Jeremy Thorpe scandal: New claims over plot to murder Norman Scott

Shocking new claims about the involvement of senior Liberal figures in the plot which saw Jeremy Thorpe accused of conspiracy to murder

Photo: Associated Newspapers /REX
It was one of the greatest political scandals of the era – the charismatic former leader of the Liberal Party, Jeremy Thorpe, in the dock at the Old Bailey, charged with conspiracy to murder his homosexual lover after years of alleged cover-ups over his behaviour.
Thorpe, who died last week at the age of 85, was found not guilty of plotting the murder of Norman Scott, a stable boy and part-time male model, but his previously glittering career was never to recover from the scandal.
Now, in a dramatic twist to the story, a new witness has come forward to claim that the plot to kill Scott to silence him and protect Thorpe from public humiliation extended to the highest levels of the Liberal Party. Dennis Meighan, a self-confessed former small time criminal, has claimed not only that he was the one who supplied the gun that was used to kill Scott’s dog Rinka on Exmoor – in one of the scandal’s most memorable incidents – but that his original mission was to go as far as to “get rid of” Thorpe’s lover himself. Furthermore, he claims that the order came from someone high up in the Liberal Party.
Speaking for the first time Meighan said that he was told: “He [Scott] was blackmailing someone important and we’d be well looked after if we sorted him out, got rid of him, got rid of the problem.”
It was alleged at the Old Bailey trial that Andrew Newton, a maverick airline pilot, had been hired by two of Thorpe’s close friends in 1975 to silence Scott permanently, who had been threatening to blackmail the Liberal leader over their affair.
Thorpe and Scott had been lovers during the early 1960s, at a time when homosexual acts were still illegal.

Norman Scott (Rex)
Meighan now claims that the plot to kill Scott was hatched when he was approached by an individual who represented a senior figure in the Liberal Party. Speaking in Shepherds Bush, west London, during a documentary for Radio 4, he told the BBC correspondent Tom Mangold: “At first they was very cagey about it, with the words they used. But he was being a right nuisance and things, he was blackmailing someone important and we’d be well looked after if we sorted him out, got rid of him, got rid of the problem.”
Meighan went on: “It built up very vaguely and gradually to would I go down there and would I be interested in doing the job . . . getting rid of Norman Scott.”
Following that meeting, the now retired criminal travelled from his then home in south London to the Devon town of Barnstaple, where Scott was living in a pub.
“I had it in my mind to do it, but the conditions would have had to be right,” said Mr Meighan. “It’s a big step shooting somebody.”
However, the would-be assassin got cold feet. Fearing that his strong south London accent made him too conspicuous in the town, he passed the gun to Newton and returned to the capital, leaving the pilot to carry out the plot.

Andrew Newton (PA Archive)
On October 23, 1975, Newton picked up Scott and, on the pretext he had some business to discuss, drove him on to nearby Exmoor. There, in a remote lay-by, Newton shot Rinka before turning the gun on Scott. Scott later said the gun had jammed and that Newton had driven away after stating: “I’ll get you.”
In March 1976, at Exeter Crown Court, Newton was found guilty of shooting the dog and of possessing a weapon and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment. Although Newton did not implicate Thorpe, the case against the Liberal leader eventually went to court and in 1979, after the general election that ushered Margaret Thatcher into power, Thorpe and three of his friends and associates, were found not guilty of conspiracy to murder Scott by a jury at the Old Bailey.
But Meighan’s account of his own involvement goes on to shed new light on the Establishment’s attempts to cover-up Thorpe’s history of sexual indiscretions which – even before the Old Bailey trial brought his activities into the open – had threatened to wreck his career as one of country’s brightest and most engaging politicians.
Some time after passing the gun to Newton, who died in 2004, aged 58, Meighan says that he confessed to the plot in a detailed statement he gave to detectives at Scotland Yard. Shortly after, he received a call from a man claiming to be a police officer, telling him to go to a particular police station where he would be handed an envelope containing a document to sign.
“I walked up to the counter, told them my name and they all turned round and looked at and wondered, ‘What’s going on?’, I think,” said Mr Meighan. “They gave me the envelope and told me to go into one of the interrogation rooms.”
He now claims what was contained in the document bore no resemblance to the account of the events that he gave in his statement to Scotland Yard and that it made no mention of the incriminating details he had supplied about Thorpe and the Liberal Party.
Meighan says: “I read the statement, which did me no end of favours, but it did Jeremy Thorpe no end of favours as well, because it left him completely out of it. So I thought, ‘Well, I’ve got to sign this’. It just virtually left everything out that was incriminating, but at the same time
everything I said about the Liberal Party, Jeremy Thorpe, et cetera, was left out as well.”
He added: “I signed it and gave it to the police and that was the end of it.”
Nor was that the only cover-up. During the 1960s, the Metropolitan Police conducted an investigation into persistent rumours of Thorpe’s “criminal homosexuality” and reports of his assignations with young men in various London hotels. Indeed the FBI had already tipped off MI5 about its investigation into an alleged indiscretion with a male prostitute during a visit by Thorpe to the United States.
However, the detective who investigated Thorpe at the time never interviewed him.
Det Insp Robert Huntley told the BBC, in an interview recorded in 1979 and only now broadcast for the first time: “Do you think that a man of that calibre is going to admit that type of conduct? I don’t think so.”
Despite this, and the fact Meighan was never called to give evidence at the Old Bailey following the alleged suppression of his confession by senior figures within the Yard, it was not the end of the matter for Thorpe.
But although acquitted of conspiracy to murder – with the help of what even one of the defence barristers, Gareth Williams QC, described as “too much kowtowing” by the judge, Sir Joseph Cantley, to his social and political position – it was too late to salvage Thorpe’s career.
Although homosexuality had been decriminalised in 1967, and he had been cleared of plotting murder by a jury of his peers, the entire affair tarnished him in the public eye.
His party, by now led by David Steel, refused to countenance his return to politics.
By the early 1980s, Thorpe had developed Parkinson’s disease and – although emerging briefly to receive a standing ovation at the Liberal Democrat party conference in 1997 – he withdrew completely into private life, leaving behind the enduring mystery of what lay behind the events on Exmoor that October night.
Scott, now 74, lived quietly on Dartmoor for decades, but recently moved to Ireland. Asked about Thorpe’s death he said on Friday: “What can I say about a man who tried to murder me?”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *