Jeremy Thorpe
John Jeremy Thorpe is a British former politician who was leader of the Liberal Party
Liberal Party (UK)
The Liberal Party was one of the two major political parties of the United Kingdom during the 19th and early 20th centuries. It was a third party of negligible importance throughout the latter half of the 20th Century, before merging with the Social Democratic Party in 1988 to form the present day...

 from 1967 to 1976 and was the Member of Parliament (MP) for North Devon
North Devon (UK Parliament constituency)
North Devon is a county constituency represented in the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It elects one Member of Parliament by the first-past-the-post system of election....

 from 1959 to 1979. His political career was damaged when an acquaintance, Norman Scott, claimed to have had a love affair with Thorpe at a time when homosexual acts were illegal in Britain. Thorpe denied these claims and was charged with conspiring to murder Scott, though he was acquitted of these charges in 1979, shortly after losing his seat in the general election.

Early life

Thorpe is the son of John Henry Thorpe
John Henry Thorpe
John Henry Thorpe OBE was a British Conservative politician.Thorpe was the eldest son of Ven. John Henry Thorpe, Archdeacon of Macclesfield. He trained as a barrister and entered the Commons in 1919 as a MP for Manchester Rusholme...

, a maternal grandson of Sir John Norton-Griffiths
John Norton-Griffiths
Lieutenant-Colonel Sir John Norton-Griffiths, 1st Baronet KCB DSO was an engineer, soldier during the Second Boer War and World War I, and later a British Member of Parliament.-Early life:...

 (both Conservative
Conservative Party (UK)
The Conservative Party, formally the Conservative and Unionist Party, is a centre-right political party in the United Kingdom that adheres to the philosophies of conservatism and British unionism. It is the largest political party in the UK, and is currently the largest single party in the House...

 MPs), and a descendant of Thomas Thorpe
Thomas Thorpe (Speaker of the House of Commons)
Sir Thomas Thorpe was Speaker of the House of Commons in England from 8 March 1453 until 16 February 1454.He worked as a clerk in the royal Exchequer, reaching a position of Baron of the Exchequer. His parliamentary career began in Oct 1449 when he was elected junior knight of the shire of...

, Speaker of the House of Commons
Speaker of the British House of Commons
The Speaker of the House of Commons is the presiding officer of the House of Commons, the United Kingdom's lower chamber of Parliament. The current Speaker is John Bercow, who was elected on 22 June 2009, following the resignation of Michael Martin...

 from 1452 to 1453.


Thorpe was educated at two independent school
Independent school
An independent school is a school that is independent in its finances and governance; it is not dependent upon national or local government for financing its operations, nor reliant on taxpayer contributions, and is instead funded by a combination of tuition charges, gifts, and in some cases the...

s: at Hazelwood School
Hazelwood School
Hazelwood School is an independent prep school located in Limpsfield, Surrey.The school's history began in 1890 when the institution was established as a boarding school for boys aged 8–13 by Edward Baily and his wife Ruth....

 in Limpsfield
Limpsfield is a village and parish in the east of the county of Surrey, England near Oxted at the foot of the North Downs. It lies between the A25 to the south and the M25 motorway to the north, near the Clackett Lane service station...

 in Surrey
Surrey is a county in the South East of England and is one of the Home Counties. The county borders Greater London, Kent, East Sussex, West Sussex, Hampshire and Berkshire. The historic county town is Guildford. Surrey County Council sits at Kingston upon Thames, although this has been part of...

 and Eton College
Eton College
Eton College, often referred to simply as Eton, is a British independent school for boys aged 13 to 18. It was founded in 1440 by King Henry VI as "The King's College of Our Lady of Eton besides Wyndsor"....

 in Eton
Eton, Berkshire
Eton is a town and civil parish in Berkshire, England, lying on the opposite bank of the River Thames to Windsor and connected to it by Windsor Bridge. The parish also includes the large village of Eton Wick, 2 miles west of the town, and has a population of 4,980. Eton was in Buckinghamshire until...

 in Berkshire
Berkshire is a historic county in the South of England. It is also often referred to as the Royal County of Berkshire because of the presence of the royal residence of Windsor Castle in the county; this usage, which dates to the 19th century at least, was recognised by the Queen in 1957, and...

, followed by Trinity College
Trinity College, Oxford
The College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity in the University of Oxford, of the foundation of Sir Thomas Pope , or Trinity College for short, is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England. It stands on Broad Street, next door to Balliol College and Blackwells bookshop,...

 at the University of Oxford
University of Oxford
The University of Oxford is a university located in Oxford, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest surviving university in the world and the oldest in the English-speaking world. Although its exact date of foundation is unclear, there is evidence of teaching as far back as 1096...

 in Oxford
The city of Oxford is the county town of Oxfordshire, England. The city, made prominent by its medieval university, has a population of just under 165,000, with 153,900 living within the district boundary. It lies about 50 miles north-west of London. The rivers Cherwell and Thames run through...

, where he studied Law. He was very politically and socially active at Oxford, becoming President of the Liberal Club and the Law Society and finally becoming President of the Oxford Union in 1951. He was called to the bar in 1954, whilst working as a TV interviewer.

Member of Parliament

Thorpe was adopted as Liberal candidate for North Devon (then Conservative-held) in 1952. In the 1955 General Election
United Kingdom general election, 1955
The 1955 United Kingdom general election was held on 26 May 1955, four years after the previous general election. It resulted in a substantially increased majority of 60 for the Conservative government under new leader and prime minister Sir Anthony Eden against Labour Party, now in their 20th year...

 he halved the Conservative majority. In the 1959 election
United Kingdom general election, 1959
This United Kingdom general election was held on 8 October 1959. It marked a third successive victory for the ruling Conservative Party, led by Harold Macmillan...

, he won narrowly. He remained MP for North Devon for the next 20 years, until defeated by a Conservative in the 1979 General Election
United Kingdom general election, 1979
The United Kingdom general election of 1979 was held on 3 May 1979 to elect 635 members to the British House of Commons. The Conservative Party, led by Margaret Thatcher ousted the incumbent Labour government of James Callaghan with a parliamentary majority of 43 seats...


Liberal Party leader

In 1965, he became Liberal Party Treasurer and, following Jo Grimond's resignation as leader in 1967, he won the resulting party leadership election
Liberal Party (UK) leadership election, 1967
The 1967 Liberal Party leadership election was called following the resignation of Jo Grimond, in the wake of disappointing results in the 1966 General Election....

 with the support of 6 of the 12 Liberal MPs. Thorpe's style, in contrast to Grimond's intellectualism, was youthful and dynamic, and was sometimes ridiculed as too gimmicky. He was, however, a staunch defender of human rights, as exemplified by his prominent role in the Anti-Apartheid Movement
Anti-Apartheid Movement
Anti-Apartheid Movement , originally known as the Boycott Movement, was a British organization that was at the center of the international movement opposing South Africa's system of apartheid and supporting South Africa's Blacks....

. He was also a key figure in the campaign for Britain to join the Common Market.
A colourful character, Thorpe was renowned for his assortment of Edwardian suits, silk waistcoats and trilby
A trilby hat is a type of fedora. The trilby is viewed as the rich man's favored hat; it is commonly called the "brown trilby" in England and is much seen at the horse races. It is described as a "crumpled" fedora...

 hats, as well as being a noted raconteur and impressionist. Thorpe's unconventional lifestyle was reflected in his 1968 marriage a month after his son was born.

His party leadership was not immediately successful. The 1970 general election
United Kingdom general election, 1970
The United Kingdom general election of 1970 was held on 18 June 1970, and resulted in a surprise victory for the Conservative Party under leader Edward Heath, who defeated the Labour Party under Harold Wilson. The election also saw the Liberal Party and its new leader Jeremy Thorpe lose half their...

 was a disaster for the Liberals; they fell from 13 seats to 6 (winning three, including Thorpe's, by tiny majorities). But between 1972 and 1974, Thorpe led the Liberals to an impressive string of by-election victories, at Rochdale
Rochdale (UK Parliament constituency)
Rochdale is a county constituency represented in the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It elects one Member of Parliament by the first past the post system of election.-Boundaries:...

, Sutton and Cheam
Sutton and Cheam (UK Parliament constituency)
Sutton and Cheam is a constituency represented in the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It elects one Member of Parliament by the first past the post system of election. The current MP is Paul Burstow of the Liberal Democrats, first elected at the 1997 general election...

, Ripon
Ripon (UK Parliament constituency)
Ripon was a constituency sending members to the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom until 1983, centred on the city of Ripon in North Yorkshire.-History:...

, the Isle of Ely
Isle of Ely (UK Parliament constituency)
Isle of Ely was a county constituency represented in the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, centred on the Isle of Ely in Cambridgeshire...

, and Berwick
Berwick-upon-Tweed (UK Parliament constituency)
Berwick-upon-Tweed is a constituency represented in the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It elects one Member of Parliament by the first past the post system of election.-Boundaries:...

. In the February 1974 general election
United Kingdom general election, February 1974
The United Kingdom's general election of February 1974 was held on the 28th of that month. It was the first of two United Kingdom general elections held that year, and the first election since the Second World War not to produce an overall majority in the House of Commons for the winning party,...

, the Liberals gained 19.3% of the vote. During the campaign, some opinion polls at times even placed the party as high as 30%. This was a great improvement over the 8.5% the Liberals got in the 1966 General Election, before Thorpe's election as leader.

The February 1974 election resulted in a "hung parliament
Hung parliament
In a two-party parliamentary system of government, a hung parliament occurs when neither major political party has an absolute majority of seats in the parliament . It is also less commonly known as a balanced parliament or a legislature under no overall control...

" with no party having a majority. The Conservatives won 297 seats, Labour
Labour Party (UK)
The Labour Party is a centre-left democratic socialist party in the United Kingdom. It surpassed the Liberal Party in general elections during the early 1920s, forming minority governments under Ramsay MacDonald in 1924 and 1929-1931. The party was in a wartime coalition from 1940 to 1945, after...

 301 (despite having fewer votes than the Conservatives), the Liberals 14, and the remaining 22 went to minor parties. Conservative Prime Minister
Prime minister
A prime minister is the most senior minister of cabinet in the executive branch of government in a parliamentary system. In many systems, the prime minister selects and may dismiss other members of the cabinet, and allocates posts to members within the government. In most systems, the prime...

 Edward Heath
Edward Heath
Sir Edward Richard George "Ted" Heath, KG, MBE, PC was a British Conservative politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and as Leader of the Conservative Party ....

 proposed a coalition government with the Liberals, with Thorpe being offered the post of Home Secretary
Home Secretary
The Secretary of State for the Home Department, commonly known as the Home Secretary, is the minister in charge of the Home Office of the United Kingdom, and one of the country's four Great Offices of State...

. Thorpe asked for significant commitments toward electoral reform, but Heath could not give them. Also, the Conservative-Liberal coalition would still be seven seats short of a majority, and the government would probably not have long survived. The Liberal Party, and many who had voted for it, were not enthusiastic about keeping Heath in office, and Thorpe declined the offer, fearing a coalition with the Conservatives would split his party.On 4 March the talks to form a coalition collapsed, paving the way for Harold Wilson
Harold Wilson
James Harold Wilson, Baron Wilson of Rievaulx, KG, OBE, FRS, FSS, PC was a British Labour Member of Parliament, Leader of the Labour Party. He was twice Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during the 1960s and 1970s, winning four general elections, including a minority government after the...

 and Labour to return to power after four years, as a minority government.

Homosexuality scandal

Persistent rumours about Thorpe's sexuality dogged his political career. Norman Scott, a former male model, 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 illegal in Britain. Scott's airing of these claims led to an inquiry within the Liberal Party in 1971, which exonerated Thorpe. Scott, however, continued to make the allegations.

In October 1975, Andrew 'Gino' Newton, a former airline pilot, collected Norman Scott from where he was living in Combe Martin, North Devon, and drove him to Exmoor; Newton drove Scott onto Porlock Hill, where they stopped and got out of the car. Newton then shot Rinka, the Great Dane dog, 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.

During his court appearance, Scott 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.

The scandal forced Thorpe to resign as Liberal Party leader on 9 May 1976. He was replaced temporarily by his predecessor Jo Grimond and then permanently by David Steel
David Steel
David Martin Scott Steel, Baron Steel of Aikwood, KT, KBE, PC is a British Liberal Democrat politician who served as the Leader of the Liberal Party from 1976 until its merger with the Social Democratic Party in 1988 to form the Liberal Democrats...


Andrew Newton was released from prison in April 1977, and then revived the scandal by claiming that he had been hired to kill Norman Scott. On 4 August 1978, Thorpe was accused along with David Holmes (deputy Treasurer of the Liberal Party), George Deakin (a night club owner) and businessman John Le Mesurier (neither the actor
John Le Mesurier
John Le Mesurier was a BAFTA Award-winning English actor. He is most famous for his role as Sergeant Arthur Wilson in the popular 1970s BBC comedy Dad's Army.-Career:...

 nor the athletics coach) of conspiracy to murder. Thorpe was also separately accused of inciting Holmes to murder Scott.

The trial was scheduled to take place a week before the general election of 1979
United Kingdom general election, 1979
The United Kingdom general election of 1979 was held on 3 May 1979 to elect 635 members to the British House of Commons. The Conservative Party, led by Margaret Thatcher ousted the incumbent Labour government of James Callaghan with a parliamentary majority of 43 seats...

, but Thorpe obtained a fortnight's delay to fight the election. However, Thorpe was defeated.


Thorpe was put on trial at Number One Court at the Old Bailey on 8 May 1979, a week after losing his seat. He was charged with attempted murder and conspiracy to murder. One of the chief prosecution witnesses was former Liberal MP and failed businessman Peter Bessell
Peter Bessell
Peter Joseph Bessell was a British Liberal Party politician, and Member of Parliament for Bodmin in Cornwall from 1964 to 1970....

, who claimed to have been present while the murder plot was discussed within the Liberal Party. According to Bessell, poison had been rejected as a method of killing Scott because "it would raise too many questions if he fell dead off a barstool." One alleged plan had been to shoot Scott in Cornwall
Cornwall is a unitary authority and ceremonial county of England, within the United Kingdom. It is bordered to the north and west by the Celtic Sea, to the south by the English Channel, and to the east by the county of Devon, over the River Tamar. Cornwall has a population of , and covers an area of...

 and dispose of the body down a disused tin
Tin is a chemical element with the symbol Sn and atomic number 50. It is a main group metal in group 14 of the periodic table. Tin shows chemical similarity to both neighboring group 14 elements, germanium and lead and has two possible oxidation states, +2 and the slightly more stable +4...


Bessell agreed to appear as a witness in exchange for immunity from prosecution. His credibility was damaged, however, 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 in the case, but his counsel, led by George Carman QC
George Carman
George Alfred Carman, QC , was a leading English barrister of the 1980s and 1990s. He first came to the attention of the general public in 1979, when he successfully defended the former Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe after he was charged with conspiracy to murder...

, 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.

Summing up the case, Mr Justice Cantley was widely criticised for showing a nakedly pro-establishment bias, in which he described Scott as "a crook, an accomplished liar... a fraud." In spite of the Judge's direction, the jury were at first split 6–6, but, after 15 hours of deliberation, they finally reached a verdict of Not Guilty. The four defendants were all acquitted on 22 June 1979.

Later life

Not long after the end of the trial, Thorpe was found to have Parkinson's Disease
Parkinson's disease
Parkinson's disease is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system...

 and retired from public life. For the past twenty years, his disease has been at an advanced stage. However in 1997, he visited the Liberal Democrat
Liberal Democrats
The Liberal Democrats are a social liberal political party in the United Kingdom which supports constitutional and electoral reform, progressive taxation, wealth taxation, human rights laws, cultural liberalism, banking reform and civil liberties .The party was formed in 1988 by a merger of the...

 party conference and was given a standing ovation
Standing ovation
A standing ovation is a form of applause where members of a seated audience stand up while applauding after extraordinary performances of particularly high acclaim...

 by party members, and he attended the funeral of Roy Jenkins
Roy Jenkins
Roy Harris Jenkins, Baron Jenkins of Hillhead OM, PC was a British politician.The son of a Welsh coal miner who later became a union official and Labour MP, Roy Jenkins served with distinction in World War II. Elected to Parliament as a Labour member in 1948, he served in several major posts in...

 in 2003. In 1999, Thorpe published his memoirs entitled In My Own Time, in which he described key episodes in his political life. He did not, however, shed any further light on the Norman Scott affair. Thorpe has never made any public statements regarding his sexual orientation.

Possible involvement of Jack Straw

In 2002, a tape-recording surfaced of Harold Wilson discussing the scandal and saying: "Look, I saw Jack Straw, he's very worried if he were mentioned in this context, he thinks he'll be finished." This resulted in an inquiry by the BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

 programme Newsnight
Newsnight is a BBC Television current affairs programme noted for its in-depth analysis and often robust cross-examination of senior politicians. Jeremy Paxman has been its main presenter for over two decades....

into Jack Straw
Jack Straw (politician)
John Whitaker Straw is a British Labour Party politician who has been the Member of Parliament for Blackburn since 1979. He served as Home Secretary from 1997 to 2001, Foreign Secretary from 2001 to 2006 and Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons from 2006 to 2007 under Tony Blair...

's involvement in the Scott affair. According to the diary of Barbara Castle
Barbara Castle
Barbara Anne Castle, Baroness Castle of Blackburn , PC, GCOT was a British Labour Party politician....

, Secretary of State for Social Security, Wilson had asked her to examine Norman Scott's security file to see if it contained any indications that he was working as part of a conspiracy against Thorpe. Straw informed Castle that when he went to examine Scott's file, it was missing. The journalist Barrie Penrose
Barrie Penrose
Barrie Penrose is a British investigative journalist, interviewer and trainer.He worked for the New York Herald Tribune in Paris, the Observer in London, BBC Television and the Sunday Times...

 has alleged that Straw subsequently leaked information from the file to the media. Straw remained silent on that matter, but denied the accusation by Joe Haines that Wilson asked him to read the files for information that could be used to smear Thorpe. At the time, the general view, promoted in particular by Private Eye
Private Eye
Private Eye is a fortnightly British satirical and current affairs magazine, edited by Ian Hislop.Since its first publication in 1961, Private Eye has been a prominent critic and lampooner of public figures and entities that it deemed guilty of any of the sins of incompetence, inefficiency,...

, was that Wilson was using his position and influence to help and protect Thorpe and certainly not to smear him. In a BBC2 documentary on 16 March 2006, Penrose revealed that he pursued or stumbled on the murder allegations in the course of following leads from Harold Wilson, who wanted to prompt an investigation into the role of security services in destabilizing his government. The documentary suggested that Wilson's original perception and intention were to help rather than undermine Thorpe, believing that he was also an intended victim of a right-wing plot by a rogue element in MI5.

Personal life

Thorpe was married to interior decorator Caroline Allpass (1938-–1970), the daughter of Warwick Allpass and Marcell William, in May 1968. Their son Rupert was born in 1969. Caroline Thorpe was killed in a car crash in June 1970.

Thorpe married Marion Stein in 1973. She is a distinguished former concert pianist
The piano is a musical instrument played by means of a keyboard. It is one of the most popular instruments in the world. Widely used in classical and jazz music for solo performances, ensemble use, chamber music and accompaniment, the piano is also very popular as an aid to composing and rehearsal...

, and the former wife of the 7th Earl of Harewood, a first cousin of Queen Elizabeth II
Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom
Elizabeth II is the constitutional monarch of 16 sovereign states known as the Commonwealth realms: the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize,...


In literature

A winning entry in a literary competition set by the New Statesman
New Statesman
New Statesman is a British centre-left political and cultural magazine published weekly in London. Founded in 1913, and connected with leading members of the Fabian Society, the magazine reached a circulation peak in the late 1960s....

, in which the names of famous people had to be turned into self-obvious but undefined verbs was the entry:

"Prefects may not Thorpe the junior boys"

Further reading

  • Peter Bessell
    Peter Bessell
    Peter Joseph Bessell was a British Liberal Party politician, and Member of Parliament for Bodmin in Cornwall from 1964 to 1970....

    , Cover-Up: The Jeremy Thorpe Affair (Simons Books, 1980) - privately printed and limited to 2,000 copies
  • Lewis Chester, Magnus Linklater
    Magnus Linklater
    Magnus Linklater is a Scottish journalist and former newspaper editor.-Life:Linklater was born in Orkney, and is the son of Scottish writer Eric Linklater. He was brought up in Easter Ross, attending the local school at Nigg before moving to high school in Dunbar, East Lothian, and then on to Eton...

     and David May, Jeremy Thorpe: A Secret Life (Fontana, 1979) - mostly written before the trial on the assumption of a guilty verdict, and hastily rewritten under the supervision of libel lawyers
  • Roger Courtier and Barrie Penrose, The Pencourt Files (HarperCollins, 1978)
  • Simon Freeman and Barrie Penrose, Rinkagate: The Rise and Fall of Jeremy Thorpe (Bloomsbury, 1996) - probably the most comprehensive accumulation of sources
  • Matthew Parris
    Matthew Parris
    Matthew Francis Parris is a UK-based journalist and former Conservative politician.-Early life and family:...

    , Great Parliamentary Scandals (Robson Books, 1995)
  • Jeremy Thorpe, In My Own Time (Politico's, 1999, ISBN 90230 121 8)
  • Auberon Waugh
    Auberon Waugh
    Auberon Alexander Waugh was a British author and journalist, son of the novelist Evelyn Waugh. He was known to his family and friends as Bron Waugh.-Life and career:...

    , The Last Word: An Eye-witness Account of the Thorpe Trial (Michael Joseph, 1980)
  • Julian Glover, entry in The Dictionary of Liberal Biography (Politico's, 1998)
  • Dominic Carman
    Dominic Carman
    Dominic Carman is a British journalist, writer and Liberal Democrat politician.-Family:Carman is the son of barrister George Carman. He wrote a controversial biography of his father, No Ordinary Man: A Life of George Carman ....

    , No Ordinary Man: A Life of George Carman (Hodder & Stoughton, 2002) - includes analysis of trial and aftermath.

Since the early 1990s, Thorpe and his closest friends have also collaborated with historian Michael Bloch on an authorised biography, and have reputedly been more candid than before on the events surrounding the Scott allegations, on the understanding that nothing would be published until after Thorpe's death. Between 2001 and 2004 there was a lengthy legal battle as Bloch reneged on his promise and repeatedly attempted to go ahead with publication in Thorpe's lifetime. On each occasion, court orders have successfully halted publication.,9321,609546,00.html

External links

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