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Stephen Ward Was Innocent, OK: The Case for Overturning his Conviction, By Geoffrey Robertson QC - book review: Forensic exposé brings another scandal to light


On 30 July 1963, Stephen Ward, former osteopath to the rich and powerful, heard the judge’s summing up at the conclusion of his Old Bailey trial and felt do desolate that he retreated to a friend’s flat, wrote a suicide note and swallowed barbiturates.

The next day, as Ward lay in a coma, the judge, Sir Archie Marshall, insisted that the jury bring in a verdict, and Ward was convicted of being a pimp living off the earnings of Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies. He died on 3 August.

Stephen Ward was obviously innocent. Keeler and Rice-Davies were not prostitutes, but hedonistic working class teenagers who slept around in search of a good time. Keeler, who was 19 when the Defence Minister, John Profumo, took a fancy to her, did not charge him for her services. Ward, who was a highly paid professional, did not live off the women: they sponged off him.

And even if the police and prosecution genuinely believed in his guilt, they certainly knew that on one of the two counts, he was being convicted on the testimony of a liar. Keeler had lied in an earlier case, she repeated the same lie on the witness stand in the Ward case, and the following December – 50 years ago this month – she pleaded guilty to perjury and went to prison.

The Ward case, the QC Geoffrey Robertson suggests, illustrates the warning that Lord Macauley had issued in 1831: “We know of no spectacle so ridiculous as the British public in one of its periodical fits of morality.”

The country had barely had time to absorb the shock of the Lady Chatterley trial, which concluded that it was okay for the public to read a novel in which people were described enjoying sex outside marriage, than they were exposed to the hedonistic, bed-hopping lifestyles of Stephen Ward, his young female friends, and his high society contacts. On the witness stand, Ward even uttered the scandalous suggestion that these young women had sex because they enjoyed it.

This was offensive and threatening to the mental world of the judge and the prosecutor, Mervyn Griffith-Jones – the same prosecutor who asked the jury in the Chatterley trial whether this was a book “you would even wish your wife or servants to read.” He told the jury that Ward was “thoroughly immoral man for no other reason than he was getting girls for himself and his friends” and that it was therefore “the highest public duty” to convict him.

Geoffrey Robertson has written this volume with a specific purpose. It is not a general account of the Profumo Affair – for that, I commend An English Affair by Richard Davenport-Hines, published earlier this year. His purpose is to have the case referred to the Criminal Cases Review Commission to get Ward’s conviction overturned. Robertson writes worthily about how the justice system must learn from its past mistakes, yet a mischievous voice in my head tells me there is another motive for wanting a formal reopening of the case.

Even now, after 50 years, a ridiculous number of documents relevant to this and other aspects of the Profumo Affair, including the official record of the Ward trial and all statements made to Lord Denning during his official inquiry, are under lock and key, with all public access denied. If the CCRC were onto the case, they might bring some of these hidden documents into public view, and who knows what would turn up.