The 1963 Cabinet Papers / The Profumo Scandal: MI5 'failed to alert ministers over affair': Stephen Ward reports on the Lord Chancellor's inquiry into espionage fears behind the case

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The Independent Online
BITTER Cabinet criticism of the security services for failing to alert it to the dangers of the Profumo affair are revealed for the first time in files released today.

The full text of a previously secret report on the scandal by the Lord Chancellor is in marked contrast with the inquiry by Lord Denning published in October 1963.

John Profumo was Minister of War in Harold Macmillan's Cabinet. He had an affair with Christine Keeler in 1961. The security question arose because Christine Keeler was also having an affair with Captain Ivanov, an attache at the Soviet Embassy. Both were friends of a society osteopath, Dr Stephen Ward.

Lord Denning exonerated the security services, saying that once they had established that there had not been an actual breach of security they had no duty to pass on what they knew.

The Lord Chancellor, Lord Dilhorne, who reported to the Cabinet in June, criticised the security service for failing to pass on two police reports that Christine Keeler claimed Stephen Ward had asked her to extract from Profumo details of when the United States was going to transfer atomic secrets to West Germany. Lord Dilhorne says that the 'error of judgement by the security service was compounded by the fact that one of its members had been summoned to the Prime Minister's office on 1 February to be told of claims that Mr Profumo had 'compromised himself with a girl who was involved with a negro in a shooting case'.

Cabinet minutes for 12 June are the first time the scandal was discussed. Eight days earlier Profumo had written to Macmillan confessing that his statement to the Commons on 22 March 'was not true'. He conceded the deception was 'a grave misdemeanor'.

The Lord Chancellor's report to that 12 June Cabinet meeting recalled the almost surreal atmosphere of the affair. 'On Friday 7 July, 1961, Mr and Mrs Profumo were staying with Lord Astor at Cliveden (Astor's country house). Ward was at his cottage on the estate. He was allowed to use Lord Astor's bathing pool.

'That evening he was at the bathing pool accompanied by four or five girls, one of whom was Miss Christine Keeler, and Captain Ivanov. . . It was on that occasion that Mr Profumo first met Christine Keeler.'

The files released today constitute about two-thirds of the available material, although many pages and names have been deleted. The material released includes a 'top secret' memo from February 1963 in which the allegations circulating in Fleet Street were made known to the Prime Minister's office.

The note has had the name removed, but the next page suggests the informant was Sir William Carr, chairman of the News of the World. Lord Denning's report identified this source as 'a Sunday newspaper proprietor'.

The dramatic minute recording his meeting reveals that the newspaper proprietor called at the Prime Minister's office, and told one of his personal staff that 'Mr Profumo had compromised himself with a girl who was involved with a negro in a case about attempted murder (the negro is charged with having attempted to murder her)'.

It continues that the proprietor 'understands that this girl's story has been sold to the Daily Mirror group and that it will include passages in which she was involved with Mr Profumo and in which the Russian naval attache also figured.

'Mr Profumo is alleged to have met this girl through Lord Astor, at Cliveden, where they chased her naked round the bathing pool.'

A note from the Prime Minister's personal secretary says Mr Profumo had told him not to 'bother the Prime Minister with all this at this stage'. MI5 took the same course.

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