Sir Stuart Bell: Labour MP who defended constituents over the Cleveland child abuse scandal


By his mid-30s miner's son Stuart Bell, who has died of pancreatic cancer, was a millionaire international lawyer and a Name at Lloyd's with homes and offices in Paris and London, and had written his first novel. The book was a raunchy semi-autobiographical story of little literary merit that remained unnoticed by everybody except his later political enemies, but in getting it published he had achieved his childhood ambition. His single remaining aspiration was to become a Labour MP (he described himself, in those days, as "what in Europe would be called a social democrat").

A friend on the Daily Mirror introduced him to Hexham Labour Party which, faced with the high-profile Tory cabinet minister, Geoffrey Rippon, as sitting member, plus the rising fortunes of the Liberals, was attracted by the idea of a locally born self-made millionaire from a working-class background and adopted him as candidate. He made sufficient impact in the 1979 general election to draw the attention of Transport House and was a "walk-in" for the safe seat of Middlesbrough in 1983. Tony Blair was a contender but didn't make the shortlist.

From the time he passed his 11-plus and qualified for Hookergate Grammar School in High Spen, Co Durham, Bell had been determined not to follow his father, who would spend 51 years at the coalface down the local pit at Chopwell. He learned elementary shorthand and typing and gained five O-levels, justifying a job in the colliery office. After nine months he found work as a reporter on the weekly Blaydon Courier and at 19 moved to London, where he improved his shorthand to a speed of 150 words a minute at Pitman's College, supporting himself with jobs as a typist at the Daily Telegraph and Lloyd's and with occasional freelance journalism.

Intent on becoming "a writer" he relocated to Paris, where he worked as a clerk in a law firm among whose clients was the European office of Walt Disney. One day, delivering documents there, he was asked whether he was a lawyer, and over coffee was persuaded that he should ask his employer to sponsor his education in the profession. This he did, and in 1970 was called to the Bar at Gray's Inn. The Disney boss next told him to demand a partnership, and when this was refused offered Bell work for his company, along with offices inside the Disney building at 44 Avenue des Champs-Elysées. With such a prestigious client he quickly found others, including Hewlett Packard and General Motors, and started to specialise in the lucrative area of European trade and international tariffs. His success was speedy and he expanded to offices in the exclusive Avenue Montaigne, premises that had been the wartime headquarters of American Forces (complete with an "Oval Office").

Although he had borrowed a house in the constituency from his Daily Mirror friend while contesting Hexham, and as a city councillor in Newcastle upon Tyne (1981-83), his jet-setting pursuit of politics soon started to eat into his fortune. First he had to sacrifice his magnificent country home (swimming pool, tennis court) in Chantilly, outside Paris, then his young mistress, and finally his senior partnership in a firm that employed more than a dozen lawyers, and along with it his apartment (Eiffel Tower view) in Avenue Montaigne. Until his election, when he became entitled to an MP's salary of £15,308, he was reduced to seeking work as a barrister on the Northern Circuit. He wrote more novels, one of which, Days That Used To Be, a hefty tome about several generations of a mining family, was dismissed by its only reviewer as being "eight ounces better than War And Peace", and political works including How To Abolish The House Of Lords.

His first Commons appointment was as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Roy Hattersley (1983-84), the deputy Labour leader, who he supported as a "scourge of the loony Left", then for three years was opposition front bench spokesman for Northern Ireland. Re-elected in 1987, he quit the front bench to pursue the situation wherein 119 children in his constituency had been taken from their parents after allegations of sex abuse – what became known as the Cleveland child abuse scandal. The Butler-Sloss Inquiry would take nearly five years, and in 1988 he wrote a book, When Salem Came To The Boro, which accused social workers and psychiatrists of provoking hysteria under which children were effectively talked into "denouncing" their parents.

The social workers' coven and leftist loonies reacted with personal and political attacks, unearthing details of his 1973 semi-porn novel, Paris '69, plus the fact that he had maintained a mistress called Astrid for whom, to soften their split, he had bought a Parisian parfumerie.

He returned to the front benches under John Smith in 1992 and then under Tony Blair as shadow spokesman for trade and industry. He fully expected to be given a junior ministry when Labour was returned to power in 1997 but was instead offered the post of Second Church Estates Commissioner – effectively the Church's representative in the Commons – a position he initially refused as being too low-key, but then took up and retained enthusiastically. He was appointed to the House of Commons Commission in 1999 and became Chairman of the Finance and Services Committee and the Liaison Committee the same year. He also ran a financial and political consultancy.

In 2009 Bell was appointed to the Speaker's committee for the new Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority in the wake of the expenses scandal. He defended MPs, attacked the leak to a newspaper as "disgraceful" and suggested that MPs might be justified in refusing to repay money. He attracted further controversy last year when it emerged that he had not held a constituency surgery since 1997. He said that he had discontinued sessions after being assaulted in his office, but maintained that he was available for meetings by appointment.

Stuart Bell, colliery clerk, barrister, writer and politician: born High Spen, County Durham 16 May 1938; MP for Middlesbrough 1983-; Kt 2004, Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur 2006; married 1960 Margaret Bruce (marriage dissolved; one son, one daughter), 1980 Margaret Mary Allan (one son); died 13 October 2012.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
peopleJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Systems Analyst (Retail)

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Up to 20% bonus: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: An...

Head of Digital Marketing,London

To £58k Contract 12 months: Charter Selection: Major household name charity se...

Lead Hand - QC

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Lead Hand - QCProgressive are recruiting...

Technical Manager / Lead - Mechanical.

£43000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading Br...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice