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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people
News
A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
News
politicsIs David Cameron trying to prove he's down with the kids?
News
Businessman at desk circa 1950s
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Linux Systems Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of UK Magento hosting so...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Development Manager - North Kent - OTE £19K

£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A unique opportunity has arisen...

Tradewind Recruitment: Maths Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Tradewind are working with this secondary s...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: We are working with a school that needs a t...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea