THE PROFUMO SCANDAL AND THE STORY BEHIND IT
ORIGINAL SLEAZE, CORRUPTION AND SMEARS
Sleaze and corruption – it’s as old as the day is long. Throughout history it has been used as leverage time and again. It takes up column inches. Sleaze sells, and the newspapers love it… unless, of course, it involves them.
You’ve heard of the Daniel Morgan murder – the most investigated crime in British legal history and how the News of the World and police conspired. We all know about the scum at NewsCorp who hacked peoples phones and gave false hope to Milly Dowler’s parents.
We’ve all recently seen first hand how some members of the political scene close ranks and try to discredit survivors of abuse and the way the press collude alongside them to apply pressure to complainants and witnesses.
We also know the story of Jeremy Thorpe being arrested for allegedly paying a hitman to murder his lover, Jeffrey Archer and the prostitutes, Edwina and her eggs, David Mellor and his Chelsea kit-wearing sexual shenanigans, Vaz and…. oh far too many to mention… and of course, the cash for questions involving Neil Hamilton, but probably the most famous of all sleaze stories was that of John Profumo and his dalliance with Christine Keeler.
But did you know about the story behind the Profumo story? The more sinister claims of corruption and political interference? The allegations of an establishment smear attempt against a man who fought his corner in a court of law and won?
Make yourself a cuppa, pull up a chair and read a fascinating story of allegations of smear, vice, spies, collusion and power…. A real tale of David and Goliath.
It’s June 1963, and a journalist named Laurence Terence Bell, aged 26 and from Wanstead, appears at the Central Criminal Court facing charges of indecency with guardsmen. Being heard at such a late sitting in the session, it may have been assumed it was a simple cut and dried case, but then Bell’s counsel, Mr Raphael Tuck, stands up and asks for the case to be moved over to the July sessions.
“It was“, he said, “one of the biggest pieces of political chicanery and frame-ups that had been experienced for some time“, much to the chagrin of the judge. That said, Tuck was successful and the trial was transferred over to the new session.
In February 1963, Bell had given information to the press and members of parliament about Dr Stephen Ward, alleging he was a “communist” and was after “nuclear information“. He also gave them information about the affair between John Profumo and Christine Keeler, exposed a number of scandals involving guardsmen and had been directly responsible for the resignation of a junior minister, Sir Charles Fletcher-Cooke.
Tuck explained how Bell was perceived as an embarrassment to the government and had received threatening letters as a result. He had also been arrested and held for 16 days incommunicado after police discovered he knew about the Profumo/Keeler affair. He was released just before Profumo resigned but then quickly rearrested and charged with offences involving guardsmen.
CHARLES FLETCHER-COOKE – The story gets murkier…
Fletcher-Cooke was originally a Labour party candidate but eventually became a Conservative MP when he successfully won the seat of Darwen in 1951 (which he held until 1983.) Interestingly he was responsible for the Suicide Act, 1961.
In 1963 he was forced to stand down as a junior minister after an ‘absconder’ from an approved school was found driving Fletcher-Cooke’s Austin Princess car with his permission but without the necessary licence or insurance.
Anthony George Richard Turner, 18, the son of a policeman from Lincoln, had been caught speeding in Commercial Road, Stepney and was also charged with trespassing on the railway at Piccadilly Circus underground station. He told police that he had been given permission to use the car by Fletcher-Cooke, with whom he had been staying at his home in North Court, Great Peter Street, Westminster. He had been introduced to Fletcher-Cooke by Viscount Robert Maugham following a stint at an approved school. He was eventually sentenced to borstal, five years disqualification from driving and fined a total of £3
In his letter of resignation he justified his friendship with Turner, stating that he had been:
…particularly concerned with the after-care of delinquents.
Having been introduced to Turner, he had
…duly befriended the young man and tried to help him. On reflection, he believed that this course of action had been ‘well-intentioned but misguided’.
In September 1963 Tuck once again requested that the trial be delayed because two political witnesses for the defence would not be available until October. There were also 20 other witnesses on whom subpoenas had been or were being served, but three of them had mysteriously disappeared after they had given statements. He then gave the judge a piece of paper on which he had written the names of the two political witnesses.
Despite the prosecution’s attempts to play down the bigger picture and them insisting it was a simple case of Bell and the guardsmen, the judge agreed to Tuck’s request to delay until the end of September.
Bell failed to appear at the scheduled date for his trial. Tuck explained that he had taken an overdose of drugs the night before. A hospital doctor appeared in court and corroborated what had happened and explained that Bell would be hospitalised for another five days. The case was once again adjourned.
THE ESTABLISHMENT PLOT…
Finally, four months after his trial was originally due to begin, Laurence Terence Bell appeared at the Central Criminal Court and pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.
The prosecution explained how Bell was in the habit of frequenting the Welsh Harp pub in Chandos Street in Marylebone where guardsmen from nearby Chelsea Barracks would regularly drink. It is alleged by a guardsman named Hall that he had gone with Bell to a London hotel where they had a meal in a private room. Hall then alleged that Bell made indecent advances towards him and he left after Bell had given him 30s for a taxi back to his barracks.
Despite this claim, Hall then stated he had visited Bell at his home in Wanstead, where Bell made the same advances.
Bell was alleged to have taken another guardsman named Leonard – who was absent from court – to a hotel after booking a room in a false name and ‘twice committed a grave offence with Leonard’.
Upon his arrest, Bell was said to have shouted to his friends: “Ring up the news editor of The People that I am detained at West Central Police Station!”
In interview, Bell stated:
I suppose this has to do with the Guards. Every newspaper in London is waiting for this. It is definitely a plot by the War Office. I have had 27 stories printed about the Guards in the last few weeks and that is why they are trying to get me.
In any case it is only a guardsman’s word against mine. There are many people more famous than I who go in for this sort of thing. It is the Vassall thing all over again.
You (police) are only minions of the Establishment. You are just told what to do. You do not know the background like I do.
In 1960 The People printed a series of Bell’s memoirs. From that moment onwards he had become unsurprisingly unpopular in Guards circles and in 1961 he received a visit from Chief Inspector Smith from Special Branch and claimed:
He told me I ought to think before my name appeared on such articles and if I did not I might find myself in a lot of trouble.
Doesn’t that sound remarkably similar to what Kevin Allen was told by David Veness after stating that he felt the establishment was behind his brother’s disappearance?
Bell also admitted that he had taken up the case of Anthony Turner, the youth who had been convicted after driving Fletcher-Cooke’s car without appropriate documentation, which thus caused Fletcher-Cooke to resign. Tuck stated to the court that it was perceived that the charges against Bell had been trumped up by the police and Guards because of this. Bell claimed in court that Fletcher-Cooke was homosexual and he had been in attendance at a flat with guardsmen ‘when certain things were going on’, and because the flat belonged to a well-known communist, Fletcher-Cooke had become worried. He stated:
Lord Denning asked me about this matter also. This minister has a position of special importance with regard to our nuclear weapons.
Bell also confirmed he had received information about the Profumo/Keeler/Ward affair in February, which he had passed on to newspapers and two Labour MPs. The Profumo story didn’t break until June.
Under subpoena, the two Labour MPs – Colonel George Edward Cecil Wigg MP and former War and Defence Minister, Emanuel Shinwell MP – appeared to give evidence. Shinwell confirmed he had received a letter from a man purporting to be called Barrett (but was actually Bell) and had written to Colonel Wigg. Wigg explained how Bell had spoken about the Profumo affair as well as an incident of indicipline involving the Welsh Guards in Dusseldorf.
It was following this meeting that Wigg raised the issue of Profumo in the House of Commons, forcing Profumo to make a statement the following day denying allegations against him. When asked by Tuck if Profumo had ever mentioned Bell, the judge interjected.
LAURENCE TERENCE BELL
Bell alleged that when he was a child, he was ‘corrupted’ by a lodger named Joseph Wright which had affected him.
By the time he was 20 he was chairman of the East Ham Young Conservatives but left following a disagreement and joined the People’s League. He began moving in West End social circles as well as attending debutante dances. He said he also had dinner at St James’ Palace and the Bank of England and that he was also entertained at Windsor Castle Barracks by Guards officers. At one point he was engaged to the daughter of a member of parliament, who was a former Guards officer.
A chance remark led him to becoming known as ‘Captain Bell’ because he was always in and out of Guard’s messes, alleging that it must have caused the War Office a great deal of worry, also claiming: “The Guardsmen often used to think I was an officer and would salute even though I was in mufti.” I have checked this and he is indeed noted on documentation as having the title of ‘Captain’.
In 1962 he was convicted of importuning at Bow Street Magistrates’ Court, which he denied, and he was also mentioned at the Vassall tribunal (who had spied for the Soviet government) as well as asked by Lord Denning to go and see him.
OUTCOME AND THE JUDGE’S COMMENTS
After a trial lasting 11 days, Bell was found ‘Not Guilty’ of the nine charges against him involving the Guardsmen after the judge, Mr Justice MacKenna, said it would be unsafe for the jury to convict Bell on any charges as there was no corroboration of the evidence of the guardsmen involved.
The judge also referred to the allegations of there being a plot against Bell, stating:
I should not be surprised if the Brigade of Guards and the War Office did resent – and hotly resent – the activities of the journalists who were responsible for getting these stories from guardsmen and that the defendant’s activities were particularly resented by those who had the interests of the Brigade of Guards at heart.
He was, after all, getting stories from these guardsmen which they had a duty under military discipline not to give. It was tempting them to commit breaches of that duty. The results were most unhappy for those who had the good repute of the Guards at heart. If the Special Investigations Branch looking into these matters knew the defendant had homosexual tendencies and knew he was meeting guardsmen at the Welsh Harp public house they might well suspect immorality.
They might, for all I know, be pleased to find there was a case to be made against the troublemaker, but to infer from that that there is a great conspiracy against the defendant to fabricate false charges is another and very different matter. I shall say no more about that.
Upon his release, Bell confirmed that he would be taking legal advice regarding certain things that happened during the trial, such as witnesses disappearing. He also stated he would approach Colonel Lipton with a view to him taking up the matter in the House.
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?
Fletcher-Cooke: The day following Bell’s acquittal, Fletcher-Cooke released a personal statement which said: “..inferences against my personal honour… are quite unwarranted.” Both Gerard McEvoy, Darwen Conservative agent, and Lieutenant-Colonel J G Barber-Lomax, constituency chariman, both declined to comment.
Brigade of Guards: The Brigade of Guards obtained it’s own public relations office a year after the trial in order to deal with matters relating to the press and public relations and to avoid any repeat of the embarrassment it had suffered.
Clifford Luton: One of the witnesses called to give a character reference for Bell during the trial was Clifford Luton, who was a BBC reporter and alleged prolific paedophile.
Bell: Bell subsequently married Sally Gardner in 1964, and both used the surname Gardner-Bell. However, in 1967, his wife filed for a divorce and obtained a high court order against him removing any furniture from the matrimonial home, as well as a restraining order preventing him from molesting her. It was alleged he was now calling himself Count de Lavaggio. He appears in The Gazette on 22 July 1969:
A MYSTERIOUS END
In April 1973, Bell was found vomiting in his flat in Balfour Road, Highbury, but died on arrival at hospital. He was aged just 36. During the inquest, the St Pancras coroner was told that Bell was a registered drug addict. The verdict was registered as ‘misadventure’.
Laurence Bell had known about the Profumo affair before it hit the newspapers. He had said that Stephen Ward was trying to obtain nuclear information.
Stephen Ward was an osteopath and also an artist. According to newspaper reports, he was in contact with three members of the royal family, and had drawn portraits of some, including:
- Prince Philip
- Princess Margaret
- Lord Snowdon
- Duke & Duchess of Kent
- Princess Marina
- Princess Alexandra
- Duke & Duchess of Gloucester
He seemed very well connected. He was convicted of supplying ‘call girls’ to high society clientele. One girl was Christine Keeler…
…who was famously in a relationship with John Profumo…
After meeting him at Cliveden, the home of Lord Astor – the grounds of which Ward lived in a grace and favour cottage.
But did you know Keeler also had an affair with Charlie Kray (left, alongside his brothers Ronnie and Reg)?
Charlie Kray was alleged to have raped the wife of an associate and Ronnie Kray regularly abused young boys, as well as allegedly raped two brothers who were meant to be his friends. Whilst they were awaiting trial, Christine Keeler would visit an associate in Maidstone Prison in order to pass messages on from the Krays.
The Krays also had connections to another infamous Conservative politician, supplying him with the ‘rent boys’ he found so exciting.
I’ve said it many times before, but in my opinion the tentacles of the Profumo affair reached far further than was claimed. There were allegations that Ward’s suicide wasn’t all it seemed. I obviously have no proof of that, but I urge you to watch the making of Scandal – the Eighties movie about the Profumo affair – and listen to the stories recounted by the team that made it and the problems they had trying to make it. Nobody wanted to touch it. Why?