Lloyd George freed his would-be assassin

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Prime Minister David Lloyd George ordered a woman who had plotted to murder him in 1917 to be freed from prison to prevent a public relations disaster, according to secret government documents released yesterday. John Crossland looks at the files of the Public Record Office.

Lloyd-George, the Prime Minister who personified Britain's victory in the First World War, personally intervened to ensure the early release of hunger striker Alice Wheedon, a suffragette pacifist who had plotted to murder him and Arthur Henderson, leader of the Labour Party, at the height of the war.

The top secret file, originally marked for closure until after the millennium, reveals that the prosecution case against Wheedon, 52, was based on the testament of MI5 agent Alex Gordon, whose damming evidence at the Old Bailey in February 1917 condemned her to 10 years' penal servitude.

Lloyd-George obviously had his doubts about the case when, approaching by worried Home Office officials fearing for her health after a prolonged hunger strike, told them: "In view of the fact that I am a person she conspired to murder it's very undesirable that she should die in prison."

Gordon said in a confidential report used at the trial that he was introduced to Wheedon at the Derby Socialists' Hall with other "semi-patriots of the milk and bun-throwing type".

He took her more seriously, however, when she asked him whether he was prepared to "remove" two men by poison - including Lloyd George.

l The leader of the seamen's union tried, unsuccessfully, to keep homosexuality illegal aboard British Merchant Navy ships as the Sexual Offences Bill made its shaky progress into law in 1966, according to PRO files released yesterday.

William Hogarth, General Secretary of National Union of Seamen, sought Harold Wilson's help to prevent the Bill applying to his members.

He told the Prime Minister bluntly "Unless special consideration is given to the position of the Merchant Navy it could become an attractive venue for homosexuals." This unknown factor in the fraught discussions leading to the passing of Leo Abse's Bill the following year emerged in a release of Home Office papers on homosexual reform, some of the originally closed for more than a century.