extraordinary rendition and illegal torture – Bin-yamin Mohamed.
Meanwhile, the joke that is privately doing the rounds allegedly comes straight from the rubbery lips of David Cameron: “The Liberals used to shoot your dog, now they steal your cat." The second part of that hiiiiilarious gag refers to the ex-wife of Lib Dem MP John Hemming, who was on trial last week for allegedly liberating the family cat from the clutches of her estranged spouse. The former Mrs Hemming still claims she 'can't remember' taking the animal, and the kitten has never been found.
The first half of the PM's joke refers to an incident now largely forgotten outside of political circles, but one that formed the basis of one of the most extraordinary and salacious trials in British political history. In 1978, Jeremy Thorpe, the Liberal leader, was charged with incitement to murder. The allegations all related to one bizarre afternoon in Devon. In October 1975, a man called Andrew Newton collected a man named Norman Scott in his car, and they went for a drive along Exmoor. The pair then got out of the car to admire a particularly scenic view, and Newton shot Scott’s dog – a Great Dane named Rinka – in the head. It's alleged that he then tried to turn the gun on Scott, but the gun jammed. Newton drove off.
Norman Scott In the fallout, Newton did time for firearms offences, though he maintained he had only wanted to frighten Scott. But there was another side to this dead dog triangle. Enter Jeremy Thorpe; the long, louche Liberal leader with a penchant for Edwardian suits who had become boss of his party at the tender age of 37.
At a time when homosexuality was still illegal in the UK, it was to the Liberal Party's disquiet that Scott just wouldn't shut up about how he and Thorpe had once been gay lovers. He now believed that Thorpe had tried to silence these claims by hiring Newton to drive him out into the country and shoot him dead. To support this theory in court, Scott produced 'love letters' sent to him by Thorpe, one of which referred to Scott as "Bunnies", apparently a pet-name bestowed upon him by the MP.
Thorpe admitted that the pair had been friends, but denied the allegations. Nevertheless, the shockwaves unseated him as Liberal leader, and, sure enough, in 1978 Newton emerged from prison and announced that he was definitely part of a conspiracy to murder that included Thorpe, the deputy-treasurer of the Liberal Party, a nightclub owner, and a carpet retailer. Another former Liberal MP said he'd been party to discussions about poisoning Scott and dumping his poor, lovelorn body down a tin mine.
Even with a cravenly pro-Thorpe summing up from the judge, the jury were tied six-apiece after a day of deliberations. Eventually, they found Thorpe and his co-conspirators not guilty.
Jeremy Thorpe with Jimi Hendrix and Mitch Mitchell, backstage at the Royal Festival Hall in 1967 It was a hollow victory for Thorpe. He had lost his seat in the 1979 election, a week before he went on trial, and found out he had Parkinson's Disease not long after. Now aged 82, he has rarely ever ventured into public since, and the once witty, blazing star of 70s politics was rejected even for a lowly race relations post on the old Greater London Council. In the only interview he's conducted since, he seemed a broken, disconsolate man, accusing the South African government of besmirching his name due to his anti-Apartheid views.
Scott lives on, in a house reputedly paid for by an anonymous ‘benefactor’. Meanwhile, Newton is also still alive. But he changed his name to Hann Redwin after the trial: an anagram, as far as anyone can tell, of 'Winner Hand'. In 1993, his partner, Caroline Mayorcas, fell 900ft to her death while climbing in the Alps. Redwin was the only person there to witness her final moments.
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