Former Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe whose career was ended by gay sex scandal dies aged 85 after long battle with Parkinson’s Disease
- Tributes paid to politician who battled illness for more than three decades
- He became Liberal leader in 1967 and revived the party’s fortunes
- But career came to an end after he was embroiled in a gay sex scandal
- He was accused of plotting to kill former male model Norman Scott
- Scott claimed he had an affair with twice-married Thorpe, which he denied
- Thorpe was acquitted after a month-long trial at the Old Bailey
- Political career ended and he stepped away from public life
- Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg says Thorpe was party’s ‘driving force’
The former Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe has died aged 85 after a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease
Tributes have been paid to the former Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe who died today aged 85 after a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease.
Thorpe’s son Rupert announced that the politician, who headed the party in the 1960s and 1970s and once stood trial at the Old Bailey for conspiracy to murder, died this morning after struggling with the illness for more than three decades.
Thorne, who became the Liberal leader in 1967 was credited with reviving the party’s fortunes in the 1970s, but his glittering career ended in disgrace when he was embroiled in a gay sex scandal.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg led the tributes to the controversial politician, whose now-defunct party was succeeded by the Liberal Democrats.
‘Jeremy Thorpe’s leadership and resolve were the driving force that continued the Liberal revival that began under Jo Grimond,’ said Mr Clegg.
‘Jeremy oversaw some of the party’s most famous by-election victories and his involvement with the anti-apartheid movement and the campaign for Britain’s membership of the common market were ahead of his time.
‘My thoughts are with Jeremy’s family and friends as they try and come to terms with their loss.’
In the 1974 general election Thorpe led the Liberal Party to its best result since the war, winning more than 19 per cent of the popular vote, and he was hailed by some as a potential Prime Minister.
Lord Steel of Aikwood, who succeeded him as party leader, said: ‘He had a genuine sympathy for the underprivileged – whether in his beloved North Devon where his first campaign was for “mains, drains and a little bit of light’ or in Africa, where he was a resolute fighter against apartheid and became a respected friend of people like President Kaunda of Zambia.’
The Liberal Democrats added in a tweet: ‘Our thoughts are with his family’.
Former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell said: ‘Jeremy Thorpe’s enforced resignation as leader of the Liberal Party and his subsequent departure from Parliament should not obscure the fact that in his day he was an outstanding parliamentarian with a coruscating wit, and a brilliant campaigner on the stump whose interest and warmth made him a firm favourite with the public.’
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Thorpe and his second wife Marion, who died in March, are pictured here in 1999. His son Rupert said he was ‘devoted’ to both Marion and his first wife, Rupert’s mother, Caroline
Thorpe, fought for investment in his beloved North Devon area of England, and against apartheid in South Africa, but his political career was ended by a court case and alleged homosexual relationship, which was illegal at the time
Tributes have been paid to the controversial political leader who had helped revive the Liberals in the 1970s, including from his son Rupert
Former Liberal Democrat minister Sir Nick Harvey described Thorpe as a ‘towering force in shaping the political landscape of the late 20th and early 21st centuries’
He added that Mr Thorpe ‘bore his long illness with courage and determination’ and never lost his ‘consuming interest’ in politics.
Former Liberal Democrat minister Sir Nick Harvey, who represents Mr Thorpe’s former constituency of North Devon, described him as a ‘towering force in shaping the political landscape of the late 20th and early 21st centuries’.
‘Jeremy Thorpe was a colossal figure in the revival of the Liberal cause in post-war Britain and today’s Lib Dem politicians continue to feast on his legacy,’ he said.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg led the tributes to the controversial politician, whose now-defunct party was succeeded by the Liberal Democrats
In the 1974 general election Thorpe led the Liberal Party to its best result since the war, winning more than 19 percent of the popular vote, and he was hailed by some as a potential Prime Minister
Thorpe, who headed the Liberal Party in the 1960s and 1970s, had been battling with Parkinson’s Disease for more than three decades
Following Thorpe’s death, the Liberal Democrats wrote in a tweet: ‘Our thoughts are with his family’
‘His charisma, energy and innovative campaigning lit up his generation of British politics. He was the first to embrace fully the television age, the first to hit the campaign trail in a helicopter and both the first and, rather memorably, the last to deploy a hovercraft.
‘He would have shone in whatever walk of life he chose, but it was to the lasting benefit of Liberalism that he rejected the Conservatism of his ancestors and devoted himself to progressive causes at home and abroad. In North Devon he was a greatly loved champion of the community and is remembered with huge affection to this day.’
Mr Thorpe’s son, Rupert, said the politician ‘was a devoted husband to my two mothers, Caroline, who died tragically in 1970, and Marion who passed away in March and had raised me and stood by him through everything.
Thorpe, pictured at the Old Bailey was brought down by the sensational court case in which he was accused of conspiracy and incitement to murder former male model Norman Scott
A disconsolate Thorpe leads a torchlight procession around Bideford in Devon after his 11,000 majority victory in the North Devon constituency though his party as a whole did badly. His wife Marion is on the right
Thorpe on the campaign trail in February 1974. He was once voted Britain’s most popular politician
‘His grandchildren and great grandchildren will miss him dearly, as will I.’
Thorpe was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease shortly after he was cleared of conspiring to murder Norman Scott in 1979, a former male model who had claimed to be his lover.
Although he hailed the acquittal as a ‘complete vindication’ and had always claimed he was innocent, the scandal ruined his political career.
Once voted Britain’s favourite politician, Thorpe resigned as party leader in 1976, after Mr Scott alleged they had had a homosexual relationship in the 1960s.
Thorpe, a lawyer by profession, strenuously denied any such relationship – a crime punishable by prison at the time. But worse was to come.
Thorpe remained a bachelor until the age of 38 when he married art expert Caroline Allpass in 1968. The couple are pictured here on their wedding day
Thorpe and Caroline with their son Rupert in 1969. Rupert today said of his father: ‘His grandchildren and great grandchildren will miss him dearly, as will I’
Thorpe pictured with wife Marion (left) and his mother Ursual (right) in December 1978
In June 1979 he stood trial along with three other men, accused of conspiracy to murder after an alleged assassination attempt in Dartmoor.
It was alleged they had plotted to kill Mr Scott in order to silence him.
At the end of the trial, which lasted 31 days, all four were found not guilty after a jury spent 15 hours over the course of three days deliberating over the verdict.
But the case and the publicity surrounding it brought his political career to a premature end when he was aged only 50.
After his acquittal he was rarely seen in public, leading a quiet life at his home in Devon with his second wife Marion, who remained fiercely loyal to him throughout his trial.
After his acquittal in 1979 at the end of the Scott affair, he was rarely seen in public, leading a quiet life at his home in Devon
Thorpe with former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown at a party reception in 1998
Leader brought down by court case
Former Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe was a man whose political achievements were eclipsed and a potentially brilliant career utterly destroyed by his lurid and sometimes squalid personal life.
He faced a family tragedy, a business scandal and the sensational court case in which he was accused of conspiracy and incitement to murder former male model Norman Scott.
No other recent politician of such ability and popularity has been so totally ruined by the exposure of his activities outside the political arena.
Former Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe was a man whose political achievements were eclipsed and a potentially brilliant career utterly destroyed by his lurid and sometimes squalid personal life
In 1979 Thorpe (left) was cleared of conspiring to murder of Norman Scott (right), a former male model who had claimed to be his lover
The dual worries of a political career and the public revelations about his personal life took their toll on Thorpe, who was always a gaunt and slight figure.
After his acquittal at the Old Bailey in 1979 at the end of the Scott affair, he was rarely seen in public. He suffered from Parkinson’s Disease and led a quiet life at his Devon home.
He took part, briefly, in Paddy Ashdown’s campaign in the south west of England during the 1992 general election campaign. But his ghostlike appearance shocked those who had not set eyes on him for some 12 years.
A campaign poster from the 1974 election
At Westminster, he will be remembered as a flamboyant and witty man who was very much at home in the world of politics. He possessed swagger and was suave and debonair, even foppish like Disraeli, often wearing a brown trilby hat at a rakish angle.
His speeches were fluent, witty and telling, and whenever his name appeared on the House of Commons monitor as ‘the man on his feet’, MPs crowded into the Chamber to listen to one of the finest, funniest and most passionate orators at Westminster.
His friends were shocked at the disintegration of his spirit and collapse of his health after the court case and during his subsequent virtual withdrawal from public life.
But he was said to have retained his barbed sense of humour right into his final days, although his voice became effectively non-existent.
John Jeremy Thorpe was born in April 1929 into a political family. His father and grandfather had been Conservative MPs and his family’s connections in public service stretched back to the 14th century with an ancestor serving in Edward II’s parliament.
After three years’ education in America, he followed the classic English route into politics through Eton and Oxford, where he was president of the Oxford Union and the Oxford University Liberal Club.
His chosen profession was the law and he served as a barrister until 1960 when his yearning for a political career took priority over all else.
Thorpe was always a committed Liberal despite his Tory family background and he came to notice as an active Young Liberal. His first chance to enter Parliament came in 1955 when he fought – but lost – North Devon.
Thorpe possessed swagger and was suave and debonair, even foppish like Disraeli, often wearing a brown trilby hat at a rakish angle
Four years later, he captured the Tory seat that he was to represent in Parliament for the next 20 years. It was a marginal constituency and he saw his majority in North Devon fluctuate in the various campaigns he fought.
Through his dapper attire and his panache, he brought a degree of colour to the largely grey and drab world of Westminster. His wit and talent for mimicry brought him many friends in politics as well.
Thorpe was a master of the bon mot. Perhaps his most famous was his devastating and memorable critique of the decision by Tory prime minister Harold Macmillan to axe one third of his Cabinet in the ‘Night of the Long Knives’ in July 1962.
‘Greater love hath no man than this: that he lay down his friends for his life,’ observed Thorpe.
He earned the nickname ‘Bomber’ Thorpe and was roundly condemned by the Tories when, at the 1966 Liberal conference, he suggested that United Nations planes should be used to bomb Rhodesia, then in a state of rebellion against the Crown.
Thorpe and his wife second wife Marion arrive at the Old Bailey for the infamous court case
Thorpe is mobbed by the press after being found not guilty at the Old Bailey in 1979
The politician was swamped by the crowds as he stepped out of the London court a free man
Thorpe, an outstanding figure in the parliamentary party, succeeded Jo Grimond as Liberal leader in 1967 and his nine years in that job saw him close to a share in national power when Ted Heath invited him to join the Conservatives in a coalition government in 1974.
His refusal to allow the Liberals to share in what would have been Heath’s second administration meant that the Conservatives had to step down and allow Harold Wilson to return to power.
Liberals to this day cannot fathom why, given this unique chance of power-sharing, the party turned it down.
Thorpe presided over the party when the Liberals scored some dramatic by-election victories in the early 1970s, most noticeably at Ely, Ripon, Sutton and Cheam, and Rochdale.
He remained a bachelor until the age of 38 when he married art expert Caroline Allpass in 1968. Ever the showman with an eye for the unusual, he flamboyantly proposed to her at the summit of the Post Office Tower – now the BT Tower – in London.
The couple had a son, Rupert, who was born a year later.
But Thorpe’s life was shattered in June 1970 when his wife was killed in a car crash at Basingstoke, Hampshire, as she was driving from their home in North Devon to join him in London.
After his acquittal at the Old Bailey in 1979 at the end of the Scott affair, he was rarely seen in public. He suffered from Parkinson’s Disease and led a quiet life at his Devon home
He overcame the tragedy and remarried in 1973. His second wife was Marion, Countess of Harewood, former wife of the Earl of Harewood, who loyally stuck by him through all the tribulations that were to follow.
Thorpe’s private life hit the headlines later that year. That was the start of six remorseless years of media interest in his affairs that culminated in the calamitous Old Bailey trial.
He was a non-executive director of the London and County Securities merchant bank. The bank owned a finance company which came under fire for charging high interest on mortgage loans.
Couple: Thorpe with his wife Marion at a memorial service for Sir Geraint Evans in 1992
Thorpe faced intense pressure as a result of his link with the bank and he eventually resigned as a director. The affair led to questions about the other business interests of the Liberal leader.
Politicians are unlucky to face one scandal, be it of a financial or sexual nature. Thorpe’s misfortunes were even worse. HIs business dealings were as nothing compared to the notorious Scott affair, which cost him his job as Liberal leader and reduced his career to tatters.
Thorpe first met the homosexual Norman Scott in 1961 and soon after Scott claimed they had a sexual relationship. Thorpe always fiercely denied this.
Scott continued to make the allegations about Thorpe in letters to various people, including to Thorpe’s mother.
The affair simmered for several years but finally boiled over in 1975 when Scott’s dog was shot on Exmoor and when he (Scott) appeared in court at Barnstaple charged with obtaining social security payments by fraud.
Scott claimed in court he was being hounded because of his sexual relationship with Thorpe. By this stage, Thorpe was becoming desperately worried – and with some justice – about how far the accusations and allegations would develop.
He knew full well that the press would not let go. Indeed, the newspapers later revealed that retainer payments had been made to Scott in the late 1960s by a third party but with Thorpe allegedly reimbursing the money.
The affair would not go away, and it eventually forced Thorpe to resign as Liberal leader in 1976. But even his resignation failed to lay the matter to rest.
The next highly damaging disclosure was that the man who shot Scott’s dog claimed that “a leading Liberal supporter” had paid him £5,000 to kill Scott.
A police inquiry led to the arrest of Thorpe and three other men on a charge of conspiring to murder Scott. Thorpe faced a further charge of incitement to murder Scott.
They first appeared in court in Minehead in 1978 and were committed for trial at the Old Bailey the following year.
Thorpe, pictured with his second wife, died a man whose massive political potential remained unfulfilled and who will be remembered only for the scandal and squalor that surrounded his name
Thorpe managed to get the start of the trial delayed so he could fight his North Devon seat at the general election of May 1979. But the scandal surrounding him was by now on such a scale that the electors decided to switch their allegiance from Thorpe. Thus, his 20-year Westminster career ended in defeat by the Conservative candidate.
That was the first major blow to his career, which was finally killed off by subsequent events.
The 31-day trial at the Old Bailey made headline news, with his acquittal on both charges coming after the jury spent 52 hours considering their verdicts.
Although he left the court a free man, he was by then a broken and pathetic figure, who had lost his previous zest. He faded from the public’s gaze and never returned to the political stage, even though half-hearted gestures were made in his direction that he should be given a life peerage. But it all came to naught.
He died a man whose massive political potential remained unfulfilled and who will be remembered only for the scandal and squalor that surrounded his name.