Lord Windlesham: Government minister who fell out with Thatcher over 'Death on the Rock'

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The Independent Online

Lord Windlesham found a place in politics, the media, business and academia, serving in various capacities under Prime Minister Edward Heath in the 1970s.

He was a liberal Tory, and in 1988 found himself in the middle of a storm over a TV programme about the killings of three IRA members in Gibraltar. Along with Richard Rampton QC, he undertook an independent inquiry, coming to conclusions that upset then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Born in 1932 in London, David James George Hennessy was the son of the 2nd Baron Windlesham. He was educated at Ampleforth, the Catholic public school, and completed National Service in the Grenadier Guards. He attended Trinity College, Oxford and graduated with a law degree, then went to work for the recently established Associated-Rediffusion, and was involved with the news programme This Week.

Hennessy got involved with the Conservative think-tank the Bow Group, regarded as the intellectual branch of the party's liberal wing. He served as its chairman from 1959-1960, and again in 1962-1963. In 1958 he joined the old, stoutly Conservative Westminster city council serving until 1962. In that year his father was killed in a helicopter accident and he succeeded him as the 3rd Baron Windlesham. This dashed his hopes of a career in the Commons.

Edward Heath's unexpected victory in 1970 gave him the opportunity to join the government as a minister of state in the Home Office, where he remained until March 1972. The Home Secretary at the time was Reginald Maulding and they were seen as liberals or "wets". Under the Immigration Act 1971 a single system of control over all immigration from overseas was established.

In March 1972, perhaps because of his Irish roots and perhaps because he was seen as a man of reconciliation, he was reshuffled to become Minister of State for Northern Ireland under Willie Whitelaw, serving until April 1973. This was in the immediate aftermath of the Bloody Sunday shootings and coincided with the worst period of civil unrest, with the imposition of direct British rule, and internment. Hennessy's role appears to have been limited, and efforts to build a power-sharing regime failed.

His final ministerial appointment was as leader of the Lords and Lord Privy Seal, a kind of minister without portfolio, which gave him a seat inthe cabinet.

This last office was dominated by the miners' strike that led to Heath's defeat in the February 1974 election. According to Geoffrey Howe, heand Windlesham had urged Heath to go to the country early, increasing their chances of victory, but Heath prevaricated until it was too late. Windlesham continued as Leader of the Ppposition in the Lords until the second, October, election of 1974. However, after that defeat he resigned the post and set turned from politics to business.

Windlesham held various positions at Grampian Television between 1967and 1975. From then until 1981, he was managing Director and then Chairman of ATV. He was a director of The Observer from 1981 to 1989 and of WH Smith from 1985 to 1995.

He remained interested in crime, punishment and rehabilitation serving as chairman of the Parole Board from 1982 to 1988 and holding on to his liberal reputation. However, he declined to agree with his fellow Cath-olic reformer, Lord Longford, over the Moors murderer Myra Hindley, and turned down her application for parole. His published works included four volumes of Responses to Crime (1983-2001).

Windlesham got into controversy over "Death on the Rock", an award-winning episode of Thames Television's current affairs series This Week, about the killing of three IRA members in March 1988. The programme, which aired in April, examined the shootings and asked why there was no attempt by the SAS to arrest the victims. The programme caused anger and indignation, especially in military circles. Thames Television invited Windlesham and Rampton to conduct an independent inquiry. Their report on "Death on the Rock" (1989) made some criticisms, but stated that overall, "we accept that those who made [the programme] were acting in good faith and without ulterior motives".

Margaret Thatcher was furious and the matter did not end there. A rebuttal of the Windlesham/Rampton report was issued jointly by Downing Street, the Foreign Office and theMinistry of Defence. Windlesham refused to back down; he renouncedthe fee that he would have receivedfor his report and won the supportof the Independent Broadcasting Authority. The episode further enhanced his reputation amongmany liberals.

Windlesham went back to Oxford, where he earned a DLitt and later became principal of Brasenose College, in 1989. In 1997, he was the Weinberg/Goldman Sachs visiting professor at Princeton University. In 1999, he was created Baron Hennessy, of Windlesham in the County of Surrey after the passing of the House of Lords Act 1999, which removed the automatic right of hereditary peers to a seat in the upper chamber of Parliament.

David James George Hennessy, 3rd Baron Windlesham, politician and television executive: born London 28 January 1932; married 1965 Prudence Glynn (died 1986; one son, one daughter); died London 21 December 2010.